I wasn’t going to talk about it again.
Not today, anyway.
My thoughts tell me that no one wants to read about gloomy subjects. I wish I could say the sky has been overcast in recent days and I’m just depressed. But it hasn’t and, honestly, I don’t think I’m depressed. Somehow, I just realized that all around me people are dying. It is not a happy thought.
Actually, there are probably not any more people dying than normally do; it’s just that I can see it now. As embarrassed as I am to admit it, having been through the process of losing my own mother just recently, I think that, finally, I see those around me who are mourning their own losses. And, finally, I am sad for them.
Why embarrassed? And, why finally?
They are two questions which are tied up in one package. I wish I could untie it easily for you. I wish my answers to the questions wouldn’t simply lead to more questions.
But, I can’t. And, they do. I think though, if I never start, I’ll never get any answers. So, I’m starting.
I hope you don’t think me a hardhearted monster. I have attended many funerals. I have made many verbal statements of condolence. I was sad at the funerals. I meant the encouraging words. But, having attended and having spoken, I moved on. That’s the way it is, right?
Life goes on. We can’t live in the past.
You’ve heard the statements, perhaps even said them. So, I moved on and didn’t give it another thought. I lost myself in work, or play, or family, and life was good.
I lost myself…what a thought!
It’s not far from the truth.
You see, when we are not moved by the suffering of people around us, we’re not who our Creator intended us to be. He made us emotional people. He made us to feel empathy, to be sad when those around us are sad, to laugh when they laugh, to rejoice as they rejoice.
He Himself did just that.
As a child, I loved John 11:35 in the New Testament. Well, of course I did. It is the shortest verse in the Bible, so it could be quoted faster than any other when I was called upon to demonstrate a verse I had committed to memory.
I never once—not once—thought about what it meant.
I do now—frequently.
Jesus—God with us—shed tears.
The tears were not only, as supposed, in sadness for His dead friend, Lazarus. No, in one of the verses just previous to this truncated one, we are told that His spirit was deeply moved as He observed His friend’s sister and community in great sorrow for their loss. He was moved by their grief to intense grief Himself.
We’re encouraged to be like He is. We like to think that this means that we’re to be spiritually minded, and giving, and teaching. All true.
But, who He is, is also empathetic and feeling, and crying.
How did we miss that?
How is it that by insinuation, we have encouraged people not to cry at the death of a believer? How many times did I hear growing up, the words that came (sort of) from the Bible: We don’t weep as the heathen do, who have no hope.
Somehow, we turned the exhortation to remember our hope of eternal life as we grieve for a lost one, into an exhortation not to weep. People who cried too much, or too loudly, weren’t focused on the important things and surely needed to be reminded about them. Perhaps that’s the reason we hear so many platitudes, reminding those who have lost people they love that they shouldn’t grieve too much.
I’m reminded of the beautiful note that a friend sent me after the death of my mother-in-law a few years ago, voicing her appreciation that we gave her permission to be joyful. We did that. But I also want you to know that you have permission to weep. It’s not a sin and you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing it. We have His example. It’s okay.
Some time ago, I stood in front of my church on a Sunday morning, leading our time of worship. As I looked out on the crowd, filled with folks, young and old, I realized that something was wrong.
The young folks, usually animated and involved with the music and words, stood subdued as we sang songs they love. I wondered what had happened. Then, that afternoon we learned of a tragic death on their college campus and I understood.
I wept that night for parents bereft of their daughter for the rest of their life; for siblings who would long to make phone calls and give hugs, but could not; for classmates who would miss conversations and laughter, along with all the events which make the experience at college memorable for a lifetime.
And then again, just days ago it seems, I wept as friends in our church lost their son, suddenly and tragically. Even today, they weep…and for years to come, I’m sure. Still, I weep for parents, and siblings, and friends, all bereft of the presence of the young man they love.
Today in our town, there will be a memorial service for a young man who, looking at issues too great for him to face, made a final and tragic choice. People who loved him are left behind and I weep for them, just as Jesus did.
As I said, I’m surrounded by death, and it seems at times that I am overwhelmed with the sadness. And, that’s as it should be.
But—and I like this but—but, all around me, babies are also being born (or expected), children are growing and learning and reveling, friends are rejoicing in good news from family, and new jobs, or the return to health after long illnesses.
The same empathy which requires that I cry the tears of shared sadness, also requires that I smile with shared pleasure, and exclaim with shared joy.
I don’t want to lose myself in my work; don’t want to bury myself in my schedule. I need to live, realizing that the life we’ve been blessed with includes great joy, as well as great sadness. To insulate ourselves from either is indeed, to lose ourselves and to be buried prematurely.
Are you rejoicing? I’m with you! Are you grieving? I feel that too. I’m not all that great at either, but I hope you’ll be patient with me as I continue to learn. There are a lot of hard lessons ahead. I still have questions which need answering. I’m desperately hoping I’ll be prepared for the tests.
I’m reminded of how Red Green always ended his commentary on his television show. Somehow, it seems to fit tonight.
Remember I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.
Rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Cry with those who are crying.
Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say; do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.
(from The Return Of The King ~ J.R.R.Tolkien~English author/educator ~ 1892-1963)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.