Joy in the House of Mourning
Here is a statement in Scripture that I had always found perplexing: the author of Ecclesiastes (7:4) says, “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” What reason could possibly drive the author to make a statement like that? If we stop for a moment and think – we may see the wisdom in the words of a writer who had partaken of all the “mirth” that his life could possibly offer. You like to party? Read Ecclesiastes 2 and have a seat on the bench. Maybe you can party with the junior varsity... Our society clamors after this level of “mirth” with the ferocity of a black Friday crowd. And yet, we hear a man who has cashed the check that frivolity has written and found it lacking – saying that the heart of the wise instead finds its fuel in a house of mourning. Why is that? In April of 2009, I believe I began to understand.
The loss of a loved one is always difficult. If you have experienced losing someone who meant a lot to you, I don't need to tell you that. For all the knowledge we might have of the transitory nature of this life, when we truly have to live through it, knowing “stuff” doesn't make the pain subside. I mention the loss of a loved one because it was the experience of my father's death that was the catalyst that brought understanding to the words of Ecclesiastes. Frivolity and mirth is a great entertainer but sorrow is a gracious teacher. Entertainment passes the time; teaching makes the most of it. We probably all have “fun” friends that we love to be around if we just want to have a good time – but they aren't the ones we call when things come crashing down. In those moments, our anesthetic of diversion is worn off by the dull consistency of sorrow. And the wise don't rush to the house that will numb them to difficult reality, but to the house that can help them understand it.
On one of the days following my father's funeral, I was walking through my house still somewhat untethered from the buzz of life that marched steadily on around me. Coping with loss brings many actions and emotions. Wisdom doesn't necessarily lie in the experience of those emotions but in the perspective gained when we press them to see what is at their core. One of the most interesting things I discovered appeared as I tried to sift through the feelings of loneliness that came in the wake of the passing of my “biggest fan”. My dad was the kind of guy that, if he was your friend, he was your huge fan – and there was little that he thought you couldn't do. I knew that, no matter what I tried, my dad would be convinced that I could do it and excel. There HAD to be times when he was as sure as I was that I wasn't quite up to the task – but he never let on. And that was what my soul was telling me I had lost – someone who believed in me and loved me no matter what... Are you beginning to see the breach in my understanding through which wisdom was about to flood? It was as though an idea that had lurked in the secrecy of shadow suddenly stepped out and presented itself in full form. I didn't believe that my Heavenly Father loved me as much as my earthly one had...
I hope that statement strikes you as coldly as it did me. As the light of that revelation poured in, I could only smile. Why? Because pain in the house of mourning had opened the way for wisdom. God was revealing to me the vastness of his love and my ignorance of that fact through the sorrow of earthly pain. I had experienced a great love on earth – but it PALES in comparison to the love of my Heavenly Father. My father simply can NOT love me more than God does. Any love and belonging from being in a relationship with my dad is a mere hint and vapor of the perfect love of God. Though that kind of earthly love is a true blessing, it is not ultimate. I still find it difficult to understand and I wrestle with the extent and implications of that truth. But God has not been satisfied that I remain ignorant of the greatness of His love for His children. Mourning has given way to understanding and applied understanding is the seedbed of wisdom. It's not as though He hadn't told me of His surpassing love - Jesus pointed it out in Matthew 7:9-11 – I just didn't quite “get” it.
Praise God for the pain that makes us wise.