Reason to hope, permission to grieve

By Emma Parkin

Have the last couple of years been tough for you? The likelihood of most people replying ‘Yes’ to this question is high. After a season of lockdowns, uncertainty, job losses, mental health deterioration, physical health struggles and the loss of loved ones, at some point during the last couple of years, you will likely have held onto the hope that things would change, that things would get better, that life would become easier again.

I am into my third year of battling with an unusual, difficult to treat and frustratingly slow-healing injury which has caused much pain and much heartache in the last few years. So I now know a thing or two about the struggle. The struggle to keep going, the struggle of maintaining life’s activity and the struggle to keep hoping.

Hoping

I think we can all relate to hope. You might not have even realised it but most of us most of the time are hoping for something. Did you hope for the lockdowns to ease and to see family again? Did you hope for that long awaited hug from a friend? Did you hope for the sun to shine so you could spend time in the garden without turning blue? Did you hope for that job offer or a family member to get well again?

There is always something to hope for. And because of Jesus we can hope for things to change and for that hope to be grounded in something real, something tangible, something trustworthy.

The passage below has been powerful in allowing myself to hope for change and to cling to Jesus, the provider of small hope and big hope. (I’ll go on to explain…)

John 11: 32-44

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

 

Small hope

These verses were of huge encouragement to me when I read them alongside the book ‘Walking with God through pain and suffering’ by Tim Keller. (I would urge you to give this book a read if you’ve experienced any kind of suffering and even if you haven’t – it’s a powerful and encouraging read!).

The verses above show us very clearly that God cares about what happens in our lives and He can change any situation. This miracle is one of the biggest demonstrations of Jesus’ power that we come across in His lifetime and no other greater example of change – going from death to life!

Therefore, when we are going through pain and suffering, we have a hope that God can change our situation. He has the power, He has the means and He has the will to do this. However, I’m going to term this as a small hope, or a hope with a small h. Why? I am not saying that when the God of the universe moves in power it is small, by no means!

Instead, we can be sure that God CAN change our situation but not sure He WILL. So we have a small ‘h’ hope. It’s not certain. Often God doesn’t change our situation and the Bible confirms this with verses like Corinthians 12: 8-9 ‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’

I found thinking about this topic so helpful in giving me a solid foundation for my hope; it gave me the fire (albeit a tiny flicker of flame) to keep pressing on, to keep going. It gave me the hope that my situation could change, it could get better and I wasn’t just wishful thinking but my hope was founded in something real.

I pray that anyone struggling at the moment, might read this and find a tiny flicker of a flame again.

The flicker of a flame has come to life once again when it comes to the pandemic in the UK too. With lockdown easing and the sun shining (right now anyway!) there is absolutely a reason to hope that our Covid-19 situation will end, it will get better and there is hope that God can turn many people’s situations of struggling to survive to thriving again.

Big Hope

But what happens if our situation doesn’t change?… We can still cling onto hope.

John 11:25-27 says:

‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”’

We also have a big hope, one with a capital H! It’s through Jesus that we can have this big hope; that we WILL live even though we die. There is no maybe, unlike the ‘small’ hope.

Even if our situation doesn’t change or even gets worse, we have an ultimate hope. An ultimate hope that when we do die, we won’t! This seems to confict doesn’t it? But it’s true – death has lost its sting! Even though our physical bodies will die, we have been given the gift of eternal life. What a huge hope this is! It’s something to cling to when all else is lost, when everything seems to have gone wrong. When despair enters in, keep clinging onto this hope.

Early on after my injury, I felt utterly useless, I couldn’t physically do much and I felt deep despair most days. One night, I had an image drop into my mind. It was a helicopter rescue pilot carrying me to safety. In that moment, I knew God was telling me to just cling onto Him, the rescue pilot. He would carry me through this and all I had to do was keep holding onto Him. Whatever situation you are in, whether it’s physical pain, grief, heartache or lockdown fatigue, keep clinging onto Him.

God’s deep compassion and care for us leads us into the next part of the passage I want to highlight…

Permission to grieve

Even though we have these two hopes to cling onto, we must not add to the thought that Christians can’t or shouldn’t grieve. This is absolutely not true. And we can actually go further and say that grieving and weeping is to be expected as part of the Christian experience. We know this because Jesus showed grief when others suffered and when He Himself suffered.

So maybe the question is – how can we grieve well?

If we think about why Jesus is weeping, this helps us understand more. Jesus knows what He is going to do (raise Lazarus from the dead) and He has the power to change the situation. So why does he weep?

We can learn a lot from this. Jesus doesn’t just fix the problem – He weeps with those who are weeping. He knows the vital importance of drawing alongside those who are mourning, who are grieving, who are suffering. (I could write another whole article on the importance of community on this).

Furthermore, in verse 33, it says that Jesus is ‘deeply troubled’. There is a slightly understated translation to this wording because in the original Greek it means ‘to quake with rage’ and in verse 38, the words ‘once more deeply moved’ mean to ‘roar or snort with anger like an animal’.

This shows that Jesus is roaring/quaking/snorting with anger and rage at the human condition, death and suffering. He not only has compassion for us (in a loving and pulling us close kind of way) but He rages at the injustice of what is happening in our situation, in our personal lives and the condition of the world we are living in. This was a huge help to me and something I hadn’t realised before. It reassured me that my anger at my situation was not misplaced and actually Jesus was angry alongside me.

I don’t know what you have been through in your life, I don’t know how the pandemic has affected you, I don’t know what you have suffered… but I do know there is a reason to hope and absolutely a permission to grieve.

We have a hope that Jesus can turn things around. We have an even bigger hope that one day, for anyone who believes in Jesus, all pain and suffering will be gone because He conquered death. Finally, we can be grieved, we can weep, we can be outraged at what has happened because Jesus is too.

So as we emerge out of lockdown and into the world again, let’s try to keep our flame of hope alive, let’s allow each other to grieve the big and the small losses of the last year (or however many it’s been for you) and let’s keep looking to Jesus who modelled what it meant to live on this earth whilst holding the two in balance together.