When life turns upside down

Sometimes life can change for the worse. Family can disintegrate. Loved ones pass away. The dream job or course evades us. A past assault haunts us. Future dreams are crushed by what seems like just bad luck.

Life’s tragedies can plunge us into seasons of pain and in turn, seasons of grief. If we stay there for too long this can manifest into depression.

In the Bible it seems that the author of Ecclesiastes describes these changes, when life is turned totally upside down.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Firstly, I don’t think the author is necessarily prescribing a way to live, suggesting that we need to discern the time and then do what the time requires. It might be tempting to conclude a thought along the line of: “Hmm, I feel like hating you, looks like it’s the season for hating you!” No, I don’t think that is the point…

“We can and should expect times to change.”

I think the author is simply preparing us: that we can and should expect times to change. Encountering different seasons, both positive and negative are just a part of the normal human experience. Part of being human is experiencing changing times. The good times will end. The bad times will come. And the bad times will end and the good times will come.

Pain that is relentless

Verse 4 says that there is a time to mourn but there is also a time to dance. Times of pain, sadness and suffering will come, but so too times of contentment, joy and comfort.

Seasons of pain can seem like they are never ending and so we pray that God would lift us out of it. But if he doesn’t end our suffering in this life, we can be sure He will in the next. When we have ran our course, we will be with Jesus and “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev 21:4)

We cannot avoid pain and suffering but if this life was
completely devoid of pain and suffering, why would we hope and long for the next? We wouldn’t. We would become so content in our comfort that we would forget God altogether. C.S. Lewis writes:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C. S. Lewis [1]

Pain reminds us that this world is not our home. We are merely passing through to our eternal destination, heaven.

Grief that never leaves

Verse 7 says there is “a time to tear and a time to sew.” When Ecclesiastes was written, it was customary for ancient Israelites to tear their clothes as a ritual of mourning. [2] This could go on for quite some time, maybe days or weeks wearing torn clothes as their expression of grief.

Once the time of mourning was over, they could not just go down to Kmart and buy new clothes, the vast majority of Israelites would have to repair their torn garment. Imagine that, after weeks of lying in the dust and ashes, in torn clothes then having to sit down and repair what was broken.

Every stitch would cause you to re-live the pain but every stitch was also the beginning of the end of grief. The mending of their clothes signified the end of the mourning period. Life would return back to normal, still wearing the scars of mended clothes. The memory of pain would remain but now, without its burden.

Maybe you are grieving. Maybe it’s been months or years but the pain is still as raw as the day it happened. Maybe it is time for a season of mending your mourning garment. What does the first stitch look like for you to move past the mourning period? There is no need to know how mend the whole garment but only the next stitch.

“Life’s tragedies can plunge us into seasons of pain and in turn, seasons of grief. If we stay there for too long this can manifest into depression.”

Hope that supersedes pain and grief

We try to avoid pain as much as possible so we seek to numb it. Sometimes more subtly like Netflix, video games, shopping sprees or exercise regimes. Sometimes more precariously like drug use, pornography, disordered eating, gambling or alcoholism. This only makes the pain fester and grow inside us.

We can try to take control of our life, desperately clinging to the good times and avoiding pain like it’s the plague. Instead, I would much rather rest in God’s sovereignty, trusting in his divine plan, knowing that the God who died on cross for me is the same God who holds my life in his hands.

“Knowing that the God who died on cross for me is the same God who holds my life in his hands.

The good times, the bad times and everything in between are not ours to dictate but rather are wholly in God’s hands.

Because “these are God’s times. Not our times.” – R. E. Murphy [3]

Whatever time you find yourself in, they do not exclude you from the love and hope found in Jesus.

We can persevere because the pain will end. We can grieve because the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). We can have hope because God has demonstrated his love for us in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus was willing to suffer the punishment for our rejection of God (that is living independently of him) so that we might be reconciled to God — living in relationship with him.

Has there ever been a greater act of love? I don’t think so.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Great Britain: Geoffrey Bles, 1940).
[2] T. Longman III, Ecclesiastes (BCOT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).
[3] R. E. Murphy, Ecclesiastes (WBC 17; Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998).