This blog was first written in Dutch on 22 July 2017
Every day this week I read a different Psalm (using a book about the Psalms by Derek Prince). I noticed that these Psalms all started with these words: ‘Praise the Lord’. And I also found that often it says that we should sing joyful songs. I find that hard. Praise the Lord? Be joyful? I wrestle with grief and anger. My child died! And at the same time it feels familiar and it makes sense. If God is really God, He is worthy of our praise, isn’t He?
And now I read Philippians 4:4-9, because Our Daily Bread, the devotional I always use is talking about this passage. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ Again, my first response is to protest. Rejoice? Really? I don’t want to be glad and I do not want to rejoice, I do not want to invite happy thoughts.
It was our wedding text, Philippians 4:4-9. When we got married in January 2001, there were things we weren’t happy about and our pastor was very surprised that we chose this text. I was chronically ill and it would not become better. I could barely walk (outside of our home I needed a wheelchair), I could not use my hands very well and the prognosis was that it would become worse in the future. I was in constant pain. With great effort, I managed to get my degree at university. It had its effect on me mentally as well. But still, at our wending day, we thought that there was a lot to be happy about. We had found each other and we saw a future together. We knew God, although in the years to come, we found out that we needed to get to know Him better. We were grateful and we wanted to stay grateful, whatever would happen.
And today, exactly four months after the birth of our stillborn daughter, our fifth child, I read this text again. ‘Rejoice’. And: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
And this really is true, you know. That’s what I am constantly reminded of in the past weeks. It is really true that there is a peace that transcends all understanding. I experienced that peace when I had to that incredible hard thing: giving birth to a child that had already died. I experienced that peace when I sat down with my little girl in my hands, overwhelmed by how beautiful she was. Grief and amazement and joy and anger, but in the midst of it all, there was peace.
Is that perhaps what this rejoicing is about? That it is not about being glad about what has happened or is going to happen? But that it is about thinking of what is good and beautiful, and then rejoicing in a good God? When I saw my little girl, I was full of admiration and pride. I could see she was wonderfully and carefully made by God, although her life was far too short in my opinion. I was glad that He took great care in making her. Little nails, little hair, little eyes, little ribs, little feet, she was so complete and perfect. If I think about that, I see I have some reason to rejoice. Or, I have to say it differently: by thinking about that, I am rejoicing.