WALK, RUN, SOAR
By Hugh Farquhar
The Old Testament Reading from the Revised Common Lectionary next Sunday is Isaiah 40:21-31.
When my wife Dorothy died in 1994, I needed to choose the Scriptures I wanted to have read at her funeral. As a student of the Scriptures many passages came to mind, but I ended up choosing this one from Isaiah 40 as the Hebrew Scriptures Reading. It concludes with this verse:
“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
I knew these words were written by Isaiah to the nation, but when my friend, Ron Porter, read them that day, I heard them as a personal message. Renewal of strength is what I needed. I knew well that it would not be automatic but would mean making regular appointments with God and opening myself to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In Hebrew, the phrase “wait for” means “to look eagerly for.”
I do not want to sound trite about this, as if one simply turns to God and all will be well. There is often a sense of ‘godforsakenness’ in grief, a feeling that God has treated us unfairly or has let us down, even anger directed at God, depending on the circumstances. This needs recognition and expression.
However, there are just too many testimonies to be ignored, and I add mine to them. God’s help is available to see us through and to enable our empty places to become sources of transformation, wisdom, and tender compassion.
The Mayo Clinic provides a list of possible effects of the grief experience. It reminds me of the list of side effects that accompany a prescription for a potent drug. They list anger, anxiety, crying spells, depression, fatigue (lack of energy), guilt, loneliness, aches and pains, and trouble sleeping. I did not experience most of these, but I do remember fatigue – I remember initially slogging through a day and going to bed a couple of hours earlier than usual.
In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. People mistakenly engraved them in stone. Kubler-Ross herself eventually said that she had never intended for them to be a rigid framework to apply to everyone who mourns: In 2004 she wrote, “They are responses to loss many people have, but there is no typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
I didn’t go through these stages either but, as I reflect back on the experience, I feel like there were stages. I would reverse the order of this verse from Isaiah to read: “they shall walk and not faint, they shall run and not be weary, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
At first, with God’s help, I just got through the day without falling apart – “walk and not faint.”. Then, with time, I found myself more energized and moving on – “run and not be weary.” And eventually, I emerged with renewed strength as I began to use what I had been through to become a more sensitive and compassionate person and minister – “mount up with wings like eagles.” I hope that my reflection may benefit someone, somewhere.
Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB. As a student of the Scriptures, he seeks to build bridges between the written Word of God and the Living Word.