This past week brought fresh waves of grief to our nation and to our local community. Even as many families gathered around candle-lit tables and held hands to give thanks, other families were in darkest mourning for those whose hands they will never hold around a holiday table again. And what do we do with the weight of all this sorrow?
I remember how when I lost our daughter Ruth, and then my mother, three years later, I had the strangest compulsion to walk up to strangers in the grocery store and ask, “Do you know how sad I am?” I never did follow through with this question, and yet I did not know what to do with the all–consuming ache that I carried everywhere with me.
Few seemed to comprehend my pain, even close friends or family members. Perhaps it seemed safer to burden anonymous strangers with the hurt I carried than to burden those closest to me. So I would lose myself in my work. Or, when I was too exhausted to work, I would lay on my bed, staring out the back window at the trees rising from our hill, wondering how I would ever rise again.
Time does not heal all wounds. A skinned knee, perhaps. But not a skinned heart, one that has been hacked out, bleeding but still beating, and placed on public display. My own healing has come breath by breath – one lungful of courage followed by another, a gasping determination not to let faith and hope and love be overpowered by pain. For even when the ones we love are no longer with us, the love we shared remains.
Or, as the apostle Paul was later inspired to write, “Love never ends” (I Corinthians 13:8).
How can this be? Because even on the darkest night, we are held by an eternal love that is the source of every earthly love we have ever known. For even when our closest friends and family can’t fully comprehend, there is one who does.
“Surely he took our infirmities and carried our sorrows,” the ancient prophet Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 53:4) of the One whose birth we commemorate by lighting candles during Advent, which begins this week. The first Advent candle traditionally symbolizes hope, followed by peace, love and joy — one candle each week.
Perhaps, this season as we light each candle, we can collectively remember those we and those around us have lost. Let us say their names and pray for their families. For even as we mourn, God offers hope. Even when each breath is racked by sorrow, God offers us a future filled with peace and love and joy.
“For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it,” the apostle John wrote (John 1:5).
What do we do with the weight of all our sorrow?
Jesus invites us to bring it to him.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Christmas Cradle and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith.