From Water, Wine
A Grief Brought Near
With a sincere gust of breath, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake. As seven gave way to eight, I quickly turned from my cake to the nearby present and tore in with youthful ferocity. Though severely weakened by fiery pricks of pain, my mom had wrapped that gift with dear love. Casting the wrapping paper to the sterile hospital room floor, my eyes grew wide at the sight of a new X-Wing toy. I excitedly turned to my brother and cousins to show them my new treasure. Dismounting my mom’s lap, I thanked my parents profusely and then scurried off to the waiting room. The joy of that present blasted me off into a galaxy far, far away. Meanwhile on earth, my mom was slowly dying, and profound sorrow lurked just outside her hospital room*.
Grief and loss are stark realities that sink their icy claws into every heart. No person will escape this life without feeling the cold breath of sadness. Whether it’s from sickness, death, uncontrollable circumstances, or bad choices, pain finds us all. The sorrow we encounter, however, will not last through to our journey’s end.
Formed for Joy
King David, a man keenly acquainted with grief, reoriented his gaze when loss struck. “You keep track of all my sorrows,” wrote the grieving Hebrew monarch, “You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8). He was confident that God was intimately aware of every tear shed.
David’s God had created him, and us, for a purpose more lasting than pain. “What is the chief end of man?” query the Westminster divines. In answer to their own question, they reply, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). The Lord formed our frames to brim over with his delight. Joy in him is our goal.
What is Joy?
This virtue is so essential to our souls because it aligns our steps with the Father’s. Pastor Sam Storms defines this spiritual fruit as a “deep, durable delight in God.” Joy is knowing that no matter how dark the night, the Lord still wills the morning sun to rise. It is confidence that in his presence “there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). It is through our most poignant griefs that God creates our greatest delight in him.
Water to Wine
In John 2:1-11, Jesus and his disciples receive last minute invitations to a wedding in Cana. At Jewish marriage celebrations, guests would customarily bring along some wine (1st century BYOB). For Jesus and his followers to arrive without any beverage in tow would have raised some eyebrows. When we are walking through difficult circumstances, we may be tempted to think that Christ has shown up empty-handed to our suffering. If our pain is like the water at the Cana wedding, however, Jesus’ hands will work a miracle over the depths of our pain. He will transform our darkest grief into deepest joy.
A God who Knows
Jesus can change our sorrow because he himself has walked through it. On the cross, he carried our sorrows, was pierced for our grief, and was murdered for our sins. And he conquered them all. He knows how we suffer, and he is using it to lead us to his joy.
The Pulsation of the Soul
Suffering was ever only intended to be a stopover on the road to delight in God. Pain cannot endure eternity. Reflecting on our profound suffering, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.” The weeping of our long night will become the tears of joy streaming down our face when the light of Christ eternally rises before us. These very tears he will wipe away and collect in his jar. He will enshrine our sadness as a monument to our unending joy in his presence. His hands, the hands that turned water to wine, will transform our every grief into glorious joy.
*In his mercy, God spared my mom. She is alive and healthy today.