The tears were welling in my eyes, my heart a mixture of wonder and sadness. Wonder that so many had gathered for my neighbor Dale’s funeral and sadness that he was gone, taken down by cancer. When my daughter asked about my tears, I had to explain that they weren’t coming from a heart completely filled with sorrow. The tears were also expressing a deep joy that came from watching people love each other and remind each other of the truth that Dale and everyone who belongs to Christ are destined to live forever.
The funny thing about our hearts is that they are capable of holding more than one emotion at a time, even when those emotions are polar opposites. The darkness is like that, too, often yielding treasures that will produce more light. As Jerry Sittser observed when he faced the terrible grief of losing three of the people he loved most, darkness invaded his soul. “But then again, so did light,” he says. Both contributed to his transformation.
He goes on:
“In other words, though I experienced death, I also experienced life in ways that I never thought possible before—not after the darkness, as we might suppose, but in the darkness. I did not go through pain and come out the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow. I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.”
The key for Jerry—and for all of us—is not whether there will be times of darkness but how we will respond to the darkness when it comes. As he says, “We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we must play in life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given.”1
1. Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 36-37.