December 11, 2020
By Stacy Mallard
“This mixture of sorrow and joy [in this passage] is a representation of this world. Some are bathing in rivers of joy, while others are drowned in floods of tears.”Matthew Henry
At the beginning of 2020, my pastor challenged us to ask God to give us a word to carry with us through the year. We prayerfully ask God to impress on us a word that might be a reoccurring theme for our lives in the coming year. In the past, I have heard words like “Hope” or “Joy”. This year, I felt God press on my heart the word “Remember.” I spent time in January journaling about memories of significant family and life events. I’m not naturally very introspective, so it was a good exercise as I was reminded of God’s faithfulness through the joys and sorrows of the past few years.
In early February, we had the joy of traveling to northern Africa to visit my daughter and her family who have lived there for the last 3 years. She was expecting their third child in June, and the pregnancy, while planned, had been a delightful surprise for us. We felt the baby kick and laughed to know he would also have a cousin, our niece’s baby, due close to the same time.
Then at the end of February, my husbands’ brother called to tell us that our nephew, this same niece’s brother, had collapsed at school. What followed was a few days of terrible updates and unimaginable decisions for their family as he laid in a coma. As I prayed and held my nephew’s hand in the ICU, I remembered joking with him at his sister’s wedding and how he had told me quietly that I was his favorite aunt. A few days later he was taken off life support and died just a week before his 24th birthday.
The very next week, things began to shut down due to the pandemic. We pressed through the next few strange weeks and then months thinking the worst of the year had surely passed. And while our family continued to mourn, our expectation also grew as June approached. Our daughter gave birth to a healthy 9-pound baby boy on June 13 and miraculously their paperwork came through to allow them to travel home and stay for the summer. Exactly a week after he was born, our niece’s son was born, and we celebrated through tears, remembering how much her brother loved babies and would have been thrilled with him.
In the days right after our new grandson’s birth, I felt I should read the Old Testament book about the prophet whose name he shared — Ezra. If you’re like me, I wasn’t exactly familiar with it, but a short overview tells us:
“The book of Ezra provides an account of the Jews’ regathering, of their struggle to survive and to rebuild what had been destroyed. Through his narrative, Ezra declared that they were still God’s people and that God had not forgotten them.”Chuck Swindoll
What a wonderful reminder for each of us to cling to during this year! We as believers are still God’s people. God has not forgotten us!
In the third chapter, Ezra writes about the rebuilding of the temple that had been destroyed when the people had been taken captive as slaves, finally returning home after 70 years. The foundation laid; they begin to celebrate.
“With praise and thanksgiving, they sang to the Lord: He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever. And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”Ezra 3:11
But the next two verses tell a story of the deep longing and pain that led up to that moment:
“But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.Ezra 3:12-13
How true that has been for this year! And as I get older, I see how true it is for every year! Joy and sorrow constantly bump up against each other in our lives, and it is holy and right to feel them both. While we weep with longing for the former things, the irretrievable things we have lost, we must also rejoice as we see and experience the wonderful gifts God continues to place in front of us each day. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 ESV) Weep along with those suffering and hurting around you, acknowledging the pain of loss. But don’t hold back from celebrating joyfully where you see God working as well. I am praying that as this year ends, I remember that above all else that He is good and His love for us endures forever.