Grief is such a varied thing. In life we experience so many kinds of grief. We grieve time lost, we grieve our “high school bodies”, we grieve missed opportunities and lost relationships, but one of the worst kinds of grief my heart has known is the grief that impacts and lingers after losing a loved one. We can anticipate this grief. There are people in this world I love so dearly that thinking about them passing from this life to glory strikes me so hard I can’t breathe.
In my experience, there is such pain in that first moment. The moment our ears hear the words that someone is gone or has been struck down by an illness. We have the sinking feeling hoping that they will pull through. We are flooded with emotion. It is a disillusioning feeling that leaves us feeling betrayed by our hearing. We don’t want to hear that. Our hearts reject it. We know that this can’t be real. Then the pain comes.
I remember so many of those moments of actually realizing that the last time I talked to someone was the last time I would this side of heaven. Did I tell them how much I loved them then? Did they know? Did I treat them in a way that there could be no doubt about the love I felt for them?
See grief brings hurt into our hearts, but when we know someone who dies and passes from this life into the arms of our Savior, Jesus Christ, they do not experience loss. The goal of this life isn’t to stay here forever. The goal of this life is to say yes to God and to enjoy Him here while making sure that every person we meet sees His light shining as we share His love and prepare to enjoy Him forever. That is the goal – to hear our “Well done!” because we ran our race with excellence seeking to glorify God and spread His fame among the nations.
As they stand before Jesus and are welcomed into eternity in Him, I think we are the last thing on their minds. I don’t say that to mean that we didn’t matter much while they were here, but to express that the joy they feel in His presence as their eternity begins. They aren’t sad. They aren’t longing to be back here, and that should be comforting. What we should want for our loved ones is an eternity with Christ flooded with everlasting joy, where they cry, “Worthy is the Lamb!”
Our hurt is real, but what they are seeing as they go home is better. It is better for our focus to be there instead of on the pain we feel. I recently was so deeply moved by the passing of a great man. I got to be around Phil on several occasions, but the time I got to know him best was at a college retreat where my husband led worship and preached for the weekend. Our daughter was just a few months old. I was pushing a stroller all around a camp that had unpaved roads and no automatic doors, but after Phil saw me struggle through the door one time, he was on the other side of every door other I needed to open the rest of the weekend. This kindness spoke volumes of his character that I became more familiar with as we all visited throughout that weekend. He took the place of a servant for me and our daughter that weekend in the most “inconspicuous” manner that was so valuable and such a blessing to me. He did not do it for a thank you. He simply did it because his heart was to serve and share God’s love with others.
After he passed social media was flooded with people sharing stories of his servant’s heart and testifying to his character. He was the kind of man that the world will miss. He was the kind of man that hearing about him makes you wish you knew him better because being sharpened by that kind of iron is so valuable. In the hours and days that passed, his family felt pain. They felt the impact of their great loss, but they shined a light on his legacy and love for God which was turned back to praising Jesus! I am so proud of them and am so honored to call them friends.
See we all experience grief, but how we walk in it and the hope we cling to in it tells the world what we know will be on the other side of our grief. In the last few weeks I have seen grief point to hope in Jesus and not defeat those who love Him. I have seen the legacy of a man honored by living and following in his example as he followed Christ.
At the end of my life, I would hope that my children could look at the world and have hearts still shouting CHRIST IS ALL. I would hope that in their pain they would still rejoice knowing that I am finally with Christ, and that the goal of running my race well was met as death is swallowed up in victory. Death had no sting for Phil, and it will not for me either! I rejoice in that promise, and thank Christ for paying that price.
In grief, let us reach for hope. Let us walk fully knowing that whatever loss we are looking at Christ is sufficient in it, and that mercies will be new for us as dawn breaks each day!