I often find myself writing about things that I am only vaguely coming to an understanding of but feel as if I have been given some sort of clue to deeper understanding that I would like to share/pursue.

So if you like easy answers, my writing might not be for you. If you like going on adventures, following clues, and being unsure of where you may end up, you might enjoy this.

Each week I have the privilege of getting to stay home on Thursdays with our little daughter Eliana. The other day, as I was putting her to sleep, I had the new Sufjan Stevens album playing on Spotify. The whole album has a restrained, gentle and introspective tone to it. The album is about his mother and step-father “Carrie and Lowell” and is incredibly beautiful.

From what I have gathered, Carrie left the family when Sufjan was one and only had intermittent contact with Sufjan throughout his life. Carrie suffered with depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. In 2012 she passed away from stomach cancer.

I love searching for meaning behind lyrics and his song, “Fourth of July” kept sticking out to me as important. It was moving to me emotionally even before I understood a bit of the backstory.

Below are the lyrics. You can also listen along as you read them.

The evil it spread like a fever ahead
It was night when you died, my firefly
What could I have said to raise you from the dead?
Oh could I be the sky on the Fourth of July?

“Well you do enough talk
My little hawk, why do you cry?
Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?
Or the Fourth of July?
We’re all gonna die”

Sitting at the bed with the halo at your head
Was it all a disguise, like Junior High
Where everything was fiction, future, and prediction
Now, where am I? My fading supply

“Did you get enough love, my little dove
Why do you cry?
And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best
Though it never felt right
My little Versailles”

The hospital asked should the body be cast
Before I say goodbye, my star in the sky
Such a funny thought to wrap you up in cloth
Do you find it all right, my dragonfly?

“Shall we look at the moon, my little loon
Why do you cry?
Make the most of your life, while it is rife
While it is light

Well you do enough talk
My little hawk, why do you cry?
Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?
Or the Fourth of July?
We’re all gonna die”


You can find a detailed breakdown of the song here and listen to it here. But the gist of it is, Sufjan and his mother talking back and forth as she is coming to the end of her life.

After I read the lyrics and meaning behind them, I listened to the song again.

As I held my little one in my arms asleep, I began to weep. (It was awkward when the pest treatment guy came in the middle of my weepfest and I had to quickly wipe my eyes and answer the door.) The tender and heartbreaking lyrics between a mother and son awakened a beautiful sorrow and empathy in my soul. It made me want to love Eliana better. It made me want to look for the best in others, knowing that each of us have been through much more than others will ever know. It made me remember that life is hard, short, unpredictable and beautiful.

So often in our world and in our churches, we would much rather numb ourselves to the reality of sorrow and brokenness. As long as we stay busy enough, connected on social media, doing good things and generally having a positive outlook we can insulate ourselves from actually experiencing this important emotion of sorrow.

I’m not the first to say this, but

we need to create space in our lives and church liturgy to experience the full range of emotions. 

“Having experienced this vivid spectrum of emotional pain, we grow naturally aware of, and sympathetic to, the plight and pain of others.” 

— Psychiatrist Larry Cullford, Sorrow: A Valuable Emotion

The Bible talks of Jesus as the “Man of Sorrows”: 

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”

— Isaiah 53:3

Maybe this is why Jesus was so influential in the lives of the people he came in contact with. Jesus wept (John 11:35).

Jesus personally felt the deepest pain and grief and could identify and empathize with the pain and grief of others.

I am no expert at this. In fact I can be quite cold and un-empathetic at times. But I do have moments where I feel this sorrow and empathy flash strongly in my life and I want it to be something that I cultivate more often.

May we not be afraid of sorrow but embrace these dark moments in our lives so that we can love one another better and experience the full spectrum of life that is available to each of us. Let us not settle for a dulled down, gray-scale existence but embrace the beauty that is found in the vibrant colors of our emotions. As Jesus suffered with those around Him, and as He suffered for the church, the church is called to suffer with others, to love others as Christ loves the church. 

Take a moment today to read the words of the song and listen with an open heart. I pray you are touched by sorrow and moved toward empathy for others.

And make the most of your life, while it is rife. 

We’re all gonna die.