Their names are Walker and Tanner, but on this particular Sunday I named them Comfort and Joy. More deeply, God used them to assure me that this new journey of mine is and will continue to be a mixture of emotions.
There will be times when I crave that comfort, just to rest in my heavenly father’s arms, letting my tears fall and my heart ache with an intensity I have rarely known. Too, there will be moments of exhilaration when the unadulterated glee of a child brings laughter to my own heart, times when I am “surprised by joy.”
Often when I send a condolence card, I send prayers that the ones left behind will be “surprised by joy” in their journey of grief. Borrowed from the title of C.S. Lewis’ book about his journey from Christianity to atheism and back to Christianity, I intend my prayer to be one of encouragement. Even through the valley after the reality of death, there can be moments of joy that surprise us, moments when the burden is lifted and the heart lives again, full and blessed.
Walker and Tanner are my great nephews. I was with them recently while visiting my oldest brother, their grandfather. Walker, the younger one, stumbled into the den, climbed into his father’s arms and slept the entire time I was there. He was exhausted and needed the comfort of his father’s lap to sit on and his chest on which to lay his head. He knew not that any of the rest of us existed.
We call it “sleeping like a baby.” Walker is 3, but that day he threw his cares and fatigue away and rested assured of his father’s love and comfort. Even when I left, he did not stir. I understand that kind of rest. We need it in grief, in distress, in discouragement, in doubt, in worry, in suffering, in pain.
Then there was Tanner, who upon seeing me, ran to me and said, “Aunt Harris, I pray for Uncle Thurston.” I thanked him and told him Uncle Thurston is doing so well, that he is living with God and that everything is perfect. Then, like any 5-year-old, he was immediately distracted by Sparky, our 10-year-old canine companion.
“Oh, Aunt Harris, he is so handsome!” exclaimed Tanner, as Sparky sat on the floor wondering just where I had brought him this time. “Yes, he is, Tanner, and if you are very gentle, you may pet him on top of his head.” Gently, Tanner did just that, Sparky’s tail wagging the whole time. I told Tanner that meant Sparky liked it, and Tanner chuckled.
I asked Tanner if he wanted to learn a new game. “Sure,” he replied, and I instructed him to stand in front of me, arms extended and palms turned down. Then I reached out my arms, palms turned up and placed them under Tanner’s palms. I told him I was going to move my hands and hit the top of his hands. His challenge was to move his hands before I could hit them.
The first time, he danced with delight. “Let me do it, let me do it,” he begged. We switched our palms' positions, and I toyed with him a few times. Finally, I let him “get me.” He issued forth a belly laugh and giggled nonstop, elated that he had won. Oh, how we laughed, we two, for how long I don’t know. We got lost in the moment, and it felt so good.
Finally, he collapsed beside me, spent with joy. “Aunt Harris, you are so beautiful!” The gift of a child.
Children teach us if we let them. Walker and Tanner remind me how important comfort and joy are for the journeys of life -- any journey.
Take their lessons, as I do, and be reminded that even when we need comfort, we can simultaneously be surprised by joy.