I remember the day that I learned how much it hurts to lose someone you love. I was twelve years old, and it had been a week since my uncle passed away. The morning of his funeral, I was convinced that the adults needed to see things with spiritual eyes. In all my eighth-grade wisdom, I wondered why they didn’t understand that we should be happy because my uncle, a devoted Christ follower, was now in the presence of Jesus, free from pain and worry.
I remember getting in the car to ride to the funeral, my dad driving while brushing the constant stream of tears from his eyes. I seized the opportunity.
You’re probably wondering why I’m not sad, I piped up. I honestly don’t know how my parents put up with me. It’s because I know he’s in Heaven, and I think we should be happy about that.
I could see my dad’s teary eyes focused on me in the rearview mirror. I am happy for him, he said. But, I’m going to miss him.
When the funeral ended, I filed past the casket like everyone else, then I sat down in the chapel as was the custom, the family spending a last few moments there before going to the burial. I watched my dad and his oldest brother weep. I watched my uncle’s wife and children grieve and mourn and cry out, and as all this unfolded, I had this life lesson hit me like a freight train: death hurts. It leaves behind a trail of tears and heartache and loneliness and questioning and longing. I sat there, watching my family pour out their sorrows in that funeral home chapel, and suddenly the truth, the hard reality of being a human being fell all over me. I cried until I couldn’t breathe anymore.
Are you ok? my mother asked, and I could tell that she recognized that God was teaching me a weighty lesson.
Since that day, I’ve attended many, many funerals. Lots of times I don’t even know the families, but am there to sing and try to minister to them in their sorrow. And, each time I see that familiar heartache, that great pain of letting go of someone you love.
If we turn to the Bible, there are so many verses of comfort and truth for Christians when it comes to death. I myself have sent these verses to grieving friends, as a way to encourage them. But, can I tell you the honest truth? Maybe we shouldn’t. Do you think it lessened my dad’s heartache on the day he buried his brother for me to remind him that we don’t grieve as the world grieves? Of course, he already knew that. But, he needed to grieve. To mourn deeply. To miss his brother. And, he still misses him to this day. The ache doesn’t disappear, even when you know the truth about the hope that you have. Because the reality is that my dad is here and his brother isn’t. And, that never stops hurting.
So, I write this a reminder to myself, and to all of us. Christians mourn, too. And, it’s okay. We don’t have to quote scripture at each other every time someone is grieving. Bad things happen in this life. Sadness is a hallmark of the fallen world we live in. Maybe the way that we can really mourn with those who mourn is just by sitting beside them, letting them be sad. Because even if we have the deepest understanding of the joy of the Lord as our strength, there are days when grieving Christians will need to cry. After all, the Bible doesn’t say we don’t grieve. It just says we grieve in a different way, because behind every tear is the hope of Jesus Christ and the place He has prepared for us.
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13