A Marvelous and Melancholy May: Reflections on Delight, Sadness and Longing

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.”
Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

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I’ve been thinking about writing for many weeks, but just haven’t been able to muster up the emotional energy to put any thoughts or experiences into words until now. I want to be someone who will speak in the strong moments in life and in the ones that don’t go as we hope. So here are some thoughts surrounding the latter.

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Outside Shakespeare’s childhood home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The last month began with a gloriously delightful trip to England. Words wouldn’t adequately express how wonderful and soul-filling the trip was for me personally.  Eight days away from my children, with my husband, with friends, with great books, in London, in Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon– a luxury made possible because of Glenn’s wonderful parents and their willingness to be with our kids. These are places that I have desired to visit for many, many years. Plus, there was the plane ride where I read an entire book set in England! Brideshead Revisited brought me into the world of a man who had great desires, searching for something more than what he had known. Little did I know, I was about to enter a world that would captivate my imagination and passions.

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The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian library in Oxford, home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of the mind.

Our days were filled with tours and walking around historical sites, wandering libraries centuries old, drinking too many flat whites, perusing used books stores with all my favorite books, and engaging in intellectual and invigorating conversation. My worlds were merging – I looked upon fragments of an ancient Sappho poem that my girls memorized this year. And the original handwritten, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. And an unexpected visit to Shakespeare’s home brought so much joy, having listened to a 16 hour audiobook last year about his life. I was ecstatic to see the places I spent so many hours reading about.

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Grahame’s original handwritten manuscript of the ‘Wind in the Willows’, which were a series of letters to his son whilst away on a long holiday.

I felt on top of the world, even if for a brief time.  If you know me, I’m usually the stable, steady type, emotionally. Rarely do I feel the heights or depths of extreme emotions. But I fell in love with so many facets of England, and I fell hard when I returned. Of course, part of this was likely due to the fact that I came home alone (Glenn stayed on for some meetings) to my four children whom I missed dearly but who still needed to be fed, bathed, listened to and the list goes on. I must have briefly forgotten all the physical and emotional energy it takes to run our home and educate our children on a daily basis! The whining and fighting that occurs daily and that I normally I tune out, was like loud gong and a clashing cymbal.

Upon my return home, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I usually ask myself this question if I leave home without my kids.  But normally its only for a couple days. This was 8 glorious days. Still, my answer was, ‘Yes’, of course, but I really felt like I paid a high price for my departure.

This particular time, I felt very emotionally down and sad. It was as if, being in some of the environments in England showed me how much I desired some of those elements to be a part of my daily life. Even though I read deeply, have great conversation with friends and mentors, it just isn’t the same. There is no way to re-create many of the experiences I had there.

And that’s just it, isn’t it?  We were made for another world. There are longings in our hearts that won’t ever be fully met on this Earth. Being made in the image of God, we have a sense that everything isn’t what it was created to be– ideas about how a perfect homeschool day could go, or the perfect walk in the woods, or a perfect relationship. Somehow our ideals often don’t seem to be the reality we live in.

May was also the time for endings. As I wrapped up the school year with my kids, there were numerous bittersweet moments– the ending of activities, programs, recitals, book groups, and even the saying goodbye to friends. All this amidst weeks on end of rain and hail, storms and gray, and sunless skies. I couldn’t shake a deep sadness in my heart that I knew was about longing.  A longing for things to be different.

Many days, I would begin to cry and call out to the Lord. He was drawing me to Himself, not to pull me out of the pain, but to call me to reach out to him in the midst of the difficulties. It was a call to grieve even the small things that didn’t turn out as I thought they might, a call to seek only Him in the midst of wanting to find my joy in the things He created.

I’ve been reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions and he talks about grief in this way: “Grief eats away its heart for the loss of things which it took pleasure in desiring, because it wants to be like you, from whom nothing can be taken away.” Later in the book, he writes these soaring lines about true Joy: “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . ! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.

Sometimes we ask for God to show up in our circumstances and to fulfill a desire of our heart. Sometimes the circumstances change. Sometimes His Holy Spirit comes alongside us to walk with us in the midst of what we are going through. And this is the source of our truest Joy.

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4 thoughts on “A Marvelous and Melancholy May: Reflections on Delight, Sadness and Longing

  1. Holly, Thank you so much for being real — especially with the places that we sometimes feel we must hide or turn over to joy. It is important, because this is where the fullness of life is found, in– “you who are the true, the sovereign joy”. Sallie

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  2. Holly, this spoke deeply to my heart! Thank you so much for sharing, I will read it many times and ponder. God awakens in us visions of beauty, truth, and ideals in the gifts He gives us, but you are so right that only in Him do these dreams come full circle. Bittersweet, but so true! One day I would love to visit the places you saw, thanks for letting the rest of us share along with you!

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