A dear friend’s unexpected tragedy has been my first waking thought for about twelve mornings now.
My beautiful friend and her family live in South Africa, so I find myself, first thing as I wake, calculating the time of day in their city. As I calculate, thinking of her and her husband, two of the most loving Christians I’ve ever known, I ask God what to pray — for her, for the doctors caring for her, for her precious family, for every detail I can imagine about their already-unfolded day. My heart breaks for each of them. I pray. I mourn. I weep.
Yet, it’s been Christmas here. So the last twelve days, as I’ve moved about with a weighed-down heart and tears ready to flow, have also been filled with children’s Christmas parties, and church services, and sparkly presents under our American tree. We’ve had, on our side of the Atlantic, some really happy family moments.
Can the two co-exist?
And now, Christmas is about to be followed by New Year’s Eve. At our house, we’ll have firecrackers and campfires and s’mores. My heart will get to smile at the sounds of happy teenage laughter.
I’ll feel guilt.
How can I celebrate and brim with happiness when my whole body feels bent with grief for my friend, her husband, her family?
I’m not sure I phrased that well: What I’m wondering is this — How do I weep with one friend and yet still, simultaneously, experience guilt-free freedom that allows me to laugh with another? Don’t I belittle my friend’s pain if I’m able to also enter into other happinesses?
That question — like all the questions we can’t unravel alone — God answers for us. He knows we’re but dust and He doesn’t leave us to flounder about, afraid to fully celebrate with one friend because we’re also weeping with another. He gives us clarifying words:
“There is a season, a time appointed for everything and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted…
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance…
He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity, a sense of divine purpose, in the human heart (a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God) yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.”
Ecclesiastes 3 reminds and assures me. I remember that:
“…while God’s timing is not always ours, it is always best and sufficient for all that must occur in this fallen world…we face all that we must with the understanding that the God of grace will time all things as he knows best…”
He times all things as He knows best. As He knows best. My friend’s excruciating tragedy happened ten days before Christmas. Yet:
“For Christians, the purpose of time is to be conformed to the image of his Son. Such conformity even rejoices in sufferings, knowing that all moments of our lives work together for our good.” (Douglas O’Donnell commenting on Ecclesiastes 3 in light of Romans 8:28-29)
So this is what you can know, dear believer in Christ:
- God’s specific timing in His eternal care for my beloved friend (who cannot be snatched from His hand) is best and sufficient for her.
- He means that she, and all who love Him and hear of her tragedy, be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus.
- As you are conformed to His image, you can rejoice even in your sufferings, knowing that all the moments of your life are purposeful and timely, meant for your good.
- God times all things as He knows best.
- And so, this tragedy is from His good providence: God gives only good to His children. My dear friend’s moments are working together for her good.
Mysterious longings wakened
And because God tells us these truths, we’re freed to mourn deeply and to then turn around and also rejoice.
For both circumstances — those that cause weeping, and those we rejoice over — are His pointers, wakening within us a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God. When my friend’s tragedy stops me short, my mind is then directed toward, and my yearning deepened for, the day when God Himself will wipe every tear from His child’s eye. And when the happy sounds of teenage laughter reach my ears, I’m pointed just as assuredly toward God, who has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time.
He’s so kind. I can’t, and am not meant to, comprehend His overall plan. I’m not meant to carry that burden. You and I are only meant to trust that His timing is always best and sufficient for all that must occur in this fallen world.
This knowledge, as the New Year begins, stirs within me this certain thought: my heart aches dreadfully for my dear friends, but I gladly bow before God’s divine purposes. For He knows best.
I love God.
And I pray for you the same in this coming year.