With a sincere gust of breath, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake. As seven gave way to eight, I quickly turned from my cake to the nearby present and tore in with youthful ferocity. Though severely weakened by fiery pricks of pain, my mom had wrapped that gift with dear love.
As I cast the wrapping paper to the sterile hospital room floor, my eyes grew wide at the sight of a new X-Wing toy. I excitedly turned to my brother and cousins to show them my new treasure. Dismounting my mom’s lap, I thanked my parents profusely and then scurried off to the waiting room. The joy of that present blasted me off into a galaxy far, far away.
Meanwhile on earth, my mom was slowly dying. Profound sorrow lurked just outside her hospital room.*
Grief brought near
Grief and loss are stark realities that sink their icy claws into every heart. No person will escape this life without feeling the cold breath of sadness. Whether it’s from sickness, death, uncontrollable circumstances, or bad choices, pain finds us all. The sorrow we encounter, however, will not last through to our journey’s end.
King David, a man keenly acquainted with grief, reoriented his gaze when loss struck. “You keep track of all my sorrows,” wrote the grieving Hebrew monarch. “You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8, NLT). David was confident that God was intimately aware of every tear shed.
Formed for joy
David’s God had created him, and us, for a purpose more lasting than pain. “What is the chief end of man?” queried the Westminster divines. In answer to their own question, they replied, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). The Lord formed our frames to brim over with His delight. Joy in Him is our goal.
This virtue is so essential to our souls because it aligns our steps with the Father’s. Pastor Sam Storms defines this spiritual fruit as a “deep durable delight in God.” Joy is knowing that no matter how dark the night, the Lord still wills the morning sun to rise. It is confidence that in His presence “there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, ESV). Through our most poignant griefs God creates our greatest delight in Him.
In John 2:1-11, Jesus and His disciples receive a last-minute invitation to a wedding in Cana. At Jewish marriage celebrations, guests would customarily bring along some wine. For Jesus and His followers to arrive without any beverage in tow would have raised some eyebrows.
Likewise, when we walk through difficult circumstances, we may be tempted to think that Christ has shown up empty-handed to our suffering. If our pain is like the water at the Cana wedding, however, Jesus’ hands will work a miracle over the depths of our agony. He will transform our darkest grief into deepest joy.
A God who knows
Jesus can change our sorrow because He himself walked through it. On the cross, He carried our sorrows, was pierced for our grief, and was murdered for our sins. And He conquered them all. He knows how we suffer, and He is using it to lead us to His joy.
Suffering was intended to be only a stopover on the road to delight in God. Pain cannot endure eternity. Reflecting on our profound suffering, G. K. Chesterton wrote:
Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.
The weeping of our long night will become tears of joy streaming down our faces when the light of Christ eternally rises before us. These very tears He will wipe away and collect in His jar. He will enshrine our sadness as a monument to our unending delight in His presence. His hands — the hands that turned water to wine — will transform our every grief into glorious joy.
*Author’s note: In His mercy, God spared my mom. She is alive and healthy today.