I’m sitting in the office on this very rainy day, laptop in front of me, thinking about everything that has happened during the past 10 months. Little could we all imagine back in January and February what this year would bring. Personally, professionally, mentally, and spiritually – we have all had to make adjustments and concessions. I know I haven’t been the most consistent with regard to any of those areas in my life, but that’s to be expected given the world that we’ve been living in. Things change almost daily, based on new data and directives, and it seems that we’re all at the mercy of others to tell us how we are supposed to act and interact.
In a recent, virtual conference presentation I learned about two concepts of grief – communal grief and anticipatory grief. Both of these terms brought to mind not only the obvious sentiments of grief and loss, but this pandemic as well. We have lost our sense of normalcy, we have lost jobs, and we have lost things that we formerly took for granted – hugging, informal gatherings with friends and coworkers, traveling, dining out, or even attending Mass regularly.
We have experienced a sense of communal grief during this year because we have an understanding that “we’re all in this together.” There isn’t any one group of people that has not been affected in a profound way by the pandemic. It can be helpful and uplifting to know that we are not alone and we can find support and calmness in the midst of others. I have witnessed this communal grief shared at our parish by the prayer requests that continue to come in and the phone calls and letters from parishioners thanking our staff or volunteers for reaching out to them.
The anticipatory grief we’ve been experiencing is something entirely different. This is the sense of loss that we know is coming, it’s ever-present, and there is not necessarily an end in sight. I remember back in early April, after having the kids home for a couple weeks and finding out that we were in it for the long haul. I thought to myself: “I could do this if I just knew how long I had to do it for.” The worst part was not having a definitive end. And even as the summer drew to a close and the kids returned to school, there was still a lot left up in the air – no guarantees that we wouldn’t have to revert back to remote learning, no sports and activities, no vaccine in sight, and still no regularity at work.
But as we approach the season of Advent, I am anticipating things in a whole new way. I have a screensaver on my computer that depicts a handwritten piece of Scripture. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 21:4) I have looked at this verse daily for the past 4-6 weeks and it’s brought me so much comfort and wholeness and hope. Isaiah prophesied that God will wipe away the tears and we will be met with an everlasting joy and gladness. (Isaiah 25:8, 35:10)
As a mature Christian, I know that life not only brings tribulations and troubles, but it also brings many blessings and comforts. It’s inevitable that we will experience grief, pain, and sorrow. But we are assured of God’s love for us and are guaranteed eternity in His Kingdom if we can look beyond life’s difficulties and look up toward Heaven.
The world we are living in today seems even more fallen than usual. There is much divisiveness and discord, and our vision has been blurred by social, print, and news media. No one seems to be exempt from problems or challenges, either. Just when I think my own life is settling down, something else happens to cause confusion or worry or jealousy. My tears are more frequent sometimes, but I have come to embrace them as a sign of being alive. My ability to feel big emotions – both good and bad – is what makes me human. I almost like knowing that my life is out of my own control, because it forces me to ponder the bigger picture and what God wants for me, his lovely and imperfect child.
With a hope in something more than ourselves, we are promised that the frustrations and worry that we feel will be wiped away and we’ll be left with nothing but love and comfort and life everlasting. It’s important to remember that God calls us not to worry, and he knows our deepest and most sincere hurts and desires. Psalm 56 reads, "The Lord puts all my tears into His bottle." Lay your burdens out for Him and allow him to collect your tears. He will wipe them away and collect them because they are precious to Him. They are an indication of our sharing in Christ's suffering and pain. But it is precisely because of His sacrifice that we are promised there will be no weeping in heaven, and death and destruction will be swallowed up in victory.
While we may never fully understand why we have to endure some things in life, we should never forget that God’s eternal and omniscient perspective is broader than our humanly, restricted view. He is our present help in trouble today and tomorrow and He will eventually wipe away the tears from all of our eyes.