Sunshine can be found even in the darkest times
Growing up, I had a deep appreciation for the music of John Denver. I’m not sure how that developed, except that I probably heard his music on the radio in the car. That’s how I first heard Simon and Garfunkle and The Moody Blues, among many other bands my parents would listen to.
“Sunshine on my Shoulders” really did make me happy whenever I listened to it, and Denver’s many hits pop up in my mind.
In high school, I remember hearing on the local news station that he had passed away. Imprinted on my mind, I can still remember the words: “Music star John Denver died today. He was recently in the news for issues with alcohol and drunken driving.”
And that was it. A whole life summarized in two sentences, and these words were not flattering at all. Anger and then sorrow swept over me — this guy deserved a better farewell thought for his contributions to the arts alone.
Since then I’ve seen mountains of sadness much greater than this befall friends, family members and many I walk with in ministry. A common prayer request I receive from young people involves loved ones battling cancer, and I see them struggling with the idea of pain, grappling with the thought that someone close might not be with them forever.
The writer of Lamentations knew the hardest of times and said, “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed…” (Lamentations 2:11).
There are times when all we can do is wrap ourselves in blankets and tears, unable to imagine that we would ever feel any better. We need to sit with the hurting and give them tangible symbols of our love, but grief comes and then one day it goes away.
On the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Jesus did audacious things, such as tell people that they are blessed even in the darkest times. That would be a hard sell in some circumstances, but it is true. Mourning isn’t supposed to last forever. Perhaps that is part of Christ’s allure — that even death could not defeat him.
When God became a mortal, logically he would die like everyone else. But when he died, and everyone mourned and placed him in his grave, he got back up. We see a hope for a better future beyond our “present suffering,” as Paul puts it.
Despite still feeling sorrow whenever I think of the loss of John Denver, I dug a bit and have found his vinyl records at various thrift stores. Rather than merely remember his death and the meager epitaph that angered me, I focuse instead on the sounds of the best times in his life.
The joy in his voice is a highlight, pointing to a joy-filled creator.
Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.