Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
On the face of it, gratitude and mourning appear incompatible. Gratitude celebrates something found that might not exist but for grace. Mourning laments something lost that no imaginable grace can recover. Often, they do not mix well. For instance, it takes maximum insensitivity to tell people in mourning to count their blessings rather than think of the departed.
Nevertheless, mourning eventually finds its way to gratitude. Psalm 22 offers a powerful model of that process. In the ultimate suffering, Jesus cried the first line from the cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Yet, the psalm concludes, “Future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it” (vv. 30b-31). Like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Psalm 22 opens in an ominous minor key, meets a feisty second theme in a major key, and develops to a final triumph of joy and light. No one can explain how Beethoven did that. How did the psalmist?
By remembering. The psalmist remembered God’s grace on a historical level (“In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted and you delivered them,” v. 4), and on a personal level (“On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me, you have been my God,” v. 10). By recalling instances and stories of God’s steadfast love, the psalmist musters hope amid agony.
The psalmist sings thanksgiving for deliverance remembered and consequently anticipated while bearing a painful present. Such remembering is literally re-membering, putting the singer back together after the cry, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint” (v. 14a). After loss, you need re-membrance because loss breaks your story even as it breaks your heart. Your story gives you coherence. You don’t make sense to yourself after loss fragments your story. You need to restore your story to recover wholeness and envision realistic hope.
Not all remembering is re-membering. Wistful sentimentalism seductively distracts us from present reality. Ruminating on past hurts keeps us stuck like a broken record playing a bad song. Resentfully holding grudges freezes then breaks a brittle heart. Dwelling on past regrets drains the spirit and kills the body. These toxic forms of remembering bog down far short of hope.
But remembering with humble gratitude re-members you, puts you back together by restoring hope. Humility trusts in powers beyond the self, and gratitude keeps an eye on the goodness at the heart of things. Whatever loss you grieve, practice re-membering by journaling or conversing with a trusted friend. Honor the pain of loss, but honor alongside it the memory of deliverance, yours or your ancestors’ or heroes’. Then pray it. You will live Psalm 22, sharing the sufferings of the one who remembered it on the cross and attaining with him newness of life beyond any grace you can imagine.