I was in high school when the movie “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” came out. The main character explained how her family was so big because she had 26 first cousins!! Intrigued and knowing I’m from a large family myself, I added up how many first cousins I have. 34! THIRTY-FOUR!! That is quite large, by the Big, Fat, Greek Wedding standards anyway! As you can imagine with a family that large I have attended a lot of funerals. The thing that sticks out most about funerals is not what happens when I first arrive for visitation or even the last moments at the grave site. For me, it is the in-between time. It’s the time when family and friends gather in the hospitality room and tell the best stories about those they love and have lost while eating food provided by churches and friends. As a child I loved hearing stories about my grandparents while coffee brewed in the background and everyone was gathered around. I also have very vivid memories of the confusion this brought to me. Why was it so enjoyable to laugh when someone I loved so deeply was gone? I remember feeling guilty for even smiling. How could I smile when my family was in the middle of a tragedy? This opposition left me perplexed to say the least.
Last summer I began reading Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
A Time for Everything
3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
As I was reading this, one word stuck out to me. One simple, three letter word….”and.” The verses don’t say “or.” Now it is clear to see here how my family could weep AND laugh, mourn AND dance. The reality is, we can hold conflicting emotions in our hands at the same time. We don’t have to choose one OR the other. We can carry both. We can plant fresh flowers while uprooting dead ones. We can fully embrace some things, some relationships, or even parts of the relationship, while refraining from others, either in part or in whole. There is a time to tear down and rebuild. In fact, sometimes it takes completely tearing something down in order to rebuild. Usually what we rebuild is stronger and healthier anyway.
As we enter into an uncertain holiday season with COVID and the election, remember that you too can hold space for conflicting opinions and emotions. You may need to give yourself permission to hold both grief and joy this season or keep certain memories close while throwing others away. You are allowed to search for things you need, while also letting go of those things that just won’t ever be. The biggest thing to remember this season is that the Lord has already gone before you (Deut. 31:8). He is the safest place to be honest with your feelings and expectations; your joy AND pain. He is more than capable of holding the world together AND holding your heart.
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