"Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief." ~ Psalm 31:9
Nine years ago this month (January), I was injured in a domestic violence incident which left me dealing with severe back pain and numerous recurrent herniated discs. I am never without back pain or sciatica despite two surgeries -- and potentially a third. Nine years ago is also when I started the long process of grief: grief for the activities of hiking, playing softball and basketball that I could do no longer.
Over the last nine years, that grief has progressed to grieving for the more mundane activities that I cannot do without crippling pain: vacuuming, sweeping, moving baskets of laundry... in effect, it is very difficult for me to be a stay-at-home mom to a very active three-year-old and take care of my home. I grieve that -- for I do like helping my family and doing my part for our household.
Nine years ago in February, my husband at the time (the source of the domestic violence) and I separated, I no longer grieve that, for God has blessed me with my husband now, a Godly man who is my partner in every way. But nine years ago in September, while a single mom, my parents and I were launched into a journey of grief that has not really ended: they moved in with me and a week later we discovered that my dad had terminal lung and brain cancers. Two primary cancers unrelated to one another. God blessed us with six months with him after that, and he went home to be with the Lord in March.
My dad, while dying, found that the best way to live was in the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not fear death. He welcomed it. For him, death, for the follower of Jesus Christ, was not something to be feared or grieved, but to be celebrated. For my dear dad, it was not a time to wallow in self-pity but to look forward to the ultimate upgrade: a new body, cancer-free, with no chemo or radiation side effects. He wondered, out loud, how people could face terminal illness (either as the patient or as the family) without the hope we have in Christ. Without the hope of heaven.
We grieve for the person who has died because we miss them; we miss the interaction and the opportunity to hear their voice. Recently, my youngest son, 16, found his first birthday on videotape. We watched it...and there was my dad, sitting in my house. Wow, it was so good to see him: with hair, rubbing his hand through his hair as he was apt to do when irritated (for my ex-mother-in-law was there...)...but he either did not say a single word, or the mic on the video camera could not pick him up. I longed to hear his voice. Grief can be debilitating and sad. It can launch us into a spiral of depression that is seemingly never-ending.
But grief can also be a good thing. Grief can move us to share our stories with others to encourage them, to provide a glimmer of understanding, and to share the ultimate hope: the hope of heaven. The hope that Jesus is always with us. The night my dad died, I had been in bed with a virus that gave me a 104 degree fever, chills, vertigo, and stomach issues. The moment my mom screamed for me, I ran to their room only to find my dad slumped over. The room was spinning. I knew I could not help my mom and my boys, so I screamed out for Jesus to heal me right then and right there, please O Holy God, but step on it.... immediately, Jesus showed up, touched my head and healed me right then....the fever was just gone -- and not just for that moment, but it was just gone. I know Jesus was in that room with us. I know Jesus carried us in that season of our lives.
I know Jesus welcomed my dad into heaven as my dad had accepted Christ as his Savior and had the hope of Christ in heaven. I grieve for my dad now, but its a good grief.... I grieve that I'm not able to talk with him on the phone now, but I am full of hope and knowledge that one day I won't just talk with him...but I'll walk with him and hug him....and Blessed Assurance! I will be able to walk and talk and hug (!!) the Lord Jesus Christ!
For Christians, the moment of death is not a forever goodbye...it's a "see you later." It's a "save me a spot at the table" moment. Paul in 2nd Corinthians stated this: " For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (5:1-5).
What this means is this: we will have pain in this life, for these are mortal bodies who lived a life of sin before we came to know Jesus as Savior. Our bodies are dealing with the consequences of worn-out joints and spines, injuries, illnesses, and life in general. But the body, for the Christian, is but a tent: a temporary dwelling. When we un-pitch this tent and move on to heaven, the Scripture says, "we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." God Himself is fashioning for us eternal, Resurrection bodies. The passage goes on to say these heavenly bodies will not be as mortal bodies, which are "swallowed up by life." We are in for an upgrade, beloved! Why would we grieve our loved ones that incredible opportunity? God has given us the Spirit, one without fear, as "a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."
But....there's always a but....for people who do not know Christ as Savior, they have every reason to be afraid on their deathbeds. They do not have the hope of heaven, but the hope of hell....one of eternal fire and immortal bodies that know all the pain of this life and the next but cannot die. As they suffer from terminal illness or chronic pain, unbelievers do not have the peace that only Christ can give. Their hope perishes even as their bodily systems shut down. They do not see the Lord or feel His presence, even if Jesus' followers tend to their needs.
This is a sad grief that starts long before the funeral. Scripture says,
"Will they not instruct you and tell you?
Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?
Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh?
Can reeds thrive without water?
While still growing and uncut,
they wither more quickly than grass.
Such is the destiny of all who forget God;
so perishes the hope of the godless.
What they trust in is fragile;
what they rely on is a spider’s web.
They lean on the web, but it gives way;
they cling to it, but it does not hold" (Job 8:10-15)
Unbelievers hold on to what is not there; believers in Christ hold on to Christ and His peace. Unbelievers forget God, and therefore their hope perishes and they doom themselves to an eternity without God. For the family and friends who are left behind, knowing your loved one did not know Christ and is now in hell is the ultimate in grief and pain -- pain that is never ended.
So what do we do with this? We share Jesus and the life and peace that only He can give. If we are believers and are suffering a terminal illness, we have the hope of heaven calling us Homeward -- to a body that has no more disease, no more pain...where if there's a tear, Christ will brush it off our cheek Himself.
If we are not believers....we admit we are a sinner, we believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and died for our sins, and we Confess our sins to Him and ask Him to save us. That is it. Welcome to the family where earthly bodies are but tents and we have the hope of heaven eternal.
Terrie Bentley McKee
If you need prayer after reading this, or need someone to walk you through asking Jesus to save you, send me an email from the Contacts page. Would be happy to help and pray with you.
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