“If I had had even an hour to reflect, I believe my feelings would have been quite different. As it was, my heart froze in me and I thought, This is not my child – which I truly had never thought of any child before. I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.”
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, pg. 198.
Pastor John Ames had a lost his wife and only child at a very young age. When his best friend decided to, on the spur of the moment, name is son after John, instead of receiving the honor and love intended, John is only able to react with pain and anger. This is not my child. My child is lost and gone. Nothing will replace her. Pastor Ames calls his reaction covetise. I call it the dark side of grief.
A good friend of mine and I talk often about these feelings of covetise. They arise unbidden and unexpected often in moments of celebration and rejoicing. For my friend, they arise in the presence of pregnant women and new babies, as she grieves the infertility that has left her incapable of having children of her own. For me, they arise at weddings and engagement announcements, baptisms, holidays, most occasions that emphasize family and remind me of my singleness. Waves of grief that come from nowhere and cause us to take offense at the beauty around us. Waves of grief that build upon one another as we also grieve our inability to celebrate with friends and family or provide the pastoral care called upon in both of our ministry positions. Waves of grief that isolate us and cause us to isolate ourselves. We recognize that there is some aspect of sin involved in our reactions. Scripture calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice. And we understand that in our grief we often lose sight of what God has provided as those things we lack overwhelm us.
Yet I also wonder if our grief is magnified because we fail to hold the entire verse together. The verse begins, “Weep with those who weep.” Is it possible that with all weeping there is rejoicing? With all rejoicing there is weeping? Is it possible for us hold these two together rather than assuming that one person’s grief must always give way to another’s joy?
Pastor Ames writes this having met another young woman near the end of his life and fathering a son at the age of 70. While I appreciate immensely Pastor Ames’ reflections on the years of grieving and loneliness in his life, I am also struck by the fact that the grief of singleness is different for men and women. Though the biological clock is marking time for all of us, a man in his 70’s can still father a child. As I approach 40, I approach the reality of being too old to have children. Infertility is different for men and women. In a church that so often defines women through child-bearing, highlighting is as the one unique quality that makes us female, I am faced with the reality that I may never experience that aspect of being a woman.
C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce defines hell as a place where goodness is present but the people reject it. They are pent up in their homes full of fear and unable to embrace the beauty offered to them. While my mourning causes me at times to reject the beauty of other’s happiness or virtue, I pray that it will never overwhelm me to the point of rejecting all the beauty and goodness God has to offer.