I love being an American. The freedoms, the pride, the heritage, the beauty of this land. They stir my heart.
But when it comes to this area of dealing with death and grief… our American culture fails pretty badly.
To start with we are a death-denying culture… Until a big crisis or disaster, we don’t talk about death. We act immortal, like nothing we ever do will hurt us and we can live forever.
And IF something happens that DOES capture our attention in this area, and death hits our own families or perhaps a famous person like Dale Earnhardt or Robin Williams or Princess Di, we couch our feelings and emotions in our own little mythologies… Trying to comfort each other with phrases about how God needed another angel so that must be why that particular person had to die. And our attempts at helping the one struggling with grief usually boils down to well-meaning, yet useless phrases like, “Be strong for your kids,” or telling parents who’ve lost a child: “Well, you can have more” or telling a young boy who’s lost a dad that he’s got to be the man now… and “men don’t cry.”
Most of the time, when we’re dispensing our own brand of seeming wisdom, we’re more likely to simply avoid anyone that we know is dealing with grief.
They feel the pain of loss, and we feel badly for them, we want them to feel better, so we either want to say “the right words” that’ll make them feel better and make their grief go away or we don’t want to be around them because we’re afraid we’ll say something that will make them feel worse… and then we’ll feel worse. So we don’t talk about it.
I’m reminded of a poem I once heard that talked about this uneasiness we feel, especially in America, and how hurtful it is for people to respond that way…
“The Elephant in the Room”
There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting,
so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with “How are you?”
and “I’m fine” …
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else –
except the elephant in the room.
There’s an elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please say her name.
Oh, please say “Barbara” again.
Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
Perhaps we can talk about her life.
Can I say “Barbara” to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me
In a room …
With an elephant.
Paul, in First Thessalonians, chapter 4, writes that he doesn’t want the Christians there to be “ignorant” about those who “have fallen asleep”… those who have died… But his reason is more than to just give knowledge or to be theologically clear… He says that he wants to clear up the confusion surrounding the death of Christians so that the Christians there who are still alive won’t “grieve as others do who have no hope.”
Essentially, Paul is filling us in that there is a Christian way of grieving… there can be “Good Grief.”
If grieving is the process of coming to terms with the feelings of loss… and then finding the comfort we so desperately need so that we can move on with the rest of our life… then part of the question is where do we find that kind of comfort… or as Paul said it… that kind of HOPE… that kind of help.
As Christians, instinctively, we turn to the Scriptures… and the Scriptures declare:
“My help comes from the Lord”
The first way God can help us in times of grief or trouble, is through the Scriptures. We read in the Bible what it has to say about death, about dying, about what follows this life, about what happens to those who die in the Lord… to those who die as believers in Jesus Christ.
In the Bible we find that those believers who have already died are called a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)… and the Bible describes those dead believers as ones who are watching us here like spectators in the grandstands, rooting and cheering for us as we complete our part of the relay race of faithful living.
In the Bible, we find comforting words like Isaiah 57:1 where it says that “The righteous man perishes, & no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity.” And in Revelation 14 we read:
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” –Rev. 14:13
In the Bible we read that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8)… and that when we find ourselves in that resurrection of the dead when we find ourselves before our Lord, we shall be like him as he is… And we know what that will be like because the Bible says that Jesus’ resurrection was the “firstfruits” the downpayment and example of what our resurrection will be like… You want to know what it’ll be like in that final resurrection… you look at what Jesus was like after his resurrection…
Notice, he knew the people around him and they were able to recognize him… and he wasn’t relegated to some lower status as an angel… one who simply serves God and His creatures… No, to die and be resurrected is to step into the inheritance of the kingdom… not become mere lowly angel…
Not only does the Bible help us understand what happens after death for the believer… but it points us to how to find the comfort and help we need in times of our own grief and loss.
We read words like these:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
[2 Corinthians 12:9a; KJV]
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also… I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you… Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” [John 14:1-3, 18, 27; KJV]
“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” [Isaiah 43:1b-2; KJV]
Well, if the first part of “Good grief” is the truths of Scripture, the second component would have to be prayer.
The Bible tells us that if we seek God, we WILL find Him… When we look for God in prayer, He WILL be found by us. (Jeremiah 29:13-14)
In another place, we are told that God says of us: “He shall call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. (Ps. 91)
And again we read: “If you abide in me and I in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)
If we want to know His help, his comfort, we have only to ask…. and God will be with us… In fact, at Christmas time we hear how one of the names of Jesus is “Emmanuel”… which means God Is With Us. (Matthew 1:23)
Part of the “good” experience of grief we can have as Christians is through our seeking God in prayer.
The third component of this “Good Grief” I want to share with you this morning comes from the body of Christ itself… through the people of God, the believers.
In the book of Romans we read that as children of God, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are expected to “rejoice with those that rejoice & weep with those that weep…”
God, through his people, weeps with us, even as we stand in line to pay our respects, or bring food to the family so they don’t have to cook or buy groceries in the midst of those crucial first days when they are just coming to grips with the enormous loss in their lives.
God is with us, in a baby’s laughter, which is so contagious… so wonderful, so releasing… And we hear God reminding us that life and love go on. I can’t tell you the number of times when God has used the children and the babies as a healing touch from Himself during the days leading up to the final goodbye to a parent, grandparent, brother or sister.
But God is especially with us, through his people, when we sit around and remember the good things of our life together with the one we’ve lost. We share the stories… We share the memories… even the heartbreaks.
That’s why it’s such a ministry for churches to offer funeral dinners, not as a fundraiser, but as a ministry… because after the final goodbye… it’s time for the people of God to help those who’ve lost a loved one to remember the ways that God touched their lives and the life of the deceased… That way, no one ever gets left in a room alone with an elephant.
God is with us when we, the brother or sister in Christ, takes time out to just listen… not to give the right answers… but to be the right listener… Even though the grieving person may sometimes not make sense or may repeat themselves. Sometimes, it’s just hanging out with someone… and sharing silence… together.
Part of our healing comes as we sepnd time together with the rest of the body of Christ… that’s why it’s so important to remember to include those who’ve faced loss in our plans…
And just one more word about grief and loss, particularly as Christians, before we wind this up…
It’s not just the death of a loved one that leads us into grief is it?
There are all kinds of deaths and losses in our lives… even as Christians.
Death of a marriage, estrangement of a son or daughter… or parents… loss of health… loss of a job… and more…
These all lead us into grief… and, as Christians, there is a “Good Grief” available as we turn to the truths of Scriptures, turn to God in prayer, and turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ and let them help us walk through the pain of grief and loss.
This morning, I want to especially invite anyone who is especially feeling the sting of grief, the effects of loss, whether because of death or some other loss… I want to invite you to pray with me… Please feel free to come to the altar rail and I’ll pray for you here and now… Maybe that prayer is right there where you are in your pew… and maybe you want to just jot me a note that says “Pastor, I’m facing that kind of pain, the pain of grief, in this situation… or that…” or maybe you just want to let me know you’d like to talk later…
Perhaps, you realize that you’re in the throes of grief and loss, but have never accepted Jesus as your Lord, your Savior, and so you don’t feel His comfort… you’re missing out on His help. Remember, God Himself said He’d be found if you just started looking for Him… Ask Jesus to come into your life and heart and make you one of His children.