Last week I wrote about how the worst day in history allows me to enjoy wonderful days on earth, with even better ones to come. Little did I know I’d have to follow it up this week with a distinctly less joyful reflection.
We had to put my dog down on Sunday, and it was one of my own worst days.
Knowing a death is coming doesn’t take the violence out of it. Ralph was an old dog, so even though he seemed to be doing okay we knew he didn’t have years left. Yet when the end came I was surprised by how much it uprooted my everyday life. Whenever I hear the door creak open, I still look up expecting to see his nose poking through the gap.
I basked in the sunshine last week, but I now have to reckon with the darkened sky. Over those first few terrible days, God comforted me with truth from his Word.
Fullness of joy?
Ralph’s health had declined sharply on Saturday afternoon, so we booked him in for a vet appointment in the morning. We knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t be bringing him home. I slept on the couch in case he came inside during the night, even though he could barely walk. As I lay there dreading the morning, filled with anguish and worry, I grabbed my Bible and turned to Psalm 16.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.” (v. 2)
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (v. 5–6)
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (v. 11)
Through this psalm, God gave me a sudden burst of hope. I couldn’t stop what was going to happen. I couldn’t turn back the clock to get an extra day with Ralph, or undo all the years that made me love him so much. This was going to hurt like crazy. But God is good and the pain wouldn’t last forever. Beyond this life, I will dwell with God and find pleasures forevermore at his side. That spark of hope was my light of Eärendil, a light when all others had gone out.
A day I can rejoice in
When I opened my Bible the day after Ralph died I was weak, crying, and distracted. Even in the deep grief I felt this pull towards God—I knew that I needed to hear from him. I decided to carry on with my usual Bible reading plan, so read a couple of chapters including Psalm 118. God gave me just what I needed for the day ahead.
This psalm starts with a clear call: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (v. 1). How could I give thanks when my heart was breaking? Only God made it possible. I don’t rejoice because of my pain, but I can rejoice in the loving God who is with me through it.
Later the psalmist writes: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24). At first reading it seemed like precisely the verse I didn’t need. If you said that to a grieving person, you’d be called insensitive at best. But in God’s kindness he kept me from scoffing and closing my Bible.
This psalm was probably sung at a national festival, as the Israelites proceeded up to the temple in Jerusalem. It proclaims the great salvation that God had brought to his people. They rejoiced in this particular day of deliverance—it doesn’t mean that every circumstance of their lives was perfect.
There are many parts in this psalm which point us forward to Jesus, including the words which come just before that verse:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.” (v. 22–23)
Jesus himself quotes these verses to explain the unbelief of many Jews, especially the religious leaders (Matthew 21:42). The apostle Peter links our salvation, and our identity as God’s chosen people, to Jesus as the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4–10). And so when I read this verse I think of the death of Jesus, where he laid himself down to become our precious cornerstone.
This passage wasn’t telling me to stop crying and get on with it. Rather, God pointed to me again to the day when Jesus died. At the cross he redeemed my worst days. I can sing a psalm of thanksgiving, rejoicing in my faithful God, because of that day where he proved himself faithful. When everything else is falling apart, I can trust in the steadfast love of God.
Waiting for a lasting love
After reading Psalm 118, I wanted to sit awhile in Revelation 21–22. These chapters brought comfort to my aching soul, like they always do:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”” (Revelation 21:3–4, 6–7)
Whatever happens in my life, I have this unabated hope. A day is coming where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. On Monday I stared at those words on the page, reading them over and over, letting them soak into my heart. These sure promises are secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus, who will come back to finish his work. “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
Grief shook me up. It scares me that love is so fragile, that we can love someone so much only to lose them in a moment. Once we choose to love, we’re also accepting the bitter pain of parting that will come. But as I thought about this, the everlasting nature of Christ’s love was brought home to my heart. In my sadness I asked the same question as Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)
Paul answers his own question: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)
Hallelujah! We have an eternal love with no sorrowful end. In the midst of grief, I’m holding on to that sure promise:
“There is no sweeter joy than this
There is no stronger hope we hold
We are His forevermore
Safe and secure by Christ alone”1
I’m thankful for the blessings God has given me this week: a lighter work schedule, friends who I can cry with, and for one friend’s gran who gave me a big hug and a bigger slab of cake. But ultimately what’s keeping me going is the comfort I find in God’s Word.
None of these Bible passages are empty platitudes. They are words of promise and hope that God has given to us as a gift, and the Holy Spirit brought them to me in the midst of pain. I didn’t sit down, skim through these truths, and then go out suddenly at peace. Real life is messier than that. I’m still riding the waves of sadness, the daily ups and downs, but God is meeting me with his comfort when I need it.
This week I’ve learned that my worst days, as well as my best, are redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who assures me that there are infinitely better days ahead.