February is always a difficult month for me because it marks the anniversary when my doctoral dissertation died a sudden and violent death. February is the month that I flew out of England for the last time.
This February, like the last six, was not a happy time. I approached it with a sense of dread, grief and sadness, still feeling the pain of the loss of my work. This February, though–the sixth since my postgraduate research went sideways–I had the joy and thrill of a recently-signed book deal, and with it a sense of newness. It is a new chapter. Perhaps a sense of hope. Yet I continue to grieve. The loss still stings.
I feel a little like Job–specifically, Job in the final chapter (Job 42). Job’s ordeal is over. He has had his audience with God (although God’s response was basically that he is God, and he does not have to explain anything to us). Job’s friends have been directly rebuked for giving him such crummy, off-target advice in claiming his trouble was due to sin (with Job, ironically, then interceding on their behalf). His wealth has returned and his siblings have joined him in a feast.
And he has ten sparkling brand-new children—seven sons and three daughters—the exact number of children he originally lost, crushed to death under a collapsed roof. Further, to take the whole reward thing up a notch, these three daughters are described as the most beautiful in the land (verse 13).
This epilogue bothers me. It smacks of a “happily-ever-after” fairy tale. It wraps up the drama in a package that’s just a little too neat. Did Job stop grieving simply because he was divinely upgraded to a better, more beautiful Family 2.0?
A new blessing doesn’t lessen the grief of loss. And continuing to grieve in a time of blessing is not short-sighted or sinful.
For a plant to live, the seed must die. That doesn’t mean the seed never existed. Out of the death of my doctoral dissertation was born a book deal. And this book may end up being more widely read than a dusty old dissertation in an obscure university library.
Still, I grieve the loss of those seven years of work. And I celebrate. Typical of the God of resurrection, this God brings life out of death. For Job, his new children were born out of death, perhaps a metaphor for a new chapter in his life: reminders of hope in a context of death. That doesn’t mean his other children never existed. Perhaps, when he surveyed the second batch of loving faces around him, he was able to fondly remember the first batch—and perhaps, in grief, to celebrate.