There are some “highways” that we are all forced to take. Dealing with the death of a loved one is one that we will all have to travel. I believe we have a choice as to “how” we are going to make that drive. The highway will be the same length, but perhaps it can be smoother.
A few days ago, I posted the nucleus of this thought on my Facebook timeline. I received some interesting responses and words of encouragement and words of caution. Here is my thought line:
“I had a flash of emotion this morning (I have started calling those flashes, emotional or ‘E’ bombs, because they seem to just fall from the sky during the day or night) when I called to cancel Terrie’s cell phone number. I think the finality of the situation hit home. “In everything give thanks” kept coming to my mind. Would giving thanks lessen the burden of my grief? I would have to make a deliberate effort to give thanks in everything. For example, If I thanked the Lord for all the wonderful talks I had with Terrie, using that telephone number and to remember how much joy I received when she would call me, would that make a difference in my outlook?”
Previous to that event, I had been reading “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. It is a four chapter book journeying his thoughts and emotions after his wife passed away. The first two chapters were very dark and discouraging because they were mirroring what Lewis was feeling. I said to myself, “I don’t want to be like this!”
That’s when I was reminded of a Bible verse that I had not coupled with grief before: 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ” in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In my mind, I broke it down into three segments: “in everything give thanks…”, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…”, “for you.”
The Amplified Bible presents this verse with these words, “Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].” I think that version catches the essence of what it is saying to every Christian. But can it be applied to the grieving one, who has had the most important person in his life die and been ushered into the presence of Jesus?
The common consensus is that grief and the process of mourning is highly individualized. Most of society allows you to grieve in a manner and in duration of your choosing. I would not ignore the extremes of behavior, which may require professional counseling or medical care to avoid harm to you. So if I am allowed to express myself as I choose, then I choose to express myself by following the Bible as well as I am able.
I am not saying that I will not cry or be sad or feel out of place. I am not saying I won’t sound like a wounded animal, growling at its attacker’s. But from my experience of having been diagnosed with cancer four times; of the death of my Mother, my Mother-in-law, my Father-in-law, my Sister-in-law, and now my precious Terrie, I have found, in lieu of complaining if I giving thanks, the Lord applies a generous amount of salve to my wound.
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV
Each day may bring something different. I may advance one day and be pushed back the next, but that should not change my goal of pleasing my Lord as I heal from this wound in my heart and soul.
I am reminded of when I had surgery when I got oral cancer the second time. I had a twenty-two hour surgery. I was in the hospital for three weeks as my body healed. My doctor wanted me to get out of bed, at some point, and start walking again; to move my body. I was weak and had lost a lot of my strength. He wanted me to be able to sit up in a chair and to walk a certain amount of steps. Does that sound extreme to you? It seems so simple now, but when I was broken, it caused discomfort and fatigued me. I would do it every day because I wanted to please the doctor and by pleasing the doctor, it would make me stronger. And one day, down the road, I would be able to function again as I did before the surgery. Was I the same after my surgery as I was before? No, I was left with scars, some deformity, and having to make adjustments to cope. But I am alive and with a God-given purpose.
I don’t see that purpose every day, but if someone is able to see God’s fingerprints on my life, is it worth it? If they can see that God does not walk out on you when you are hurting, is it worth it? If they can see a strength in me, which is not my own, which holds me up, that allows me to take another step forward and upward, is it worth it? If my hurting is covered with God’s salve and they can tell their children, “Brother Steve trusted the Lord with his life, his health, and his love.” Is it worth it for your children to learn about faith?
Those questions do not make me a martyr. They only reflect my inward desire to outwardly be obedient to God’s word; in everything choose gratitude; knowing He is given me an opportunity to obey; and He has done it for me.
The “highway” is not measured in miles, but in time. Some say one or two years. I don’t want a bumpy ride for two years on a highway of healing and of learning and being taught about whom I am and who He is. I would prefer to be taken along as smoothly as possible.
Is this a radical line of thought? I don’t think so.
“Lord, we express our grief as individuals, just as you created us. If there may be some who are helped by these words, would you help them gain strength in their walk with you? If the enemy has hindered them, would you set them free? And Lord, I needed to write these words to remind me of your leadership when I’m on a stretch of highway that I’m not sure of. I desire to follow you and you alone! Amen.”