Under the Weeping Willows
By the rivers … there we sat down. Yes, we wept, when we remembered...
On the willows in its midst, we hung up our harps.
(Psalm 137:1-2, World English Bible)
We sit down.
We sit, we weep, as we remember our loved one, lost from this life.
The trees blow gently in the breeze; we sit under the shade of the willows.
We hang up our harps.
Our normal activities, our normal expressions of joy, are put aside. We don’t discard the harps, or break them up for firewood; we hang them up, ready to take them again when it is time.
But it is not the time now.
“There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”1
This is the time to weep, the time to mourn.
We weep, as we remember.
For there, those who … tormented us demanded songs of joy: "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
(Psalm 137:3, World English Bible)
But not everyone understands. They have not lost the love of their life; they have not been snatched out of the bosom of familiarity to a strange and unwelcoming land, the land of grief.
They know that joy is an element in our walk of faith, one of God’s gifts to us;2they recognise rightly that even with our last breath we should praise the Lord.3
Yet perhaps they have overlooked that “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,”4 and that while there is a time to laugh, dance and be happy, there is just as much a time to weep and mourn.
They most likely have good motives when they encourage us to “move on,” but still it can be a torment to be expected to be cheerful. They want “songs of joy”; they want to hear that we’re coping with our loss, that our faith is undisturbed, that we still have the “joy of the Lord.”5
They try to tell us to “get on with life.” To “accept God’s will.” To “be happy that our loved one is safe in God’s arms.”
But such statements are missing the point. The song of faith and joy that we played before our grief will be played again one day, but not now. We haven’t destroyed our harps, but we’ve hung them up.
When we’re ready, we’ll pick them up again.
We will find our song once more, but in our own time.
Now we weep, as we remember.
“How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?”
(Psalm 137:4, KJV)
Imagine a war has broken out; you travel as an unwilling refugee to a distant country, far removed from what you are accustomed to. There are many aspects of life to which you must adjust. You didn’t want to come there in the first place; now you’re there, you miss home, you yearn for the comforting familiarity of your old life. Gradually, as time passes, you will adjust; the new will become familiar. But still sometimes you’ll be reminded of what you have lost, and the yearning will return.
The bereaved find themselves in a strange, new world. It is a world without the living presence of their loved one. Whatever their thoughts about heaven and a life beyond, this world has changed. This strange world, without the one they care very much about, is an uncomfortable place.
In time, they will start to become accustomed to their new life without their loved one.
But this will take time; and even when they are more accustomed, there will be occasions when they are reminded of their loss and they will once again sit and weep.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
(2 Corinthians 1:4)
May your experience of God’s love enable you to be a comforter, without judgement or expectation.
To those whose friend has lost a dear loved one, and seems immersed in deepest grief, be gentle.
You should not expect--much less demand--that your friend reacts in the way that you think that they should react to their loss.
Chiding or coaxing will not make this time of grief any easier, but rather, more difficult.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”6 Joy comes, eventually; but weeping does last through the night.
To those whose Christian faith is strong, who are convinced that our loved ones are waiting to meet us beyond the veil, be gentle and don’t judge. A comforter is a consoler, a reliever.
Your friend may share your belief, or they may be so shaken by their loss that they are unsure.
They have arrived in a strange land; they need time to sit and weep, to remember. Don’t expect them to pick up their harp of faith right away.
We each will weep some day, when we remember…
Abi May, 30/10/12
1 Ecclesiastes 3:4
2 Galatians 5:22
3 Psalm 150:6
4 Matthew 5:4
5 Nehemiah 8:10
6 Psalm 30:5