Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
My husband and I recently spent several days and nights camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. We pitched our tent less than a mile from the grove into which, in 1852, Augustus T. Dowd followed a bear while hunting for dinner and found instead the biggest trees on the planet, the giant sequoias. I began each morning and ended each evening with a stroll among the giants, marveling at the majesty of these trees which have stood, some of them for thousands of years, quietly glorifying their Creator without fanfare or fuss. As I walked, the birdsong above and the burbling water of the small streams beneath lent music to my gratitude.
The sequoias grow in a very limited range in the Sierras, requiring the precise climate found within a particular elevation on the western slopes of the mountains, and the steady flow of water streaming down from the snowpack on top of the mountains to nourish their roots. So wherever you find these enormous trees, pointing heavenward to God, you can hear the water, often merely a trickle, of the shallow streams as they wind across the forest floor. Trees planted by streams of water.
On our last full day of camping we took a drive into the higher elevations to get a better view of the mountains. As we drove we soon began to see snow on either side of the road. First there were glimpses in the shade, but before long it was piled high on each side of the road, standing like walls where the snowplows had left them. And from under the snow, water flowed downhill along the roadside, down to the trees. The higher we drove the more water we saw. Sometimes it was a little waterfall down the face of a cliff, other times it was a placid mountain lake. Then we found the river. We heard it before we saw it. Pulling over to the side of the road, we both got out of the car to watch as the river foamed and roared in its mad rush down the mountain. The sound was overwhelming as it pounded in my ears and reverberated deep in my bones. The sight was mesmerizing, I couldn’t look away, my eyes were drawn to the water as it leapt and shoved and punched its way past me.
It felt like grief.
Well—actually—it felt like the phone call that turns a world upside down. I made that call only a few months ago, and learned that my beloved friend had ended her life the night before. The rush of grief filled all of my senses with numbing blows to my mind and heart, until I could no longer hear my own internal voice wailing, “No!….” Great heaving sobs took over when my mind ran out of words. The deafening numbness and the blinding ache were overwhelming. Violent. Overpowering. By his lifeline of grace, God kept me from falling fully into the raging torrent to drown and be carried away.
But grief, like the river, hasn’t continued in its torrential violence. As it tumbles through the days and weeks it slows down at times to where I don’t always hear its roar. Some days grief pools into a placid lake, and I can gaze upon it without threat of being pulled in to drown. I can safely examine its contours and see the reflection of my Lisa—her life, our friendship, her love and laughter, her pain and despair, and her faith, which she doubted— in the surface of my sadness. I can discern, even through the shadows, the joy that she now knows in the presence of Jesus. The tension between her plaguing doubts and her present reality grip my heart especially tight. Though I know it’s fruitless to try, I search for some way I could have alleviated her fears.
Other times grief catches me unaware, like turning a corner to find a waterfall shooting down the face of a cliff. It may be a song lyric that brings it suddenly to the surface, or a memory, or even a stray thought as I’m reading a good book or listening to a sermon, “Oh, I ought to share this with Lisa…” but Lisa’s no longer here to share my thoughts with. I pulled a book off the shelf the other day only to find a note from Lisa tucked inside, with her reasons why she enjoyed the book and why she was sharing it with me. She’s still sharing with me, though I can no longer respond. And it makes me so sad.
So, the tears fall.
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
But I’m not the only one crying.
The God who kept a record of David’s tears clothed himself in human weakness and stood in front of the grave of his friend, weeping at the desecration of death and the grief it caused (John 11). Though he knew he was about to speak the words that would call Lazarus back to life and restore him to his family, Jesus wept.
He who is the Resurrection and the Life, who has planned the end from the beginning, and has come to make all things new, not only sees the grief of his beloved children, but he enters into it and weeps with us. His mercies are new every morning, but while we wait in the darkness, he is with us. Jesus sees our longing for the dawn and its certainty doesn’t invalidate our present pain. And so he weeps with us even as he is working to bring all things to their appointed end.
It’s a mystery to me how this sorrow is shaping me for my Master’s use. But, if I stand still enough, and listen carefully, I can hear the water flowing. Somehow, my tears of sorrow are mingling with his tears of mercy, and together they flow into the stream which nourishes my faith in truth and hope. Oh, how I look for the coming Dawn when everything sad will be made untrue.
Because I know that my Redeemer lives, I know Lisa lives; and I know that one day, though I will die, I too will live. Until that day, I pray that God’s word will always be my delight and meditation, so I may bear seasonable fruit with unwithering leaf, glorifying my Creator, and prospering in the good works for which he has fashioned me.