I’ve shared often in this space that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, one of the things I had to do was drag out everything I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world and all the pat interpretations of familiar verses and hold them up to the cold, clear light of loss.
Today’s verses are some I had to think about carefully because they are so often tossed at grieving hearts like a magic cure for the pain of burying someone you love.
The church at Thessalonica was confused about some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. They were frightened they had missed Christ’s second coming and they were concerned about loved ones that had preceded them in death.
So Paul wrote this letter to remind them of truth and offer comfort in their emotional distress:
13-17 Now we don’t want you, my brothers, to be in any doubt about those who “fall asleep” in death, or to grieve over them like men who have no hope. After all, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death, then we can believe that God will just as surely bring with Jesus all who are “asleep” in him. Here we have a definite message from the Lord. It is that those who are still living when he comes will not in any way precede those who have previously fallen asleep. One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from Heaven! Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then we who are still living on the earth will be swept up with them into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And after that we shall be with him for ever.I Thessalonians 4:13-18 PHILLIPS
18 God has given me this message on the matter, so by all means use it to encourage one another.
This verse is quoted often to believers who have lost a loved one. At first, gently, sweetly–as an invitation to remember that God is in control, that He has a plan, that the grave is not victorious and that burying the body is not the end.
And, in the early days and weeks after the funeral, it IS comforting–I chanted it to myself like a mantra and it drew my heart from the brink of despair.
But at some point, this verse begins to feel like a rebuke–the well-meaning friend says, “Don’t you know, that Jesus followers don’t grieve like those who have no hope!”
And I turn, dumbfounded, to the person saying this, and wonder, “Have you buried a child?”
Have you grieved the too-soon, unexpected, violent end of your hopes and dreams without a chance to say, “good-bye”? Do you stand over the patch of dirt that now covers the buried body of your son and wonder how this happened? How can this be your life?
Do you wake up every morning and have that fraction of a moment where all is right with the world before your mind joins your eyes and reminds you that he is still gone?
- Yes, I firmly believe that my son is now with Jesus.
- Yes, I stand convinced that there will be a day when all tears are wiped away and I will be reunited with him.
- Yes, I feed the hope in my heart with truth from Scripture and remind myself daily that the grave is not the end.
But I am made of dust.
I am human. I am full of the emotions that God placed in my heart.
He gave me the capacity to embrace and love the tiny life growing inside me before I could see it or feel it. He made my child leap in my womb when I listened to praise music. He positioned Dominic as the third-born child in our family and gave him unique gifts and abilities.
And now He knows that as long as I live, I will grieve the son that I lost. I will sorrow anew when others his age reach milestones–get married, have children–because not only did I lose the Dominic that WAS, I have lost the Dominic THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN.
I do “grieve with hope”–I breathe in the life-affirming and spirit-filling promise that the reality I am living is not the only reality there is. I lean into the Word of God and trust in, rely on and affirm the victory of Jesus Christ.
But I still GRIEVE. I cannot force my heart to ignore the pain and sorrow that has been laid upon it.
So I continue to live each day, doing the work that God has left for me to do, but walking a little slower, a little more bowed down.
For those of us carrying this burden of grief, the greatest gift is grace and mercy and kindness–we are doing the best we can.
Encouragement (lending courage to) must include acknowledging our daily struggle and the lifelong commitment we have made to battle on.
Ask us, listen to the answers and then hold our hand or dry our tears.
But don’t expect us not to cry.
- Do these verses help your heart? Why or why not?
- What do you think it means to “grieve with hope”? Before your child left for Heaven did you have a different understanding of these verses?
- Yesterday’s verses were all about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Consider those and these together. One of the amazing benefits of studying the Word is that it feeds our souls and strengthens our faith. What insights have you received from this study?
- Christian cemeteries are traditionally oriented toward the east in anticipation of this glorious event. I drive by where my son’s body is waiting for resurrection often since it’s just a mile from my home. I always speak this promise to my heart when I do. It’s a small way of affirming truth that helps me wait more patiently. Do you think about the cemetery as a final resting place or as a future resurrection site? What difference might reframing your thoughts make to your heart?
Thank You that we can grieve with hope. Thank You that we have assurance Your promises are true. Thank You that death for believers in Jesus is NOT the end.
My child’s grave is not his or her final resting place. It’s his or her future resurrection site. On that glorious Day when Christ returns, death will be defeated forever. What a reunion that will be!
When I am deep in despair, sorrowing at this temporary separation, help me hold onto that truth. Give me strength to endure and grace to finish well. Eternity awaits! Come Lord Jesus!