How to have a new beginning when something hard in your life isn’t ending

Nate says he fell in love with me the night he saw me ugly cry, in grief, over a young friend I’d mentored who had died tragically. The grief was of the stage in which it came like a summer storm, surprise-darkening my thinking that had just minutes before been clear.

I was too young to know how to grieve well when she died.

(Do we ever know how to grieve well?)

All I knew was to keep doing what I was doing the day before I got that harrowing 1AM call. So I did. The flurry of my life activity surely took the edge off the grief, but like running through an injury, I think it was years before I felt any real recovery.

So a simple-stupid movie that had nothing to do with grief brought on a rush of tears that I simply couldn’t stop. Nate just watched me, fumbling with what to do and yet so curious about this level of unfamiliar vulnerability from me. We were just friends then — well, apparently, until then.

That night hangs like a Christmas ornament in my memories — a tangible picture of paradox I hold in my palm about once a year. I was embarrassed by my mess, unacquainted with the very grief that flooded me. I was clearly less far along on my road to recovering from Renee’s death than I had thought.

And yet somehow, that lit a spark in Nate. It was an early indicator of what I’d name a decade and a half into marriage: he cherished the weaker side of me more than (or at least as much as) the competence and drive I brought into “us.”

And the paradox of it all was that this profound loss that wouldn’t go away in a week could somehow intersect with a rush of love that would change me forever.

But we struggle with this kind of paradox.

We struggle with the nuance of Scripture that says things about Jesus like “His name shall be called …Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), while reading Jesus’ own words, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

We often don’t have a place for paradox.

So the night that grief flooded my system and sent me off-line, in my head, overwhelmed with feelings that had welled inside of me but that I hadn’t named, was not the night I’d imagined I’d fall into a lifetime love. There is an order, and this was not that.

But as I scan my friends and family in different parts of the world, I see a commonality: many of us are in seasons we’re convinced must run their course before … well … before we fall in love.

Whether it be that we’re waking to the reality that grief or trial or suffering requires much more attention than what I gave it twenty years ago, after I experienced my first startling loss to death, or that our energy is so limited that the “hard” seems to leave no room for much else — I wonder if we’ve missed the invitation for … paradox. For mystery.

To put it another way: can we receive the fruit that He has for the next season while still grieving the last?

I don’t know, but I’m asking.

Because there are a few weighty, unfinished pieces in my life that the thirty-five-year-old version of me would be banging down the walls of heaven to shift that … as I pause and reflect … seem like necessary elements for me in the next.

Can both exist together: loss, pain … and profound fruit, and new life?

Maybe. My life is saying maybe. And I look at the Word and I can’t deny this:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;  he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habbakuk 3:17-19

Pause and re-read that.

The paradox of profound joy and “treading on high places” juxtaposed over a field with no food, flocks, or fruit — could this be your invitation? Might this be why you’re reading this today?

This is where I am — staring at a fallow field in my life, uncertain whether the blood and sweat prayers of my heart will fertilize what feels long-dead — and yet feeling intrigued and curious about this thought I can’t shake that love [His love] might find me here, again.

I’ve had a few times in my life like this, and, looking back, I can see that pain did its work — rather, God did His work through the pain. It opened long-sealed doors in the rooms of my house to air them out with the light of day, such that they might now be remodeled, renovated by … joy.

What a paradox — this 1 Peter 1:6-8 and James 1:2 reality: that joy and pain can exist beside one another. They are not mutually exclusive. And maybe the greater the pain, the greater my newly carved capacity for joy.

This past year was a doozy, and right when we were coming up for air, we had that “phone call” with more bad news … but the whisper from God (that I received deeply in my inner being) was: you’re going to touch a joy like you’ve never known this year.

Could it be?

I ask myself this as I scan the corridor of my life and I see instances where it was true … and as I study the Bible and see that this paradox was embodied in a God-Man who cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” AND set the entire world free from the chains that had long bound it into forsakenness — all in the same weekend.

Based on my anecdotal sampling of the world around me — I’m not alone. Many of us are facing waves of loss. If this is you, go on a test run with me and ask Him: God, will You give me new beginnings with you as I grieve the old that I wish wouldn’t die?

I suspect this paradox is that for which we were made. It might even be that searching for this paradox in our days is part of how we will survive these trials.