I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
My church died this weekend.
I mean, I know that’s not an actual thing. It’s not scripturally sound nor does it reflect the actual future of our church family. But right now, that’s how it feels.
My husband and I have desperately and deeply loved the small, closely-knit community that has resulted from the faithful work of church planters who we have come to love like family. It’s the only church our babies have ever known and the only church where either of us have ever felt truly at home.
But we were faced with making a transition as a congregation that we were not able to weather and this week, we held our last service.
As I take stock of all of the feelings swirling around in my heart right now, two stand out to me- and they are two feelings that at first glance seem mismatched. Like they don’t go together and are somehow mutually exclusive:
Grief and Hope
As I opened my pastor’s email last week and read the words I had been dreading hearing for weeks, even months, I was hit with exactly the same sense of intense loss I had been expecting. But unexpectedly, I also felt God moving in my heart and filling it with a sense of the sacred, with a certainty of His goodness, the perfection of His ways, and the hopeful promise of His plan. Intermingled with the sorrow, I felt a deep and holy conviction that the work God was doing through this sad, sad thing that none of us ever would have chosen was important and good. And so hope was born into my heart at the same time that grief was.
It felt so strange to me to be holding grief and hope together in tension with one another, fully convinced that each is right and good and a fitting tribute to what I was experiencing. When grief and hope intermingle, our worldly selves can feel wrong or guilty about it. We can feel like the hope does a disservice to the depth of the loss we are experiencing. We can also feel like the deep sorrow, pain, anger, and other feelings that come with grieving are affronts to the blessed hope in which God calls us to trust. Surely we shouldn’t feel hope in such a sad time, and surely our sadness means that our faith isn’t deep enough.
But for Christians, Jesus’s life and death stands as our central example of the myriad ways that the Kingdom of God trumps the ways of the world. The passion and death of Jesus are a perfect example of how deep grief and sacred hope can occupy space together. God’s perfect plan for all of us was unspeakably sad. To walk through it yearly during Holy Week is heartbreaking, I can only imagine what it was like to live it. And yet, that desperately sad event also ushered in the greatest hope of all time. Proof that God can bring beauty from ashes, that even His good ways can be hard, and that grief and hope can exist together in the sacred.
I am writing this during the season of Lent, Holy week is coming in just a few weeks. The events of Holy Weeks will feel real for me this year in a new way. Grief and hope together are even more real for me this year- and in that, hope may start to win out.
I’m sure part of me will never fully stop grieving this loss. At the moment, I’m angry in my grief and a bit snarky with God from time to time. But the rest of the story for our church family has yet to be written- and we really are a family. We will continue to be a family and the blessings of what our pastor, his wife, and their team have built will keep unfolding.
And one of them for me is the total certainty that my grief and hope can coexist, that the feelings in our hearts and the truth of God’s promises are NOT mutually exclusive. It’s a message dripping with the same grace and warmth from the heart of God that characterized our church. Such a fitting tribute to our story, which is still unfolding- even as we turn the page.