I'm entertaining the idea that if we allow ourselves the time and space to mourn, we might be closer to God and His unmatched power to restore.
Contrary to popular belief, God expects us to mourn. Did you know that? In Joel 1, God gave Joel a devastating message to share with his people, expecting them to mourn. Until the day I started reading Joel, I had never realized that mourning was something God wanted us to do.
Joel is not the only book in the Bible that speaks of devastation and destruction, but God directed me to this chapter recently and spoke to me, revealing something that I've never accepted before. God expects us to mourn.
During devastating times, Christians are often told to find the positive and move on. I've often preached positivity to family and friends but have now reconsidered. I realize that mourning is a necessary part of the process intended to bring us to repentance, where God will restore us.
The desire to ignore sorrow and jump to the next high makes logical sense. Humans hate pain, but our avoidance of pain has created a new ugly in society and among the body of Christ. There's not a soul that enjoys feeling loss because, fundamentally, loss is traumatic. Loss changes us, but I'm entertaining the idea that if we allow ourselves the time and space to mourn, we might be closer to God and His unmatched power to restore.
Take Time to Mourn
When we hear the word "mourn," we make a negative connection. But God was abundantly clear that He expected the people in the book of Joel to mourn. Recognizing this sparked thoughts on a brand new perspective. Maybe we should take time to mourn. I've studied many Scriptures of devastation before but never thought about anything more than how awful it would be to go through devastation like this or how their devastation reminds me of my own.
God wanted them to feel sorrow and loss for what He was doing, and because we know that God is always good, I thought, I bet God wants them to mourn for their good! Joel 1:14 says, "Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people of the land into the Temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to him there" (NASB). God always wants our attention because He has the best plans for us.
I am sure that we cannot escape the trials and devastations that come with this life. But still, we try to avoid or rush past them, even though doing so doesn't help us. I believe rushing past life's trauma only builds up more ineffective trauma responses. Perhaps anxiety and depression are so common in our society because we don't take the time to mourn.
Through the first two chapters of Joel, I noticed a pattern that lines up with many Old Testament books, starting with Genesis: devastation, repentance, restoration, and the eternal promise of salvation.
Bring Your Heart to Him
God allows destruction/trials/devastation for good (even though we cause our destruction). The good is found in seeking Him. That's what He wants! "That is why the Lord says, 'Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don't tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.' Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not to punish" (Joel 2:12-13 NLT).
That line, "but tear your hearts instead," grabbed my attention. The wording here speaks to sincerity and authenticity. At that time, the custom was to tear your clothes while mourning. But God said, "tear your hearts instead." God wanted His people to feel this devastation deeply because He knew it had the power to transform them. He knew if they would bring their hearts to Him, He could restore and renew them.
The God of that century is the God of this one. He still wants this for us. He wants us to bring Him our everything in sincerity and authenticity. 1 Peter 5:6-7 and Matthew 11:28-30 are great examples of this.
Joel 1-2:11 goes into great detail about the destruction of the land and how the people should mourn. He wouldn't do that if He thought mourning was a wasted process. God wanted them to feel this severe devastation, and He wanted them to call out to Him.
God wants us to cry out to Him in our times of devastation. If you're like me, sometimes we push away the pain and think of happy thoughts because we believe that feeling "bad" is ungodly. If we aren't feeling happy, then we aren't godly. We make happy and godly synonymous with each other, and they are not.
Grieve with Repentance
Since my last birthday, I've had days when the loss of my youth makes me cry. I've always looked younger than my age, but those days are gone. No one mentions how young I look anymore; I've somehow aged past what I should be all in the last three years. But anytime I share this sorrow with a loved one, they try to cheer me up by saying things like, "You look great!" or "Getting older is a blessing!" (That's my favorite one, haha). Both statements may be accurate, but I can't accept them.
I understand that getting older is a blessing many don't have, but watching yourself fall apart and feeling your body deteriorate is not something I can yet smile about. Also, knowing that many of our modern-day health problems are consequences of our impatient and self-centered lifestyles is sad, and we should be able to grieve that and come to God with a repentant heart. I know that's what He wants.
I strongly feel that God has blessings and healing waiting for me if I take the time to mourn my youth, pour out my heart to him, and let Him know how sad the aging process makes me feel. I wonder if there's a grievance in your life that you've avoided mourning because you didn't feel it was allowed.
Even when we have a death in the family, our society puts an unreasonable time limit on it and demands that you be okay to return to work like nothing ever happened. It's outrageous when you think about it, and we submit to these rules, which are tough on our hearts, and we whip them into shape so that we can carry on and do what's really important: function in society. (I'm hoping you'll catch my tone of sarcasm.) God wants us to have seasons of mourning because He has comfort and wisdom waiting for us when we do. God brings restoration to our brokenness.
Don't Hurry Grief
We Christians don't respond correctly to one another in matters of grief, and it's because we've been conditioned to think that being sad means we're bad Christians. Out of deep sincerity, we can hurry a fellow brother or sister in Christ during a mourning period because we don't feel comfortable around sadness and because we fear the effect sadness will have on their faith. We fear that sadness/grief/mourning makes us bad Christians because God is good, and you should be, too. I have believed this lie my entire life, but the truth is, God is God, and we will never be His match. God doesn't need us happy; He desires that when we feel something undesirable, we go straight to Him!
Praising God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:8) is not the same as always being happy. Praising God amid your grief is a choice, showing that you still trust God. One of my favorite verses on the topic is Habakkuk 3:17-19:
"'Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments." (NASB).
We can praise and worship God even in a time of mourning. Mourning is not selfish. God expects it of us because this fallen land we live in is a rough place to live, and in our times of devastation, He wants us to cry out to Him. He wants us to be honest with the reality of the situation. Yes, we still look for something to praise God for in the dark times, but we don't need to ignore the dark times. It doesn't help us. I firmly believe ignoring our pain causes deeper issues.
God has our best interest at heart. Let's trust Him with our seasons of mourning and affirm that He holds no judgment for it. God doesn't look down on us because we feel loss. He desires that we go to Him with all our feelings and rest in the truth of His Word and the power of His hands.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Martin Dimitrov
Vanessa Luu is a wife, mother, and faith-based writer. She speaks and writes to believers to encourage them to live authentically with God.