How exciting it must be to get married, to see your kids leave for college, or to finally reach the time of retirement! All true, and yet these times can also bring sadness. The transitions of life are often bittersweet.
While there can be great anticipation as we move into the next stages of life, this joy is regularly grounded with grief. It is a sober joy. A sober joy holds both the good and the bad of life and the gladness and the sorrow of life’s transitions.
Rather than both/and experiences, we tend to expect only either/or positions. For instance, the prospect of marriage either makes us excited or makes us sad. In reality, both can be true.
I am really excited about getting married AND I am sad about no longer being single.
It brings me much joy to see my kids leave for college AND I will miss having them around the house.
I am looking forward to retirement AND I will miss this particular area of work I’ve been doing for years.
The examples could be endless with some transitions leaning more toward joy while others lean more toward grief. The birth of a child tends to carry more delight than sorrow, though there may be some sadness in no longer being pregnant. On the other hand, the transition of death tends to bring more heartache, even when we can celebrate our loved one going on to be with Christ.
(I long for my love one to go and be with Christ AND I will be sad when they are no longer here with us. Death, at least for the Christian, is both a time of grief and a time of celebration. In our grieving let us not forget to celebrate, and in our celebrating let us not forget to grieve; we need both.)
We care for our souls by honoring both the bitter and the sweet of life’s transitions. This in turn gives us the peace and courage to keep entering into each new season.
To enter freely into the new requires we must also let go of the old. For example, we cannot freely enter into college while still holding on to high school, into marriage while holding on to singleness, or into the splendor of old age while still holding on to youth.
In all of our excitement for what is to come, we do ourselves a disservice if we do not also acknowledge that what we are leaving behind mattered. Grieving says that what we are letting go of had significance and was important.
When we do not grieve well we might spoil our current season.
For instance, in never grieving singleness we might become bitter toward our spouse and marriage. In not mourning the lost of our adult children at home we might guilt trip them into coming home more often. And in failing to lament the splendor of youth we might hold resentment toward the younger generation entering the workforce. In doing so, we lead lives of mediocrity and ambivalence, never able to freely embrace the fullness of our current season.
Embracing the bittersweet transitions of life allows us to live fully in the present, passionately and free.