Why, you may ask, on a website dedicated to making space for a beautiful life do I feature a quote that glorifies grief? Isn’t living beautifully about seeking out the best opportunities—about doing and experiencing the things that bring joy to our daily lives?
Yes. And no.
A vast difference exists between the pursuit of pleasure—and the experience of joy. There is nothing wrong with living life to its fullest. I love a great meal, impeccable architecture, lush landscape, rich colors, great fiction, conversation, a fun party. The problem, however, is that those things terminate upon themselves; and without a continual influx of pleasure, the end result is either boredom or frustration.
If those things simply whitewash a dark reality I’m avoiding or I pursue them in order to numb myself from the ‘bad stuff’, something is off kilter. After all, aren’t personal struggles and tragic situations redeemable or even purposeful for my growth? Isn’t there beauty to be found in the ashes?
Melville implies that grief is where real beauty begins—especially for those of us who call ourselves Christians. I believe he is right in asserting that our civilized practices of personal fulfillment camouflage an ugly mentality that keeps us ignorant to the ‘real world.’
Sometimes, we invite or cause our own hardship—other times, however, it is thrust upon us. It’s those real-world gut punches that build true character.
Three of our close relatives, all in their 40s, are newly (or soon-to-be) widowed. And every one of those women, despite the heartache, are impacting people around them with amazing empathy and strength that reflects beauty. As I watched my dad succumb to the ravages of ALS—my siblings and our families were forever changed by his spiritual growth and solid grasp of eternity in the final months of his life. Every day, my brother and sister-in-law wade through the countless unspoken and endless challenges of making a life for their family while raising a severely disabled child. They are exhausted and empty most days, but somehow, they keep going and keep learning. That list of hurting people changed by circumstance goes on and on.
Maybe the key thing about hardship and grief is that it forces reality upon us. It holds us captive to something other than personal pursuit—and gives us an eye for others.
I spent the day at the beach with my husband yesterday. It was utterly enjoyable. When we got home, we set to making dinner… full of lazy, sun-baked peace. Just as things were starting to bubble on the stove, our cottage guests, a single mom and her 11-year-old son visiting from the Midwest, asked for help getting the kayaks in the water so they could experience their first sunset on the Gulf.
I have to admit that my willingness to drop everything in order to help was not exactly present. But afterward, I watched (humbled) from the front porch as the evening sun was beginning its course downward, purpling the clouds and leaving a trail of pink in its wake. I saw it through their eyes, not my own—and was filled with something richer than mere relaxation.
When ten thousand joys are lived in a vacuum of self, it’s a dead-end. But grief will heighten our compassion and teach us to be about more than our own pleasure. And in the end, the resulting beauty will impact the way we see all of life.
“Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.” Ecclesiastes 7:3