Tag Archives: death

Acquainted With Grief

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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.

 

Through Gates of Splendor – Goodbye to my friend…

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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.

The Allure of Peace

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We long to live in peace. Wars and hostilities, international conflicts and personal ones unsettle us.  Toil that is endless, work that is fruitless, spinning our wheels at the daily grind – none of it satisfies.  It all makes us long for something better – much, much better.

There are things that we intuitively know.   We know that goodness is good and evil is bad.  We know children should be protected and provided for and the elderly should be respected.  We know that mothers ought to love their children and fathers ought to be strong and courageous.

No one has to explain these things – they stand on their own.  We all agree that these things ought to be so.

We also long for a place where people live together in harmony and goodwill.  We long for a place where everyone has everything they need – not just to survive, but to thrive.  We long for a place where everyone loves perfectly – where self-preservation is no longer necessary and trust is a given.

We ache for paradise because paradise is perfect peace all the time.

But lately my thoughts about paradise and peace have been disrupted.

The news is replete with talk of terrorists being cajoled into blowing themselves up with the sweet-talk of “paradise” in the afterlife.  The promise of 72 virgins and endless self-indulgences seems to be a big lure.  This is paradise based on selfishness.

I teach a little apologetics class for my speech and debate students.  They’ve recently learned that Buddhism offers “Nirvana” as a sort of paradise – it is described as “a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.” (Wikipedia)  OK, so I understand the allure of ending suffering and getting off the hamster wheel of living and dying over and over – that would get frustrating, I’m sure.  But to what end?? A state where there is no “desire, nor sense of self”…. Huh?  That is not paradise, that is nothingness.

Our recent history lessons have been focused on the events that led a large chunk of humanity to embrace Communism.  Communism promised paradise – a utopian society where everyone worked happily together for the common good – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot… How many bought into the lie of this ideology only to then be the leaders of mass murder in efforts to control their starving populaces? (…all of them.)  This is a paradise for the “elite” (however that is decided).

All of these promises of paradise are false.  They are based on injustices, lies, and “peace” for a select few that come at an exorbitant price for many others.  All of these promisers believed that paradise must be grabbed.  Seize it or lose it.

It’s striking, isn’t it, that Jesus, the originator of Peace, did exactly the opposite?

Jesus left paradise in order to open it up to us.  Rather than clawing at his throne, he willingly, lovingly walked away from it so that he could personally invite us to enter into his kingdom.

The Almighty Maker of the Universe left his Kingly position and entered into humanity has a weak, vulnerable, squawking baby.  The Word became wordless to tell us what we needed to know.

The Law showed us that we are incapable of earning the right to claim eternity at peace with God, so Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides, gives it to us as a gift, because it was his to give, not ours to take.

It is his to give, because this Sovereign King humbled himself and became the sacrifice, the Lamb of God to secure for us what we couldn’t grab hold of no matter how hard we tried.

The Just Judge became the Merciful Savior by paying the penalty himself.

The Offended allowed himself to be hung on a tree to be the Defender of his own and prove himself victorious – not just over a Roman cross but over Death itself.  Death is dead – do you understand how good that is???  We cannot be condemned to death a second time!

And the kind, compassionate, Wonderful Counselor offers us a place at his eternal table- in sweet fellowship with him, and guides us by saying, “take, eat… it has been all accomplished for you.”

The owner and author of Paradise says, “come to me, and I will give you rest.”  The Keeper of Peace says, “follow me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What a contrast to what we try to engineer for ourselves!

We all want peace.  It is written on our hearts to yearn for, ache for, long for.  But real peace does not come from our own making.  We are as incapable of making real peace as we are of obeying all the Commandments.  And so God has made it for us.  And made a way for us to receive it.

The allure of Paradise is real and good.  Eternal Peace is meant to make our hearts leap. But we can only have it One Way.

O death

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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.