What Can You Say?
Once again, I find myself struggling for words.
It can be a challenge for anyone to know what, if anything, to say at a difficult time. It gets harder when you are absent, and you cannot put any actions to work with the words. But when you make your living with words, the frustration gets even worse.
Because of my profession, I have had more experience with death than many. In truth, the only people who see it more are those in emergency services, law enforcement, medicine, clergy, and undertaking. It doesn’t get easier, but some come to sting more than others. I’ve had clients who have lived a long life, and are ready, or even welcome it. I’ve had clients who have had so much more they wanted to accomplish, and rally against the finality of what was coming. And I have known clients who have lost loved ones, especially children, who hadn’t yet actually begun living as most would understand or define it.
It is a horrible thing for a parent to outlive a child, because whether we like to admit it or not, children represent all our best hopes for the future. As parents, we protect them, we guide them, and we hope, some times against hope, that they can learn enough from our mistakes so as to not have to learn our hard-won lessons with the same difficulty and pain that we did. But we want them to live. We want them to know and savor every little experience that makes life as wonderful as it is. We want them to know the joy of bowling a strike, of hitting a home run, of winning the race. We want them to know the unexpected win of putting on a jacket and finding $20 in the pocket, of being asked out on a date by that person they didn’t think had noticed them, of that feeling of freedom that comes with your first set of car keys, or that feeling of absolute and unfiltered devotion that comes the first time you look into your child’s eyes. And when our children predecease us, many of these moments are lost. And whether that parent is a Christian or not, they feel death’s sting acutely at that time. I witnessed this myself when my Father passed away. I saw the haunted and lost look in my Grandfather’s eyes, and I know he was never the same.
The only comfort that we as observers and neighbors to such tragedies can take is when this grief is visited on believers, that they have knowledge and the hope that lets them understand that it isn’t the end. I’ve talked with those who felt that their grief and loss represented a weak faith, and it is those who I have reminded that we serve a God who became flesh, and knew this pain with us, as he demonstrated as he stood at the grave of his friend Lazarus, and cried with his family. Everyone who believes comes to have moments in the life of Christ that touch their hearts, and that make him real to each individual. For me, both moments are ones of tears. First, when he stands at the grave of Lazarus, weeping with those who knew him and loved him. This has always indicated to me that he understands that for those who know what only HE knew at that moment, that death is not the end, that those left behind will grieve for the loss in their own lives of the ones who have gone on. The Second moment for me is when Jesus is making a triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, to throngs of people cheering for him, believing him to be a savior, but not having any understanding of what that truly meant. I can only imagine the pain of knowing that you are about to do something that many people cheering today will never understand, or how awful it would be to know that the veil would never be lifted from the eyes of so many, because they would never want to sincerely know what it was he was going to do, or why he was going to do it. In both cases, it brings home the humanity of a Savior who seeks a personal relationship with each of us.
And yet, even when death comes to families of believers, and to people I know, and call friends, I struggle. I wrestle with the idea that I could ever say anything that can resonate through such pain. I question the notion that I could say anything that could possibly sound sincere, and not trite or cliched, and that could offer genuine comfort when hands and actions are far removed. What do you say to someone who is so wounded and in pain that they can’t realize how much they are being carried? And as I struggled with this in church today, once again, I had that moment of serendipity, when the Spirit was there to provide what it was I was seeking, in the form of the scriptures we were discussing today, and the topic we were discussing. 2 Corinthians 4:1-18:
The Light of Christ’s Gospel
4 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Cast Down but Unconquered
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.12 So then death is working in us, but life in you. [emphasis added]
13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,”[a] we also believe and therefore speak,14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
Seeing the Invisible
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
As human beings, we miss every aspect of their companionship that we have come to hold dear; as believers, we miss the light of Christ that illuminated them from within, helping to light the way for us and for all who knew them.