Let me be real here - death stinks and grief is hard. There is never a good time for it, and no matter how "prepared" you try to be, there is always the conversation you didn't have and the memory you didn't make. Because we love them, we miss them, deeply, and because we miss them we grieve.
In the first letter to the Thessalonians, in chapter 4, verses 13 to 18, Paul told the church, "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." Note that he did not tell them not to grieve, but not to grieve in the same way as those who have no hope. We still grieve, but because of Jesus, we have hope, and that hope changes everything, including our grief. I have thought about this a lot in the last month, and I want to share three significant ways that hope has impacted my grief.
It reminds me that Jesus conquered death.
It reminds me that Heaven is real.
Because of the age of communication in which we live, you can live far from someone and still talk with them, or even “see” them as often (sometimes more!) as when they lived nearby. We are spoiled in that way. But before the age of telephones, when people moved far away, it was in some ways as if there had been a death. Save for slow-traveling written messages, there was no way to communicate, to know how they were doing, when in fact they were having full and happy lives in their new home. That is how I see the death of our loved ones in Jesus. They have moved, and are experiencing a more abundant quality of life than we can imagine. We just don’t have the ability to communicate with them anymore - and we miss that, deeply.
I know without a doubt that our grief right now is not for the well-being of my mother-in-law, for she fully trusted Jesus for her salvation. It is for us, and the great emptiness we feel without her this side of Heaven. And let me be clear - we should never minimize that great grief for others with the reminder that their loved ones are in a better place. Of course they are. We are not sad for them. But the grief for our own loss is very real and painful and, quite honestly, it honors our loved one. And so we should honor it as well by not pushing others to short-circuit that part of the grieving process. Even Jesus wept for the death of Lazarus, knowing full well that he would be raising him from death within minutes. Tears and grief are natural and healthy and appropriate. But knowing that our separation from my mother-in-law is temporary does lessen the sting, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
It reminds me that God keeps his promises.
I don't like grief. It is uncomfortable, inconvenient, painful, and just - yuk. But as our family travels this familiar-yet-not-familiar road, we do so knowing that Jesus is strong, that Heaven is real, and that God's Word and promises are true. It is my prayer that you know those truths as well, and that they sustain you through any trials you may experience today.