“How the mighty have fallen.”
~2 Samuel 1:19b, 25a, 27a (NRSV)
The early refrain of 2 Samuel is the sorrowful lament of the Lord’s anointed—David. Having reconciled the moments of destruction in Saul’s and Jonathan’s lives, David is bereft of anything but the bitterest grief. But his attitude toward it is a lesson to everyone in dealing with the worst of personal circumstances.
Even in his anguish, he commands Judah to learn, memorise, and recite this history.
In our age we much more readily deny the reality of our pain; we never enjoy meeting it full on. We can be sure that neither did David. But David had the wisdom to know that a full reconciliation of healing is dependent upon a full reconciliation of the situation’s pain.
1. Delving Into, Not Denying, the Pain
There is a simple reason why David wrote most of the laments in the biblical Psalms. He believed in delving into the pain, by fully exploring it in the words of prayer to God. The character of these prayers is complaint. From fatigue to bitterness to outrage, and a million forms of emotion between, David wept before his Lord.
He was as real as he possibly could be. He could deny nothing of his pain. And neither should we.
David, therefore, had a way of laying siege to his spiritual dirge. What was attacking him—his excruciations—were turned on their head. He attacked his pain by staring it in the eyes before God.
2. Holding the Tension In Between Times
One of the greatest difficulties with grief is the length of time it takes to fully recover.
There is this awkward in-between time we must endure where the sharpness of pain has been dealt with, but the vision for hope of a better future, for deliverance no less, is still far off.
In some ways this can be worse than the biting pain of initial grief, for at least back then we had a firm feeling for God. The Lord’s presence was nearby. Now we enter a dry time. And although our relationship with God is good it doesn’t feel quite as close as it used to.
This is a pain all itself. There is a certain spiritual numbness about it. And we are reminded, again and again, of the need to be patient. The new life is coming. Our biggest test is maintaining our resolve to the end—to become recovered, fully.
We need to remember David spent lengthy times in the cave and on the run.
3. Making Way for the New
For the new to arrive there must be room for it. The only way a new reality can take place is if the old has been dealt with. We cannot get rid of the old until we have grieved it adequately.
As David recovered from his grief there is little sign of jubilation, but plenty of evidence for moving on, whilst remembering the sacrifices made by all parties. Such humility makes David stand out as a biblical hero on how to grieve.
Even the strongest of us fall. And at our mightiest we are never safe from grief. But within the tragedy is an irony; our grief is the gateway to new life.
Whilst the pain in grief is frightening at the time, embracing it is the avenue to new life. When we meet all the pain in our grief with courage our experience of life is deepened and our character is matured. Blessed are those who take the long-term perspective.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.