It’s early February in the Midwest. Anyone who has experienced this time of year in the upper plains of the U.S. knows what that means. Days and days of not seeing the sun. Only a shadow of sunlight filtering through the gray, cloudy skies. And it’s not only the skies that are gray. It’s the landscape. All of nature takes on various hues of gray. Even that which was ‘as white as the pure driven snow’ is no longer white. Over several weeks, that snow becomes gray and dirty. The leafless tree branches are gray. The tree trunks are gray. The streets are gray. The shoveled sidewalks are gray. Even the so-called evergreen trees are just a greenish shade of gray. It’s all gray. That is, until a winter storm flurries through the land, leaving behind a fresh layer of pristine snow. When the blizzard is followed by a burst of sunshine breaking through the clouds, the dreary scene turns into a magical, sparkling fairy-tale kind of world. Refreshing our eyes with a sense of wonder and beauty, providing a temporary respite in the middle of our cold, wintery fate.
The other morning, as I walked past our eastern facing picture window, the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Within moments, the bright, glorious sunrise was flooding the room with golden rays filled with warmth and cheer – a pleasant sight to behold. A sight to savor, to enjoy. A sight that awakens the soul to marvel at the artistry of our Creator. And then I walked into the kitchen, and caught the view outside a window facing west. Same old view it had been for the last several days. Gray, cold, depressing. The beams of light hadn’t yet reached the backyard. Standing between the two rooms, I could look either way. The contrast created by the perspective was startling. And descriptive.
What a difference perspective makes. I look to the east and see hope. Hope of a brighter day. Hope that things will get better, hope that sees and appreciates beauty. Hope that spring really is coming. Hope that things really can improve.
Looking to the west… well… not so much. The two scenes outside are real. I’m not creating the view from either window. It’s just there. What I do have control over is which window I choose to look through. Sometimes, after great loss, it feels like all the windows in the house face west on a wintery morning. Cold, gray, lifeless. A reflection of our grieving souls. If there’s beauty, it’s camouflaged. Nowhere to be seen.
The problem is, when encompassed by grief, there are no other windows to look through, no choice but to face the dullness of grief. Inside that glum world, nothing seems to matter. For a time, us mourners live in that landscape. While we’re surrounded by the cold reality of loss, the chill causes a numbness to settle in. You can know there are things you should care about, but you don’t. Along with the numbness, thoughts of, “Why does it even matter? What’s the use?” And, “I don’t care. I just don’t care” invade the mind. All you care about is getting your loved one back.
In early grief, the pain is so great, you just want to get away from it. You want to shift your eyes away from the window, but it’s still there. Even if you don’t look at it, it’s still there. And there isn’t a thing you can do to fix the scene.
In the midst of my gray winter, there was only one thing that helped. One thing that would bring occasional relief. It wasn’t a movie, it wasn’t going out for dinner, it wasn’t shopping, it wasn’t self-medicating. It was deliberately choosing to look up. To shift my perspective.
This might sound strange, but each time I looked to my Heavenly Father, my soul was lifted. The pain lessened and a sense of peace entered my heart. I discovered that He really is a God of comfort. But then I’d get distracted, turning my attention to other things, to tasks that needed to be done, to patterns of thought that played over and over in my head, to life in front of me that still had to be lived. But what a relief it was in the moment. It was in those moments that I was able to glance out the east window of my soul and see the faintest ray of sunlight, telling me that things would be okay. It would get better. The daylight would gradually, oh so slowly, increase. And once again, one day, some day in the future, spring would again come to my soul. That was what I held onto. And eventually, that’s what has happened. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been a long journey. We still mourn. Our family still misses him. It’s still a huge loss, but over time, over a long time, that faint hint of sunlight has grown. Clouds still appear here and there, but the sun shines more often, bringing light, life, and even moments of joy.
…Joy in the mourning.
With prayer and thanksgiving, bring your concerns to God, and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7