Born to Grieve
Past, Present and Future
It is not often these days that an article in a secular publication hits me deeply but these words, by two American journalists, put into language something I knew deep down within my own soul as being true.
"Grief takes many forms. When a parent dies, the past dies too. When a spouse dies, the present disappears. And a child who dies takes a parent's future with him" (Kenneth L.Woodward & Karen Springen in "The Stages of Grief", Newsweek, May 22, 1995, p.49).
I have often complained in the past that I cannot understand the emotional trauma that people are going through when they experience the death of a loved one and it hasn't been until I have been a witness to a death that I have begun to tap those deep veins of sorrow. And it doesn't necessarily have to be a physical death for one to understand the pain and agony of such people.
When Jesus Wept for Lazarus
The death of Lazarus had a profound effect on the Saviour of mankind. He wept, as it is recorded in the shortest verse of scripture. Though He was the Lord of the Resurrection, and startlingly demonstrated this to be so quite soon afterwards when He brought Lazarus back to life again, He yet experienced the agony of what I can only describe as the grim reality of separation.
Who likes to be alone? Man was not made to be alone. God understood the abyss of loneliness when He made Adam a helpmeet and He did not want man to experience that. He understood only too well. He understood the abyss of aloneness Jesus Christ felt on the cross when, that the Son of Man might make atonement for the sins of the world, He turned away. So great was that awareness of being cut off from His Father that Jesus, cried out in utter desperation: "Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He knew with His mind that His Heavenly Father had not abandoned Him, just as He knew that He would bring back the dead lazarus to life again, yet the reality of separation crushed His heart anyway.
My Own Pain
I have not experienced the physical death of a spouse or a child but I have experienced the agony of separation of both. I have experienced the bitter pain of knowing, through the witness of the Holy Spirit, that a relationship was crucified and dead. It is the most horrible thing that I have experienced. That physical death holds no sting for the believer I can accept. My own father's death was painful for me as I sensed a deep loss, even though I did not really know him as I would have wished. Yet I knew that I would see him again some day. I knew -- because I have faith in the resurrection -- that he continues to live.
"When a parent dies, the past dies too." How true that is. When my own father died, a chunk of my own past died with him. My home in England was never quite the same. My mother, who lives, is my only real contact with the past now. My past lives because she lives, because in her is my childhood and the foundation of my growing up to be what I am.
"When a spouse dies, the present disappears." How true that is. When I lost my wife, my present died. The present lost all meaning. My whole life came to a standstill. Though I was propelled on by a force greater than myself, I had to be pulled nonetheless.
"And a child who dies takes a parent's future with him". How true that is. When I lost my wife I lost my two children too for two years. Though I lived on for the Gospel's sake, leaving my native country for a foreign land, I lost much of my future too.
It is hard to explain these things. It is a bit like having pages from your own personal book of life ripped out. Woodward and Springen write: "..grieving is a life-long process...a pain that never goes away and only gets less bad." It is true. I got my children back, praise God, and got my future back too, but at the same time I also knew that my wife lost part of her future in the process too, and that hurt deeply. I grieved for her, for I knew what she must must have gone through -- and still is going through. I never got my wife back -- a part of my present is forever gone.
We must remember these things when others grieve because of a loss of loved ones. When a loved one dies, part of us is lost -- whether parent, spouse or child. And it doesn't matter how fervently one believes in the resurrection because we must live with the present as much as with the hope of the future. We must never be so blind as to suppose that a deeply committed Christian is above grief because of his faith in Christ. If the Son of Man wept over the loss of a dear friend whom He knew would be brought back to life in a few days time, how much more real do you suppose a Christian feels when a loved one passes away when he only has faith that in some far distant time he will see his belovèd alive again?
Time Does Not Heal, Only Blunts the Sharp Edge
Time heals, they say. It is only a half truth. It merely blunts the knife that pierces the heart. A deep faith in the afterlife is a great healing balsam, other says. But that is only true of those parts of the soul that are impregnated by that knowledge. Knowledge and faith are not the same thing, though. So why did Jesus weep for Lazarus? Because, my friend, He was a human like us. The God part of Him knew, but the man part of Him only had faith.
So what must we do? We must, as Jesus says, be allowed to mourn. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." And I have been comforted. I know, however, that I shall mourn so long as I am in this mortal flesh, yet I am comforted along the way. It is blessed to mourn, because mourning brings us into intimate contact with the core of our being. Tragedy has a purpose, even if it is "just" the passing away of a loved one through natural causes. We are meant to experience death. And we are meant to experience death because it is a great leveller of men. Before death pride takes last place. Before death, frivolity gives place to sobriety. Death is supposed to remind us, in what ever form it takes, that there is a purpose in life and that we only get one chance at it. Time is not for us to waste.
I do not enjoy grief particularly. Who does? But I appreciate its part in the great Gospel plan of salvation. I do not enjoy experiencing it but I have been mellowed and enriched by it because I have accepted it as natural. There are many who do not. Many strike out in anger. Many are bitter. For these people what God intended to be for soul enrichment becomes a sore cursing, a binding, an imprisoning.
There will be a time, in the eternities, for the healing of all wounded spirits. For those who are not tempted by the dark side of human nature into hatred and reject the divine Hand, there is a time of inner healing that God promises. And He promises to do the healing for us Himself.
For myself I look forward to the day when I can fully regain my present. I will admit that a part of my present has been dead for many years. I believe in the Lord of the Resurrection, moreover, and believe that one day I shall enjoy that eternal present, in all its glory, if I shoulder my burdens courageously and allow grief to play its part into shaping me into the kind of son God desires me to be. Amen.
This page was created on 10 May 1998
Last updated on 10 May 1998
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved