We all experience moments where life suddenly goes sideways. These are the times where we think we are headed in one direction, anticipating how the day or the upcoming week or month or year will unfold. But then, something flips those plans upside down. It might be a worrisome phone call that awakens us in the middle of the night. Or when something interferes with our career aspirations. A relationship explodes. A loved one is given a scary health diagnosis. A promising opportunity evaporates. Someone dies. Or, how the COVID virus has de-railed so many of the expectations and plans we had for 2020.
Last spring was exhilarating. When my book, When Grief Descends: Suffering, Consolation, and the Book of Job, was first released on Amazon last spring it became a #1 bestseller in 11 categories. I participated in a number of forums and podcasts that allowed me to promote and discuss the book. I wrote guest posts for a number of blogs. And I was honored to teach a class on loss and grief and the Book of Job to a doctoral divinity class at a local university.
But all of a sudden, life was interrupted. The pandemic ramped up and we all faced major restrictions. My fibromyalgia flared-up. One of our sons faced a return of his Crohn’s disease that necessitated numerous hospital stays and eventually major surgery. And a dear family friend, a father to three very young children, was struck by a car and killed while he was riding his bike.
By necessity, my focus zeroed in on what was immediate and essential, and my priorities were shuffled.
Suddenly, I had little time, energy, or desire to write for my blog or to engage with social media. Our daily walks ground to a halt. The restrictions stopped us from socializing with friends and extended family. Our travel plans were canceled. And the box containing my newly published books remained unopened in our study.
But as we have gradually adapted to the COVID restrictions and things are stabilizing, I feel like I am re-surfacing. I have started tidying up my desk and sorting through my emails. I am revisiting some old projects. I feel an urge to write. I have signed up for a winter course in my seminary program (a course that focuses on the women in the New Testament). And, I finally unwrapped the sealed box of books that had been sitting on my desk.
As I opened the box and held copies of my book, I reflected on how unexpected events alter the passage of our lives. I wrote about this in my book, where I conceptualized how these unexpected events force us to pivot. How these disruptions propel us out of prosperous, summer seasons into gruelling winter seasons, before we cycle back into spring and renewal.
There are also many other ways that scholars and theologians visualize and describe these life phases and transitions. I appreciate how Walter Bruggemann describes them in his book, Spirituality of the Psalms. His model describes the stages, and the movements between the stages as flowing from orientation to dis-orientation to re-orientation. Richard Rohr in his book, The Wisdom Pattern, envisions these life phases as transitioning from a sense of order to disorder to reorder. He goes on to suggest that it is the movement through these phases that contributes to our human and spiritual development.
The author of Ecclesiastes beautifully captures this ebb and flow of life in their poem, “A Time For Everything.”1 The ancient biblical poem highlights the ever-changing, complex, roller-coaster nature of life, emphasizing how everything has a season and there is a time for every matter under heaven:
Everything Has Its Time
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Regardless of how you personally choose to visualize or label the moments that interrupt the flow of our lives and cause change, the key is how these images help to convey that we will all experience both prosperity and adversity. Also, whenever we are in times of mourning and weeping this imagery offers hope in the possibility of our healing, restoration, and renewal.
I acknowledge just how challenging this unpredictable year has been. We have all experienced losses that interrupted our lives and forced us to change direction. The grief can be overwhelming and traumatizing. But I am convinced that if we are willing to enter into and process our individual and collective grief, we will emerge on the other side. We will shift out of a time of disorientation into a time of reorientation, from disorder to reorder, and emerge from this long, hard winter season into the warmth of summer.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NRSV
This looks like an amazing book. Grief comes in many forms. We all experience some kind of grief in life. I am thankful we can go to God at any moment and know He is covering us with His love.
Thank you so much Melissa for your encouraging words. Yes, loss and grief are complex and how we each respond to our losses will be unique. And yes, we inevitably will face loss and trial throughout our lifetime. I too am so thankful that God is our foundation and we can rest in his love and compassion as we walk through seasons of adversity. Have a blessed Advent season. Stay well and stay safe. God bless.
Anne, we’ve all missed you and your writing! Thankful things are stabilizing in your life.
Your words resonate with me.so much kids and things to grieve this year. I pray to continue to process it.
Thank you so much dear Karen! I have missed you all too. It sounds like you have some grief to walk through as well. I am so sorry. It has been a tough year for sure. I pray that we both continue to process and heal and continue to feel God’s presence, protection, and provision in the midst of the challenges. May you have a blessed Advent season and feel God’s love, peace, joy and hope.
Welcome back Anne. I am so glad you are making your way the fog of all these events. I pray the God helps you to continue moving forwards. I love that passage in Ecclesiastes, it is so beautiful in its simple descriptions but very profound. It helps me get through the tough days too.
Thank you so much Yvonne for your kind and supportive words. I really appreciate it. I pray you are continuing to do well and staying safe. Have a blessed Advent season.
Anne, I am so glad you are beginning to feel the stirrings of renewed life again. You have been through so much as so many have. Thank you for this helpful reflection on seasons. It is so encouraging and compassionate.
Pam, thanks for your kind and encouraging comments. I pray you and your family are all remaining safe and well during this challenging time. May you be blessed abundantly this Advent season and through 2021 with God’s love, peace, joy, and hope.
Prayers for you and your son! This year has been so unpredictable. It reminds me of what James writes in James 4:13-14 NIV
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
We are a mist on this earth, but thank God we have a forever awaiting us with our Lord.
Jessica, thank you for drawing my attention to James 4:13-14. What a powerful reminder that though much of our lives will be mysterious and we don’t know what is around the corner or why things happen the way they do, we can be certain that God is present and waiting. And he promises us eternity. What a foundational certainty to give us a footing and a hope, as we walk through this journey. God bless you and your family in this Advent season and into 2021! May you feel his love, peace, joy, and hope in abundance.
Anne, it is so good to see you back. Thank you for sharing about the difficulties you have faced through this stressful year. A word of encouragement from someone who has been there is such a comfort. May we seek the healing that only the Lord can bring in those moments when things go in ways we did not plan or hope. He still restores what is broken and brings beauty from ashes. Blessings to you and your family in the new year!
Thank you dear Melissa for your supportive and encouraging words. Yes, God brings beauty from the ashes, summer from the winter, healing from the hurt. We can be assured that as we walk through the hard, winter seasons, and sit on the ash heaps of our lives, just as Job did, God will be present, and he will provide and protect us. God is so faithful. God bless you in this Advent season and into 2021! May you feel his love, peace, joy, and hope in abundance.
Anne, the timing of everything that happened this year at your house and all the things that happened over here at our house were tragic and unexpected. Like you, I ground to a halt on every project but the weekly blog. I had nothing else within me to even think of writing. Like you, I left much undone. However, unlike you, I had no fresh box of brand new books, a triumph in writing that took off right out of the gate before any of us knew what 2020 would hold. I am grieved that you didn’t get to enjoy your triumph, and I hope and pray that things turn the corner and that you gain, a time to laugh, after your time of weeping, and a time to dance, after your time of mourning. May this Advent season and this New Year bring times of joy, of a return to the distribution of those bestselling books, and a time of new victories and more healing within your family. God bless you, sister, as your own Job-like season comes to a conclusion.
Yes, dear Melinda, we have both walked through such struggles this past year. Ones that have stretched us and pushed us physically and emotionally. Yet, I have felt so privileged to walk alongside those who are walking through trials. For their courage and their reliance on God and deep faith have encouraged me and helped to transform and mature me spiritually. And in the trials, I have learned to trust God in the great mystery of why life unfolds as it does. And as you write, who knew what 2020 would hold for us personally and collectively. We can never be fully certain about what is around the corner! Thank you as always for your kind and encouraging words and for your blessings. I, in turn, pray that you come through the trials you have faced and enter a time of summer and joy and healing. God bless you sister this Advent season. And may you be blessed abundantly with God’s love, peace, joy and hope.
What great timing for your book release, Anne. It’s a much needed reminder. And I’m glad you have kept your eyes on God during such significant’ life interruptions. May 2021 be a year of renewed strength and hope and one of opportunity to show the world who our wonderful God is.
Stephen, thank you so much for commenting and encouragement. Yes, the release of the book was timely in that its focus on loss and grief and trauma is what we have had to collectively and individually face and walked through during this challenging year. I agree, I pray that 2021 will be a year filled with God’s presence, provision, and protection. And that people will grow to know of our heavenly Father because of the way we radiate his love and compassion. Blessings Stephen to you and your family.
Wow! Your book sounds quite timely for 2020. I bet you could write a great sequel on how you applied the principles all year.
Thank you Janice for commenting and your encouragement.