Anticipatory Joy

I have a bereavement counselor in my home.

My wife works in that capacity for a hospice company.

That means that I probably have more conversations about death and dying than the average person.

The nature of hospice brings a certain confrontation with the likelihood and imminence of death which makes it not uncommon for the grieving process to start before the physical loss has occurred.

This is called anticipatory grief.

Chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews begins with the topic of endurance presented with the picture of a runner during a race. We are asked to endure in this life and press on. Our example, as it is so often, comes in the person of Jesus. I bring up anticipatory grief as an introduction because it is the reverse of the example that we are given in Jesus. We see the reality of pain and death and are grieved, but in Jesus, we have the one “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross“. The strength that Jesus found to drink from the cup that his father had set before him, was found in the anticipatory joy of reconciling the world to its creator.


Jesus found the ability to endure the road to “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani”  in the imminence of his ability to utter the words “it is finished“.

I’m probably about four months early (or eight months late) with this post. It does have a very advent flavor to it, but part of the strength that we are offered to endure in this time, is to live with an “advent” mindset in our daily lives.

We look forward to the same day that Jesus could see when he found himself in the shadow of the cross. In anticipating the reconciliation of all reality to God, Jesus could find joy. We are part of that reality that is being reconciled to him, so we have been given a share of that joy to look toward ourselves.

The fact that we have only lived in the midst of a broken creation can make it more difficult to fully grasp what it is that is waiting for us, but we are given hints of that world to come in the beauty that remains and in kindness and in love.

The encouragement that we are given in Philippians 4:8 is to think of the things that are true, that are honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, those things that are excellent and worthy of praise. These are the things that give us a glimpse into what has been prepared for us. The things that give us the first foretaste of a life and world that has been reconciled completely to a Holy God.

On a more personal note, I have friends who seem likely to be moving out of state soon, and with that, I find myself with a touch of anticipatory grief. It helps to remind myself that they are also my brother and sister in Christ Jesus, which makes them a part of that new creation that will one day be fully reconciled to God. In that, there is joy, and while I may find myself experiencing grief in anticipation of their leaving, I can trust that the joy to come will far outweigh it.

” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” [Romans 8:18]


18 thoughts on “Anticipatory Joy

    • It’s kind of like how I can get really excited about some movie or book coming out, and the anticipation itself brings a certain amount of happiness. Our entire existence is like that and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to end up being a Green Lantern movie.

        • They inadvertently did a good job with me on that one. Take a movie I was pretty much going to see no matter what, then put out a trailer that significantly lowers my expectations, then exceed the lowered expectations.

          I think Jesus did a pretty decent job of lowering our expectations for this world, but he did nothing of the kind for the next one.

          • That actually reminds me, right after the post previous to this one, I happened to end up watching the heavy handed DS9 episode about the school on the station not teaching the wormhole as the celestial temple.

          • I know we’re getting completely off-track here, but I did find it interesting how DS9 attempted to engage with issues of mysticism and spirituality. I guess that’s one of the things I love about Trek – each incarnation brings something different by way of its approach to the universe.

          • There is a lot to like about Star Trek, and for me DS9 in particular. I pointed out that one as heavy handed, but they got the opportunity to tackle a lot of topics in more nuanced ways than you saw in other parts of that universe. Watching the arc about the coup on Bajor, and seeing Winn manipulating the political powers reminded me both of Revelation and the current US elections.

          • and this, Dallas, is especially where we’re going to miss Ash.. in all this geek knowledge of such shows you share with him.. and in his literary analysis of classic works!

  1. I can relate to the sadness of losing friends. My closest friend was moving 900 miles away. I cried for like 3 days. It was the saddest news because it was after we had left our church and after my family had snubbed me. I was feeling rather alone. She ended up not moving though because they couldn’t get the employer to commit so she’s here another year at least. And oddly enough, other friendships are forming in my life too. I talk about death a lot too. I feel like I think about it a lot because I have lost significant people. It’s sort of a way for me to prepare for loss. I’m always expecting the shoe to fall. I sincerely look forward to the day when there is no more death or loss. That will be a very sweet day for me. For us all.

    • It’s no sure thing the last I heard, but it definitely seems likely. I am terrible about putting myself out there so I’m not very good at meeting new people, making new friends.

      I seem to remember hearing of a study once that said that the average married man over a certain age has zero close friends. It was shocking, but believable.

      The encouraging thing is that my wife and I have been meeting new people lately, having a kid has kind of opened things up a bit.

      I haven’t had a lot of direct interaction with death, I have had people in my life die, but never the type of person who really impacted me on a day to day basis. I guess that is still something out ahead of me then.

      • I think God opens doors. I make friends easier than my husband. He thinks he should just sit there and friendships will come. Uh, you actually have to make an effort. I don’t like it, but I know that if I do, people are more open to me. I think he thinks it’s just too much work so he says I’m his friend, which is fine on some levels. But I like doing things away from him. Not because I can’t stand him but he’s not into things like going to hobby lobby or painting pottery or whatever. Lol. I think it’s just harder for men. I wonder if they all sort of think “too much work” and that’s why they have little to no friends.

        • I think I fall into two traps. I’m pretty terrible at breaking the ice with people I don’t already know. I am probably a little too easily disappointed, I will put in the effort to a point, but if we’ve been talking about his we should hang out soon for six months and nothing has come off it, I’m probably just going to give up. The second one also very much contributes to the first one because I’ll start thinking that it really isn’t worth putting in the effort to have this awkward conversation if you are just going to end up being unreliable anyway.

          All that being said, I do have a couple good friends. Some people don’t even have that, so I’m a blessed guy.

          • My husband gave up on friends but he did have a few. He still sees them sometimes but they don’t hang out much outside of a monthly lunch meeting or basketball. I guess that’s still hanging out but I talk to my friends several times a week. Maybe that’s a guy vs. girl thing though

          • It might be, I might shoot a text or email out during the week, but for the most part if I’m not setting people face to face I’m out of contact. I would imagine that a lot of guys are like that.

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