Medical professionals are taught that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  It is argued that those who grieve will experience each of these stages, although everyone experiences them differently. They occur in different orders; some people skip a stage and then come back to it. Some experience two stages simultaneously, and others flit from stage to stage to stage as grief swirls uncontrollably around them.

I believe there is some truth to the theory of staging grief. But I also believe that it is lacking immensely. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:4 says, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  Psalm 30:11 says, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.”

In Ecclesiastes God tells us that he has his own timeline for grief. He has given us a time for everything, for every purpose under heaven. He has given us time to weep, and he has given us time to mourn. He feels our pain and our grief as a father feels for his child, so deeply that he knows the grief better than we know it ourselves. He also gently tells us that there is a time to laugh, and a time to dance.

I don’t believe that there are strict stages of grieving. One moment you’re weeping and can’t fathom ever laughing again, but in the next moment, you laugh. Throughout a day spent grieving, mourning and dancing weave and swirl together, so much so that you lose track of where one begins and the other ends. They mix together as finely as two sands poured into the same sieve. Mourning and dancing become one and the same. Laughing and weeping are soon indistinguishable. Mourning is laughing, as you recall memories. Weeping is celebrating, as you revel in the mystery of God’s all-consuming peace. How can such an emotion be staged? Or explained? Or understood even by those who experience it?

Only the God who is sovereign over all things, including grief, can fully understand it. Only the one who created you can fully understand how you grieve. He understands that the time to dance and the time to mourn often walk so closely together that they become one. The theory of the five stages of grief is lacking so immensely because it has left out the comfort, the hope, the trust, and ultimately the peace that the child of God experiences throughout the grieving process. God takes you by the hand and ever so gently leads you through the tumultuous sea of emotions. He sweeps you from mourning into dancing, the transition so fluid and quiet that you cannot pinpoint the moment when your heart moved from downtrodden to joyous. He turns your weeping into laughter. He mixes them together. He turns laughing back to weeping and back again. He has created you, and he has designed a timeline for grief that is just for you. And all the while, his promises hold strong and sure. No matter what emotions swirl angrily around you, he holds you still. He promises to work those emotions toward your good.

Maybe you’re laughing, or maybe you’re mourning. Maybe you’re weeping, or maybe you’re dancing. Maybe you’re doing all of these at once. Everyone travels through grief in his own way. But we do not travel alone, and the destination is the same. God gently and lovingly walks you through every time, through every purpose under heaven. And when you finally reach heaven’s gates, he sweeps you into his arms, into a place where grief no longer exists, and where mourning and weeping have fallen softly and sweetly away.

What are the things you count as joy in this life? You take a moment to absorb the question, and then the list of all the good gifts God has given you begins to roll through your head. His grace, his salvation, his word, my family, my friends, my work, my dreams, my successes, my memories, my laughter.  These are the things we count as joy.  “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1: 2–4).

James is challenging us to add some things to our list of joys. Don’t forget to add temptations (or trials) to that list you’ve got rolling through your head. Make sure you’re counting that sickness and that never-ending pain in your back. Be sure to remember that bout of cancer, that surgery, and the death of your loved one. These too, are the things we are called to count as joy. How can that be? How can trials and joy be placed in the same category, when these words are complete opposites of each other?

God does not place trials in our lives without reason. Through these trials, he works in our hearts in unfathomably beautiful ways that we cannot even see, and will probably never understand until we cross over to glory’s side. These trials are means God uses to try our faith and to strengthen it in ways we could never accomplish alone. This is another way for him to deliver his love and his goodness to us. It has just been delivered in different packaging. His love and our own good are wrapped up inside that sickness, inside that surgery, inside that loss. Sitting down and slowly peeling away the layers of that trial helps us to reach an understanding of his love for us, and it brings to us patience, and faith, and peace. We are to respond to these trials with joy, not because of the pain of the trials, but because of what God is sovereignly working through them.

My father was able to receive God’s love and goodness packaged in a foot surgery that had him laid up for weeks.  As I watched him sit down and begin to unwrap this trial to find the patience and peace underneath, I prayed that he would be able to count the process joy. The place in which we meet our trials is the place where peace comes from turmoil. It is the place where faith defeats fear. It is the place where, by the grace of God, Romans 8:28 is true. It is a place filled with the all-consuming assurance that not only does God govern all things, but he does so with our very best interests in mind. And it is the place where joy is born of suffering.

The skies turn dark
And the winds blow strong
And everything seems
To be going wrong

Rain that pelts
The sandy shore
The lightning’s flash
The thunder’s roar

Waves so strong
So fierce and bold
Tell a story
That hasn’t been told

A story of days
And years gone by
The groan of a ship
The sailor’s cry

A story of ships
And lives that were lost
A story of men
And boats that were tossed

But in God we find
Great strength and might
He leads us from darkness
Into His light

T    rust in the Lord
For He is our Guide.
Through troubles and trials,
In Him we confide.

The Alpha, Omega
The Beginning and End.
My Lord, my Friend.

The Giver of Salvation,
The Author of Life
The One who leads me
Through sorrows and strife.

My Strength, my Rock,
My fortress sure
His mercy and love
Forever endure.

My God, my Prophet,
Priest, and King
His praises forever
I will sing.

My Guidance, my Counselor,
My life, my song.
My heart and soul
To Him belong.

He knows my thoughts,
And words and deeds
From sin and death,
He has set me free.

For He has sent
His Beloved Son
To save His many
Chosen ones.

Each day I will praise Him
For this wondrous gift.
To Him my prayers
I will lift.

He is my Light,
My Cornerstone.
I belong to Him
And to Him alone.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

Continue reading

The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]

Continue reading

The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

Continue reading

Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

Continue reading

Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

Continue reading

Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

Continue reading