Category Archives: death

Acquainted With Grief

Standard

ACQUAINTEDWITHGRIEF

 

Something was terribly wrong

The two women knew something was wrong when their otherwise strong, vibrant brother went to lie down on his bed in the middle of the afternoon.  “This isn’t like him,” they thought but dared not say, though the glances that they shot at one another told them both they were thinking the same thing.  In the morning he had been fixing the gate at the pasture, at lunchtime he was not his normal light-hearted self, but quiet and tired.  Now he was in bed.

 

“I’m sending a message for the physician,” the older one whispered.  “He’ll know what to do.”  With all the speed she could manage she found someone going to the city to take the message that he was urgently needed and to come quickly.

 

When she returned, her brother was burning with fever, writhing in pain, and moaning in a delirium.  The two sisters prayed that the physician would get there soon.

 

He didn’t.

 

By morning the women knew it was just a matter of hours, if not minutes, and their dear, kind brother would be gone.  They had seen this many times before.  Death – or rather dying – was not the unfamiliar thing to them that it may be for you or me.  They had watched their parents die, and the tell-tale breathing, weakness, and draining color were all there.

 

And they were right.  He was gone by mid-morning.

 

The tears flowed freely and the pain of losing him was almost more than they could bear.  The sobs racked their small frames and though they were surrounded by a host of neighbors and family members, all they wanted was for him to come back.  They had never been without him.  Ever since their parents died, the three siblings loved and cared for one another as few have known.

 

Because of the heat and the lack of provisions to keep his body at home for a few more days, the burial arrangements were made quickly.  He was laid to rest with all the honor due a wonderful man, but he was dead – and gone – nonetheless.  The sisters were heartbroken.

 

The Inexorable Grip of Grief

Grief is a terrible thing.  It holds captive the mind and the emotions as few experiences can.  It is all consuming, inexorably gripping, and in its rawest moments, literally painful. Grief hurts in a way that no other emotional experience can.  Breathing hurts.  Sitting, lying down, and thinking all hurt.  And these two sisters, at a time and in a culture where their brother was not only their dearest friend, but also their protector and provider, were not only grieving the loss of their beloved friend, but also facing a future of unimaginable consequences.  

 

Four days later the physician, their very close friend, finally arrived.  They were so happy to see him, but nothing could assuage their deep, abiding, and overwhelming grief.

 

They asked with aching hearts and burning, tear-filled eyes, “Why didn’t you come sooner?”  “If you had come right away he wouldn’t have died – I know you could have helped him.”  “What kept you?”

 

When Jesus saw them weeping, and those who were gathered together with them also weeping, he was moved and greatly troubled at their distress.  When he asked the sisters, “Where have you laid him?” and they showed him, Jesus wept in such as way that others gathered near whispered to themselves, “See how much he loved him!”

 

This story can be one of the ones that we become a little callous to – because we know what happens next.  But the truth is, Jesus knew what was going to happen next, and yet he grieved with them.  

 

Isaiah 53 tells us that Jesus was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” and until I heard this story again about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus the other night, I had never connected the two.  I know that Jesus bore many griefs that we will never begin to understand – the sin of the world, the rejection, the agony of the wrath of God and the separation he felt – these are real and undeniable (and not even close to an exhaustive list).  So Jesus knows what it is like to feel grief – more intensely and more profoundly than we ever will.

 

Jesus enters our grief

But this story makes it clear that Jesus knows what it is like to enter into another’s grief as well.  Jesus knew  that he would raise Lazarus from the dead – he told his disciples so before they began the journey to Bethany where he already knew that Lazarus had died.  But the sight of the sisters in deep, agonizing grief moved him with visible compassion.  Jesus wept because he saw the pain that death had caused his dear friends.  He wept for their sorrow and for their broken hearts.  Jesus wept because he became acquainted with their grief.

 

What kind of love is this?  He didn’t need to do that.  He could have just gone straight to, “Lazarus, come forth!” and gotten him out of his grave clothes.  He could have said, “What’s all this fuss about?  He’s not dead, but only sleeping.  Come now – stop your crying and see.”  But he wouldn’t deny the pain that these two sisters were in – even though he knew their sorrow would turn to joy in a few moments.

 

Beloved – this is our same Savior.  He knows that our lives are but a vapor, but he is acquainted with our griefs.  He doesn’t just relate to our grief because he has felt his own – he enters into our griefs with us because he loves us that deeply.  He knows that he will change our sorrows into joy before we know it – and that from the perspective of eternity, this is very, very little.  But as Jesus entered into the pain and sorrow of Mary and Martha’s grief, even knowing what he was about to do, he enters into ours as well.

 

Jesus was indeed a man of many sorrows of  his own.  But he was also a man acquainted with grief – not only his own, but his beloved’s as well.  Jesus doesn’t only enter into our grief because he knows what grief is like and can understand what we are feeling.  He enters in and feels it with us because he knows and loves us.

 

That is a good and kind Savior.  May the joy of this Risen Friend be more deeply yours than it ever has been – each and every day.

 

Come Grieve With Me

Standard

Come, grieve with me

Come grieve with me

While my heart bleeds

                                                  –  and tries to breathe again.

Come let me cry

As waves crash hard

                                                    – against my will and might.

Come be the strength

Against my pain

                                       – for heavy is the load.

Come sit with me

In silent love

                                                         – my darkness needs your light.

Come say the truth

I need to hear

                                                         – speak noble, right, pure, true.

Come stay with me

Through darkest war

                                                     – let my soul mourn tonight.

Come.  Stay.  Cry.  Be.

My heart can’t see.

                                           –  I need to know there’s hope.

Sometimes there are no answers.

Sometimes the only thing to do is grieve – and it is right and good to do so.

But so often we don’t know how.  We hate the pain that suffering brings and we rail against it – trying with every ounce of effort to hurry it up and make it go away.  Whether it is ours or someone else’s.

But pain has purpose in God’s economy – and it is worth much more than we want to believe.

Sometimes, often times, the lessons are deepest, purest, truest through the pain.

Would we value health if we never encountered disease?  Would we rejoice in commitment if we never experienced betrayal?  Would we ever be able to bask in the glory of true peace if we never knew conflict?

NO, NO, a thousand times, NO!

Could we delight in the splendor of a simple cool drink if we had never ached with thirst?  Would we treasure life and goodness if we had never suffered evil loss?  Can we bask in the ecstasy of the joy of the Lord if we never know the depravity of our souls?

NO.  No.  no.

We cannot truly know the soaring heights of good until we know the unfathomable depths of the not-good – and the deeper we go into the abyss the more glorious the light of glory will be.

Don’t be afraid to grieve, and don’t be afraid to help others do the same.  Because of and by the very things that cause our grief, we will know and experience more joy.  And because of and by the entering into another’s pain you help them do the same.  You minister to them in ways that are almost impossible to articulate, but are priceless in the end.

We need the fellowship of one another to grieve well – and grieve we all must do.

Through Gates of Splendor – Goodbye to my friend…

Standard

IMG_20150616_192449807_HDR

I’m far away from home right now – in a place that is as beautiful as it gets – but my heart has carried around the grief of loss ever since my daughter called to tell me that Elisabeth Elliot passed away two days ago.  As I watched a most spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean tonight I was enthralled by the colors and indescribable beauty that is almost commonplace here, but I kept thinking about how much more dazzling and exhilarating it will be to see the Glory of the Almighty Maker of the Universe.  Splendor is a good word, and Elisabeth Elliot has just been ushered through the Gates of Splendor that she often talked about.

While I can celebrate her release from the pain and toil and struggles of this life, I do grieve the loss of her.

You see, she was my friend.

And while I always felt like I was her friend – she didn’t know me.

But she was my friend.  I knew her.  I knew her life because she openly talked about it in her books and on her radio show.  I knew the parts of her heart that she was willing to share, so openly and plainly, through the same means.  And I knew she was my friend because every time I heard her on the radio she told me so – she said, “You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot,” and I believed her.

As a young mother I read her book, Discipline, The Glad Surrender, and I was instantly sure that this woman could very well become my spiritual “mother.”  I grew so much from the perspective she lovingly shared.  I saw things in new ways.  And I was helped in the practical, ordinary things – from ordering my day to include time to know God to getting the laundry done.  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and no one showed me how to be a disciplined disciple, but my friend, Elisabeth helped.   In fact, she helped decide the name of this blog, for it was through her counsel that I learned that there is great honor shown to God in doing the ordinary things in our lives well – as if we were doing them for him, for indeed we are.  And God continues to surprise me with great depths of insight into his character and love through the very ordinary, common things in daily living.

Later, I learned what a Christian home might look like through the Shaping of a Christian Family.  Desperately seeking an older, wiser woman who would be willing to mentor me through the intensely difficult terrain of disciple-ing our young brood into godly men and women, yet finding few who wanted or dared to take on the task, there was my friend, Elisabeth, always there with wisdom and practical tips alike.  She taught me to be patient, but persistent with my darlings.  She showed me that I wasn’t raising children, but men and women.  She reminded me that the condition of their souls was infinitely more important than their behavior on any given day.  And she taught me how to be an older woman to the younger women around me.

When I read Through Gates of Splendor, In The Shadow of the Almighty, and other books I learned of her losses – and how she saw God rooting out the sinfulness in her heart through them.  “Who talks like this?” I remember thinking.  My friend, Elisabeth, did, and I wanted to be that kind of woman.

I heard her speak once – I honestly don’t remember what the talk was about.  But I do remember this one thing that she said.  She was talking about growing older and the challenges that come with each stage in life.  She said she’d overheard some younger women in the restroom talking about her saying what a “nice, godly old woman she was.”  A little amused at their perspective of her, it gave us all a good chuckle. But then she went on to describe how these two women immediately started talking about one of their friends in a cutting and unkind way.  Ever looking for a teachable moment, she said to all of us, “Ladies, if you want to be godly older women, you’d better start by becoming godly younger women right now.”  I was thankful I hadn’t been one of the women in the restroom that day, but I knew it could have easily been me on any other day.  The lesson hit home and I took her seriously.

Some of her most lasting lessons to me were things she quoted often (and I have followed suit):

“When you don’t know what to do, just look around and do the next thing.”

“Leave it all in the hands that were wounded for you.”

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things then you have to believe in one who controls the little things as well.”

“When asked how he got up every morning very early to pray my grandfather responded – ‘I get up!'”

(sorry all – I don’t have my books at hand to tell you where those quotes are from – and some of them may be paraphrased for I’ve used them over the years – but they are all from Elisabeth Elliot.)

I wrote to my friend Elisabeth, after reading The Shaping of a Christian Family for the third or fourth time, and told her how much it had helped me – us.  I told her how much I appreciated that she had been willing to share not just the seeming successes in her life, but the reality of the struggles – and that that had helped me, too.  I told her that in reading her books I knew that God was teaching me many of the same lessons, but because I had read about her struggles I was looking for his purposes in the pain and the struggles rather than railing against them.

She wrote me back a hand-written note to tell me that my note was encouraging to her.  Imagine – I encouraged Elisabeth Elliot.  But isn’t that how God works – one friend encourages another and together we build each other up?

I’ve read many more of Elisabeth Elliot’s books over the years.  I’ve passed them on to others, given them as gifts, and encouraged others to read her simple, straightforward words.

I know she wasn’t perfect – no friend is except One.  But I valued her a great deal.  I am sad that she is no longer with us, but rejoice that she is in heaven with Jesus.  I’m sure she is rejoicing with many saints who have stories to share with her similar to mine.  What a lovely reward for a life lived in faithful service to her King.

I am indebted to this woman who God used in such a profound way in my life.  I still hope to be like her – faithful to the end and used by God in the simple living out of an ordinary life.  I know she will be sorely missed, as she was greatly loved.

Praying for her family and friends – all of us – who have lost someone dear.

Radically different perspectives…

Standard

A guest post from my 21 year old son, Isaac…

 

Don, the guy we’re helping run a baseball camp here with, gave us about a five hour tour of this part of France, covering mostly the Revolution, and WWI. He does this tour to help people understand the French better. One of our conversations that we had during the tour was about his experience going back to the states to recruit from seminaries and Bible colleges. He told the story of being at a seminary recruiting one year during a conference, he had his little table set up and students would file past, looking for souvenirs and treats from France. One student made his way to his table and after looking about for a few seconds said “So, what does your organization have to offer me?”

Meanwhile, here we are at one of the larger US military cemeteries from WWI, looking at thousands and thousands of graves of young American boys and men, that died protecting France. They died for 21 years of peace. Most of them volunteered. They volunteered to die for a fight they had little stake in.

It’s striking that so many will voluntarily go die for a war that isn’t theirs, or for honor that would last a short time, but that when people try and recruit missionaries to simply go live somewhere else and be intentional about their faith, it’s nearly impossible to get anyone to commit long term.

How many days?

Standard

How many days?

Funerals… sad and wonderful at the same time.  The searing loss, the waves of grief, the sudden and unexpected tears that flow in fits and bursts.  But sweetness in the midst of pain is there as well.  Friends and family – some not seen for years, sweet memories, an appreciation for life.

How many days?

“Teach us to number our days, oh Lord, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”  (Psalm 90:12)

“And in your book they were all written – the days that were ordained for me, before any one of them had come to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

Most of us don’t really want to die – for lots of us we know we will be separated from people we dearly love and we know the pain it will inflict on them.  But I confess that sometimes I’m more comfortable with the “being dead” part than I am with the “dying” part.  We naturally shun pain and suffering – it’s how we’re made.

But we’ll all face it.  When you’re at a funeral it’s pretty hard not to wonder, “How many days do I have left?”  A lot?  Or will it be few?

But for me, the bigger question is not, “How many days?”  It is, “How will I spend them?”

Intellectually I understand that death is no respecter of persons – but emotionally I think I want it to be.  I want to be able to say, “I’ve earned more time,” – to… someone.

But here is what I’ve come to know.  Death comes for each of us.  Death comes like a thief in the night – even when dear ones have fought a long and hideous battle with illness, their moment of breathing their last breath has been surprising.

Once we’re dead, we’re gone.  We get no more chances to say the things we meant to say.  We have no more opportunities to be with the ones we meant to spend more time with.

As a Christian, this knowledge changes how I live my everyday life.  I see bigger things at play all the time.  Little things are infinitely more important than some of them seem, and great big crises are like the dust you blow off of forgotten treasures in the attic – it’s the treasure that’s important but sometimes we focus on the dust.

Telling people I love them – and why – seems small, but it isn’t.  Listening to a child chatter on about something I’m not interested in but he is, seems annoying, but teaches him that I value him.  Allowing a teenager to learn how to respectfully disagree with me seems counter-intuitive sometimes, but is a gift to her and to all those she will disagree with later.  Those ordinary, daily, small interchanges are not what make life – they are life.  If we miss them or neglect them we lose them forever.  But if we embrace them they are also ours to keep forever.

How many days?  Don’t worry about it.  “For which of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?”  (Matthew 7:27)  Concentrate instead on how you will spend the days you are given.  Speak the things you need to speak as if the next moment will be your last – for it may.  And invest in the lives around you as if you will live forever – for you, and they, will.

O death

Standard

My friend’s husband died today.  Cancer is an ugly word, but it’s an uglier way to die.  Death is ugly.  It really is the enemy.  Separation, loss, fear, anger –  all tied up in its inescapable grip that none of us gets to side-step.  Christians need to talk about this more.  We need to remind one another that everybody dies.  We need to live with the knowledge that at any moment our lives could end – how will they end?  We also need to live what life we have with purpose and energy knowing that we will be accountable for how we spent the minutes we were given.

She and I talked openly about what it’s like to be married to someone facing terminal situations – hers a more imminent one, but both death sentences, barring miracles.

Pain and fear never bring out the best in people.  It’s hard to go through it.  It’s hard to be married to someone going through it.  Try as we do to carry the load for our spouses for a while at least, in the end, it’s their load to carry alone.  But it costs us much.  Our spouses are both good husbands, but sometimes they’re pretty difficult patients.

We joked about having death preparation as part of pre-marital counseling – but we only laughed a little.  We wondered if we should write lists of things for other people to know.  Neither of us knew how to do this really – it would be good to have a guide book.  It’s been hard to walk through the maze of conflicting thoughts and feeling – all the details of preparations and decisions.  We commiserated about being torn between the searing pain of expected loss and the need to prepare to carry on, you know… “after”.  We confessed to sometimes creating distance out of self-protection, and then feeling indescribably ashamed for holding the person who needed us the most at an arm’s length.   We cried, and hugged, and left each other the last time feeling that at least we weren’t alone – but still carrying heavy burdens.

Run to Jesus, was all we could think to do.  We prayed.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor 15:55-58)

Your toil is not in vain in the Lord… that is comfort.  The toil of waking up again to serve a tired, irritable, scared spouse who is in pain was not in vain.  The toil of cleaning up vomit and so much more was not in vain.  The toil of trying to get him to eat, or take medication, or get up, or lie down was not in vain.  The toil of endless doctor’s appointments and tests and waiting rooms and uncomfortable car rides was not in vain.  The toil of praying against all hope for a miracle even as you watched your beloved wither before you was not in vain.  The toil of letting go, and watching the wretched process actually happen before your eyes was not in vain.  The toil of sitting by the bedside – steadfast, immovable – as he slipped into eternity, gasping, gasping and finally not… WAS NOT IN VAIN.

It is love.  It is the truest expression of caring.  Though the wickedness of our own selfishness screamed silently for an escape, still you stayed, and served, and loved through the toil of every day.   I know you did it because you loved him, but you were faithful because you love the Lord.

And none of it was in vain.  Thank you sweet friend for showing Jesus’ love to so many around you.  Your offerings of sacrificial love and service are like a cool drink in a barren desert.  What you’ve offered is an outpouring of your real and living faith – and none of it is in vain.