For R, M, and D
I recently studied The Beatitudes in a class I’m taking on the life of Christ. I think they’re the most beautiful expressions of how to really live that I’ve ever heard — and one in particular struck me this time through:
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Jesus always surprises me. On face value, His teachings never make much sense, for He operates in a world of paradox and parables. Blessed are they that mourn? What’s so great about mourning? Surely Jesus isn’t suggesting some sort of masochistic approach to life, that when we’re hurting, we’re happy…is He?
Except that mourning is a common theme in Jesus’ life. In Isaiah, we’re told that He would be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He weeps for the loss of Lazarus, even as He knows that He will raise him from the grave. At one point, in a particularly intimate exchange with a man seeking to follow Him, the Master laments, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” All this before He suffers the ordeal in Gethsemane and the torture of the Cross.
Can there be a human being alive who endured such pain as the Savior?
But fundamental to our human nature is the impulse to avoid pain. We build barriers between ourselves and others; construct rigid, unbending worldviews; keep our vulnerabilities private and avoid risk. We tell ourselves that this is good, because it’s safe — and whenever pain strikes it’s because we did something bad. Surely God wants me to be happy. When I’m unhappy, it’s because I got it wrong. I’m being punished. I’m being reproved.
But Jesus says the opposite. We’re happy, He says, when we mourn.
I don’t understand all the whys and hows, but I do believe Jesus when He speaks. And I believe there is beauty in sorrow, hope in our trials. I myself have experienced the sweetness of joy that comes from intense suffering — a humility, a surrender, an acceptance of life the way it is — a declaration that even with all the hurt, life is worth living, and people are worth loving.
I wonder if life can possibly mean the same without it.
I have always been drawn to the passage in Alma 36, when Alma cries: “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.”
It has always impressed me that in this scripture, Alma describes the extent of his joy as being directly proportionate to the intensity of his suffering. I wonder if pain isn’t like a chisel that carves a canyon within, and you can only be filled with love and joy as deep as that canyon goes.
Perhaps God can experience infinite joy only because He knows what it is to feel infinite sorrow.
Of course, there is the second part of the Beatitude: for they shall be comforted. It is my understanding that in the Greek, the word “comfort” doesn’t mean to take pain away, but to come alongside. Happy are we when we mourn — not because our mourning will be eliminated — but because we will be accompanied in it. We are not alone. God sends the Comforter to journey with us. He sends friends and loved ones. He gives us shoulders to cry on and arms to hold us. And together, our canyons grow deeper. I suppose that’s why we’re charged by covenant to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.
I could go on, but this is already long enough. I know there will be some who will resist the idea that suffering is happy — and certainly I don’t mean to imply that we should go looking for it. But these are thoughts that have helped me during periods of trial and sorrow. And I’m not sure, but I think that the more we open our hearts to God and others, the more we will hurt. Perhaps this begins to explore some of the reasons why.