04 August 2009

Savoring Sweet Sadness of the Salutary Sort

There is a sadness that proceeds, not from fear, but in love. Because we are created to live in relationships of love with God and with each other, and yet we are finite creatures living in a fallen world; hence, there are sorrowful leavetakings and varying degrees of separation. If every sleep anticipates the death of our bodies from this world, and every surgery is also a kind of little death, so is every goodbye a miniature mourning of departed friends. Our Lord Himself did not disdain this sort of grief, but was deeply moved in His own spirit by it, and He compassionately recognized and acknowledged the same sorrow in His friends. As His disciples, we do not mourn without hope, but still there is a time for mourning, for sorrow, and for saying goodbye.

We ought not to hide from this salutary sadness, nor try to protect ourselves from it. Attempting to deny the sorrow of separation is only another form of self-righteousness. Parents who try to make sure their children are always only happy, who give them whatever they want and shelter them from every sadness in the world, set them up for a life of selfishness, hypocrisy, frustration and disappointment. Our hope and confidence, and the blessed peace and joy of Christ, do not derive from a denial of sin and its consequences, but from the Lord's forgiveness of our sin by His Cross, from His defeat of our death by His own bloody passion unto death, and from the glorious victory of His Resurrection from the dead. He passes through suffering out of death into life, and we along with Him. "In a little while, you will not see Me," He says, "and then in a little while you will see Me again." And when the Bridegroom is departed, that is the appropriate time to fast and mourn: even then in the hope of the resurrection and the life everlasting.

There are separations that are good and right, even though they may also be difficult and painful. We can truly and sincerely rejoice in such good events as having our children graduate and go off to college, or get married and move away from home, but it would be very odd indeed to feel no sadness along with the joy. Mixed emotions often mark our temporal life on earth under the Cross. It is true that our feelings are fickle, because they also are fallen along with our wills, our minds and bodies. And, to be sure, feelings are neither the foundation nor the goal of faith. Yet, for all of that, feelings are also part of who we are as creatures of God. They should neither be idolized nor despised, but allowed to be what they are under the grace of God, both disciplined and sanctified by the prayer and confession of His Word.

It would be callous and inhuman for a husband or wife to have no feelings for his or her spouse; likewise for a parent to have no feelings for his or her children. We do not easily let any of them go; nor should we. Even Yahweh is a jealous God; He is zealous for His Bride and for His children; He longs for them with a heart of love, and He will not tolerate their affections being taken from Him and given to another god. God binds us to Himself permanently, even unto life everlasting. For us, though, in our temporal earthly life, our spouses are united to us only until death parts us; and as for our children, they grow up to leave their fathers and mothers and to be married or given in marriage. Therefore, the strong natural affections that bind us to these others whom God has given us to love are strained and stretched and saddened. For covetous idolatry, we are called to repent, but for the sadness that proceeds in love we should have no shame or regret.

I have spent much of my life having to say goodbye to people I have cared about. It is always a difficult thing, but it is far worse to avoid the opportunity. Refusing to acknowledge the difficulty of separation is a denial of our created nature, or else a denial of our sin, or else a denial of our love. Surely none of these things are intended, but they run contrary to the Word of God. Besides, even if brave stoicism may be helpful to an individual's self-preservation, how shall this love and serve and help the neighbor? The ritual of saying goodbye is often emotional, and some people frown on such things, but to make a crime out of such emotions is no better, and really no different, than to make a god out of them. As Christians, we certainly ought to understand the significance of rites and ceremonies, the power of simple words and traditional gestures to grant a salutary benefit in the midst of mortal life. When we use those rites and ceremonies to savor the sweet sadness that proceeds in love, we resist and ward off the sadness that arises out of fear and threatens to overwhelm us with the grief and mourning of those who have no hope.

If we fear the grave as little as our bed, because we know that Christ is risen indeed, then we shall not fear nor flee the sorrow of separation, either, but rejoice in the communion of saints and the great cloud of witnesses with which we are ever surrounded: from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.


Moria said...

The implied indictment in this post against certain people is rather strong. I'm having trouble comprehending why you would post this way on this topic at this time.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

There was no intended indictment against anyone in my comments. I've been reflecting on these things lately, and, as is usually the case, I was responding to the inclinations I recognize and struggle with in myself. I post those thoughts and reflections because I have found, in the past, that others struggle similarly and may be helped by the resolution I have been able to find.

As I indicated, my life has been rather full of goodbyes. That was true in my growing up years, and I struggled with it then. I'm now at a point in my life when the goodbyes seem to be accelerating, and it is still a difficult thing for me. But, especially in having my older children leave the house for college and then marriage, I have had to grapple with both the sadness of the separation and the blessings involved in those leavetakings and transitions.

Of course I am aware that others are also saying goodbyes at this time. Far from being offered as a criticism of them, I chose to post my thoughts on this at this time, not only because it's been on my mind lately, but for the purpose of encouragement. My hope was that I would in some way be able to assist others from what I have learned through my own experience. If, instead, my comments have come across as a criticism, or even an indictment, I regret that very much.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I, for one, really appreciate the wisdom shared in this post. At the age of 45, I am on the verge of what looks like a couple decades of numerous sorrowful leavetakings. My seven living children, all still at home at present, range in age from one to seventeen. My parents, in-laws, aunts, and uncles, range in age from 70 to 80.

Thank you for the godly perspective you have shared. I pray it will help me through the coming years. Indeed, if we fear the grave as little as our bed, then we shall not fear the sorrow of separation either.