The God of Joy and Grief


Dec_Settle_2It has been almost ten years since we stood at the altar of an old Baptist church, June sun shooting through the glass stained blue and green, downtown traffic buzzing outside of the thick, wooden doors. We lifted our voices while we squeezed our hands and felt the words to How Great Thou Art sink into the choir of hundreds of friends and family.

They were all present in their finest clothes to witness the joining of our lives. I remember how easily the lyrics left my lips, how they nearly floated out of my nervous smile. They rang loud and true while the ancient organ hummed low beneath all that joy rising in song.

Just a couple of weeks ago, sparks from the fire popped into the black sky over our backyard. Bare hands, shaking from the fall crisp held plastic cups of red wine and glass bottles of amber beer. In camping seats and wooden lawn chairs, on top of coolers and criss-crossed on the brick patio, friends gathered around the hot blazes as my husband poked a stick to stir the flames.

They came to remember. They came to support. They came to pour their tears into our cupped hands, the perfect and only offering.

It was a night to feel the grief of losing our little boy two years ago. And our voices cracked with deep sadness as we whispered the words of that same hymn, How Great Thou Art. The strumming of the guitar could just barely hold up our fragile song.

I felt it on the altar that afternoon in June so many years ago.  I felt it in our backyard that night in October.

The deepest places are an invitation to touch the holy. 

And I wonder sometimes why it is that those moments of grief, of despair, feel like they are scraping right up against a mystery hinting of joy and peace. How can it be that the same song, the same old, ancient hymn could cause a heart to bleed the same hot tears on the altar of marriage and at the service of remembrance? I don’t know for sure why the wall between joy and grief feels at times more fragile than lace, with holes to peer through and catch a peak of the other side.

But I wonder if that razor’s edge between grief and joy is the holy ground where we most smell the new milk on the Infant’s lips while touching the bright red spilling out from the side of the Christ.

I wonder if these deep places, these hallowed out spaces, are where we bow down next to the manger and catch a glimpse and get a touch of God among us.

I wonder if the reason that we ache with joy the way that we ache with grief is simply because they are two sides of the same coin. Right in that thin space between them is where we find ourselves fully in the presence of Love Come Down. It is where we worship like the first time, as they did that night in Bethlehem thousands of years ago.

So as we crawl to the manger this Advent season, let us remember the moments when we most knew that we were in His presence.

Let us remember the times when our bellies hurt with pure laughter, and the times when our throats closed up with true sadness. Let us remember when we felt our hearts falling apart, and when we felt them brimming over.

For those are the times that we have kneeled low and touched the skin of the God who knew joy and grief.

And it was all worship.

May we never leave those manger moments without the words, How Great Thou Art, spilling out of our broken and redeemed hearts.

Settle Monroe
I am grounded to the earth in a beautiful life with two sons. I am rooted in heaven with the promise of life eternal with another son who leapt into his Father’s arms in October of 2011. I write about the joy and pain of living heart-broken but heart-swollen in the valley of love and loss at my blog, As I Walk.
Settle Monroe

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  1. Settle, I was fortunate to be at your wedding, and so sad to be at your son’s funeral, but through it all you have demonstrated such grace and compassion, always seeking, waiting, learning, listening to your heart…Always full of gratitude for that which you have received. I have watched and admired your journey from a distance and hope you know you have the good will and support of many unseen hearts and hands.

  2. Thanks for being such a good steward of both your gifts and what God is doing deeply within you. It gives life and hope to those of us fortunate enough to read.

  3. Jane Coulter says:

    The analogy of the wall between joy and grief being as fragile as lace is perfect. I feel as if my skin is made the same way, the walls of my cells….it is what I am made of now. Thank you for your writing.

  4. Oh, my. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time. This is a truth I’ve tried to model and teach and live for about 20 years now and you have found the perfect words to express it, Settle. Thank you so much. Just remarkable writing.

  5. Settle, you capture something so important, so beautiful and so hard here … I was at a funeral for a little girl in our neighbourhood on Saturday and I walked away with deep sadness, but also this beautiful sense of community. Out of the deepest pain, our community is rising and showing up and caring so beautifully for this family who has lost their daughter. You know this pain … Thank you so much for sharing from your Life and your beautiful heart.

  6. “The deepest places are an invitation to touch the holy. ”

    Yours words are like a balm to my heart. You write so beautifully Settle. Breathtaking.

  7. Helen Burns Helen Burns says:

    ‘For those are the times that we have kneeled low and touched the skin of the God who knew joy and grief……And it was all worship’

    Tears are flowing down my face as I read your words which so resonate with my heart. Thank you for opening your life and story which is tenderly touching mine this morning..

    Helen xo

  8. dang girl. you did it again. awesome.

    loved every word and feeling this in new and real ways this season too.

  9. Sharyn Sowell says:

    How great He is indeed. Thin places~ those moments when the veil between heaven and earth lets us see through the glass, even dimly… Like you, I thank God for those times. Worship in it all is so right.

  10. Anne-Marie says:

    The manger and the cross are the only things that make heart sense of so much.
    I’m awed by you bringing an offering of glory from pain and worship in all. ‘Touching the skin of the God who knew joy and grief.’ Phew, wow Settle.

  11. Worship, YES! Every bit of it! Let us remember it all.

    “May we never leave those manger moments without the words, How Great Thou Art, spilling out of our broken and redeemed hearts.” I am so with you here, Settle. So very much with you.

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