How shall we live after a loss?

memorial day 2014

How shall we now live?

What will we do in seasons of loss, brokenness and disappointment?

How do we tend our souls when we walk through a season of loss?

 

We all feel loss differently. Facing loss we may grapple or go numb. Some narrow our eyes, grit our teeth and speak off handed theology to whoever will hear. We speak but not always with the reflection of honest prayer. We speak theologically: “not fair, too early, why, such a good, where is, how come, can’t understand, don’t get it, seems like, never happens to, they are in a better, make the best of, or that is how they would have”. In times of loss a stream of pure expletives, a deep focused silence, or a series of soul spinning sighs may move us closer to real prayer than our unexamined, well-rehearsed, pat theological statements.

 

How powerful when we break through the religious niceness and speak honesty and directly to God in the midst of our struggling with anger, injustice, fear and despair. That anger, the burn, the soul’s silent spinning is all part of grief. The Psalmist’s voice plaintively cries for justice, remembrance, and equilibrium. On the cross Jesus quotes Psalm 22: “My God, My God- why have You failed to show up?” Such soulful rawness is deeply human- deeply Christian- deeply honest- real.

 

Grief’s rawness values life and longs for it. Acknowledging life’s beauty grief cries out: how tragic, how sad, how awful, how rotten, and how come?   Taking deeper stock of the shock enfolding us might unearth some hidden affirmations. Indeed, our soul’s rejection of loss might affirm the beauty of life which can suddenly (always for someone suddenly) be taken from us. Our souls question why? When we shape the rawness and questions into prayer we move closer to wholeness. Silencing the inner clutter or speaking honestly enough to hear ourselves and God may begin healing prayer. Jesus often prayed all night.

 

To our questioning of “why”, the Bible may hold some helpful theological answers.   We could explore the “whys”. However, I don’t think it is particularly beneficial to answer the particular “why” of any grief or loss.   Knowing alcohol was involved does not end grief. Knowing it was an accident brings no one back. We often long to know, but knowing is not the answer. 1 Timothy 3:16 acknowledges that “the mystery of our faith is great.”   Knowing “why” does not end grief. Knowing why does not restore life.

 

Perhaps we should ask a different question than “why”.

Perhaps we should ask: “how shall we now live?”

 

You see when we grasp the back of the pew, organize photos through tears, or stand next to a slab of freshly etched marble, we are acknowledging the loss of life. We mourn the loss of life. We long for life: life’s beauty- we long for lives lived well amongst us.  “How shall we now live?” is a question about life. It honors life. It speaks of loss. It touches on the legacy of each and every life well lived.

 

How should we now live?

How shall we live, now… now without the wonderful life we remember, honor and grieve?

 

I rarely and perhaps never preach a funeral explaining “why”. I always want to preach: “Now…how”.

 

How shall we live?

 

First, we grieve. We should grieve. We must grieve in order to live.   The Scriptures tells us that Jesus wept. Jesus weeps as he laments a misdirected city “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem you kill the prophets and resist God! Oh how I long to gather you up as a mother hen gathers her chicks clutching them to her breast to comfort and protect them.” (Matthew 23:37) We may grieve a city, crime, war, poverty, hopelessness, drugs, alienation, racism, hate and all sorts of slow deaths. Jesus weeps outside the grave of his friend Lazarus. The mourning crowd notes “see how Jesus loved him” while others questioned “why”! (John 11) The crowd questions why, did Jesus not show up in time to save his friend? When we mark grief with tears, when we say “see how God loved him… see how God loves us”.   We affirm the beauty of life. Grief affirms the goodness of a life now lost.   Grief acknowledges the goodness the Creator lavishes onto this life. Grief points to God’s good creation.   We will shred a stack of advertisements but weep for a Monet that is torn. Grief affirms the beauty, goodness and value of this life.

 

How do we live? We grieve. We weep. We speak of it. We do not need to fake it or hide it. Jesus wept. If Jesus, the perfect revelation of God, the sinless one, the perfection of God’s Image, the Incarnation of God’s love, the perfect reflection of the Creator, The Savior, The Rabbi, The Master, The Teacher grieves, then we who follow Jesus should grieve as well. To hold back the tears is to fail to live like Jesus. To push down our deep woes is not Christ-like. God gives permission to grieve, lament, wail, and scream, and cry out. Read the Psalms. So let us pray our grief, becoming honest before God. Even as we grieve we must keep moving onward.

 

Why do we need to grieve? Healthy souls grieve because grief calls up moments of remembering. Grief reminds us of the goodness of life. Grief paves a trail with emotional slips and dips as the reality of our loss reminds us of the goodness of a life no longer near us.  We roll down the window and somehow remember riding with our now departed dad. Loss stings at first, but given time and space, we come to remember good times not as lost moments but as the tapestry of our living.  We celebrate beauty, joy, life.

 

In due season, grief arrives at gratitude. Given enough time, grieving gives birth to gratitude as we recall the goodness of human life. Grief says “their life was beautiful”.   Friends, we cannot drink our way through grief. The mourning lingers the next morning and our heads hurt along with our hearts.   We cannot play our way around grief, the 19th hole arrives, we must pull our kayak from the river, we must lay our head on the pillow, the stadium empties, one team loses and we return to the place our soul stood before we tried to escape in play.   We cannot out work grief, it pops up in our inbox or at the end of our driveway.   We cannot ignore grief- it lingers.   It demands that it be dealt with. We cannot outrun it, for grief resides in us. We must indeed speak to our uncomfortable traveling companion.

 

Ignoring loss pushes grief into life’s hidden shadows. Unresolved grief slowly sucks life from us. We must grieve. We will grieve or slowly die. Grieve is a verb. Greif is a path. It is a process. It is a work.   It is a conversation with God, with ourselves, and with life. Grief throws cold water on our entertaining diversions and demands us to answer: how shall we live, what really matters, how will I spend my remaining days?   Grief acknowledges our deepest feelings, our deepest humanity, and our deepest affirmation that life holds seeds of beauty, promise, goodness, joy, laugher, pleasure, hope, faith and love. So let us be honest. Let us speak truth to our souls, each other and to God. Let us pray our grief. Let us, remembering what we have lost, give thanks for the beauty of that gift.

 

When we let others grieve, when we can resist smoothing over another’s grief with easy answers or rehearsed formulas, we offer a great gift. We offer space to be honest. We, who follow Christ, must help our neighbors and friends with grief. Grief is not a problem to solve but a path to walk. How lovely to walk a mournful path in the company of others. What comfort when we simply silently walk with each other, with no burdensome bologna spoken by and for the comfort of the non-grieving. Such honest humanity is not the way of the world.   The culture whispers: “how is she doing”?   Jesus, grieving the looming cross, asks Peter, James and John: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow… keep watch with me!” You may need to ask friends: “please, silently keep watch with me”. If people do not immediately come to walk grief’s path with you, it is likely that you have not walked grief’s path with others. Be patient, find others walking the path and join them. Keep moving, keep remembering the lovely moments of lives well lived among us. In due season, your prayers of lament will be peppered with grateful praise for the goodness of the life you presently mourn.

 

How shall we live? We must grieve. We must remember. The OT is full of passages of remembering. The Bible often references a well dug by someone’s great grandfather. (John 4:12) Indeed, Jesus references “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. (Matthew 22:32). We mourn the loss of life. We mourn the memories. We need to tell each other the stories that made our lost loved one’s life lovely, beautiful, good or full of promise.   We are better when we acknowledge and celebrate the goodness of the lives we mourn.   If something is of no value, we do not miss its passing.   Part of acknowledging loss is celebrating the goodness of life and love.   Remembering is hard, especially at first. We do not want to accept the loss, we do not want to give ourselves permission to laugh or complain about the way our loved one did this or that.   We turn away from the pain. We avoid grief, but it lingers.  Our remembering puts us on grief’s healing path. Recalling life reminds us that our loved one is woven into our lives. Remembering reminds us that life is a good gift from God. Forgetting the details of a life by pushing back from grief’s initial pain, deadens the soul and results in a double loss. When we forget we not only lose the opportunity to make new memories, we lose the treasure of memories we have. Humanity stands as the crown of God’s created creature, because we can remember.   When we fail to remember, we sacrifice our humanity.

 

At times our departed loved ones will visit us. Elijah and Moses come to see Jesus. (Mark 9:4). They often come in unexpected times. My dad comes to mind, when I contemplate the next step in home repair or when I look in the mirror. My Aunt Margarette smiles as I savor the sweet potato casserole bearing her name. My Uncle Clellon comes with the smell of fresh cut hay.

 

Driving in April, a full year after my dad died, I stuck my arm out my window and let it drift like a wing on the air. I grabbed my phone thinking “I will call my dad…” Crazy? No, but then came the sting of grief. I drove weeping down the highway. I did not try to stear around the grief but let my tears wash up memories. Driving the path of grief, I no longer weep when the wind slides through my fingers as I enjoy “4:40 air conditioning.” No, I give thanks for my dad who named every vehicle and invented an imaginary “Turd Gun” to dole out highway justice to rude drivers and made my middle school mind dance with delight when he thundered, “Paul, load her up with number five: baby …”

 

I am richer for remembering. I am more alive for remembering. Life is richer, deeper, more Christ-like, more centered, more alive, and more human. If a life is lived well, then grief in time will always bring gratitude. When we speak of the goodness of life in our tears, prayers and conversations, then one day our lips speak genuine gratitude. Our tears are turned to laughter.

 

As for the hurtful memories or disappointments with those departed, that may be a deeper pain and a longer walk down grief’s path. Contrary to popular wisdom, when someone who has not lived life well dies, it represents a deeper pain for those who love them. Such deaths represent a double grief. First, they lost the beauty of this life while alive. Now, the promise of redemption, joy, or wholeness resides with another force within the universe. Such mourners say things like: at least now he is free from the drugs, the violence, the disorder, the pathos, the abuse…. These losses should grieve us all. Such losses, seemingly offers no chance to heal those memories in this life. We in the Christ-like community should walk a little closer to those already grieving life before they left it.   Here, perhaps more than anywhere we need prayer: honest dialogue with God, ourselves and others. Here the words of Jesus: “If you forgive you will be forgiven,” offers liberation, resurrection and life. (Matthew 6:14)  To forgive those who abuse or mistreat us in this life, affirms the overarching beauty of life and opens a path to healing in this life. In the cross, Jesus embraces the ugliness, sinfulness, meanness, violence and hate of this life. Jesus conquers sin- overcoming it with love. (Colossians 2:1-15) This is a miracle.   This affirms the goodness of life.   To say, “I have endured evil”, but I will give back good is a miracle. It affirms that life is about love, peace, grace, hope, faith, honesty, fidelity, laughter, giggles, beauty, pleasure, friendship, courage, decency, and the life. To forgive is to live.

 

Well how shall we live.

We shall grieve the loss of a good life.

We shall remember the goodness of life.

We shall forgive all that is not good.

And we shall live.

 

How should we live? We should live. We honor the beauty of life by living.  If we mourn the loss of a life lived well, then it seems a fitting response that we live our life to the fullest. Our loved ones, who have departed this life and who loved us in this life, would long for us to live this life fully. If we affirm the goodness of life, and mourn it’s passing, then our best response to lost life is living. If we believe we are created in the image of God then we should live into that image in this life. We must live courageously while remembering with gratitude the beauty of life and the Giver of Life.   Why would we ask God “why”, if we did not live in thankfulness for the goodness of life? If we miss the loss of life then we must live while alive!

 

How should we now live?   Grief should refocus our living.   Death challenges our patterns of living. The end of life points to the things that matter in life: faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13). Grief reminds us that our words matter (Matthew 12:36). Death reminds us that Jesus will weigh our living (Matthew 25 or Romans 14:12).   Death reminds us that we take no treasures with us. (Luke 12:32-40).   Death closes the chance to heal earthly relationships. Grief examines our souls asking: do we live for things that matter, can I be proud of my living, am I distracted or focused, am I selfish or living for greater things, do I forgive or begrudge, do things matter more than people, do treasures cloud my living?

 

How shall we now live? Let us live with one eye toward eternity. Let us live like life matters. Let us live realizing that all of us one day will stand before the Lord and give an account of our use of the good gift of this life! Let us live, as Jesus lived, not always feeding our own inner woes but taking up our cross and serving others. Jesus tells us to live not in order “to be served, but to serve, and give away our lives for others” ( Matthew 20:28). Such other-focused living moves us along the path of healing, not forgetting, downplaying, or ignoring grief, but engaging in the improving, sustaining and building of life in others. Often those who live with deep love for God and neighbors, find love and joy growing again inside healing hearts.

 

How should we now live? Let us live, remembering that life holds a certain up-rootedness. God wants us to live. God wants us to have the abundant life. Yet, life is new each day.   The Scripture is full of stories of up-rootedness. Abraham and Sarah hear God’s call and they leave their land in and go to a new place. Moses flees for his life and once at peace in a new land is called by God to go back to Egypt. Jacob flees from his broken childhood home only to find Esau’s embrace late in life. Ruth follows Naomi from heartache into life. Mary is called to bear Jesus for glory and pain. Jesus calls the disciples to “come and follow me” leaving their professional lives behind (Mark 1:17). There is an up-rootedness and an uncertainty in life. God is always inviting us into a new grand adventure. Let us live, trusting the up-rootedness of God’s call!

 

How shall we now live?

 

Let us live.

Let us grieve, weep, wax, wallow, wail.

Let us remember, tell, talk, stand still, pause, ponder, pray, share.

Let us forgive.

Let us live.

Let us live refocused lives.

Let us live with our eyes turned towards eternity.

Let us live into the great commandment: loving God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39).

Let us live into the uprooted call of God.

 

 

Let us live, let us remember, let us grieve, let us walk together in silent acknowledgement of our loss. Let us teach our grandchildren how our fathers kissed the first fish they put in the live well. Let us teach our nieces how their grandmother went to college. Let us tell the orphaned children who they belong to. Let us gather up each other in tears, in anger, in joy, in laughter, or in the mix that is all of these. Let us walk together the path of grief, perhaps like Jacob limping from touching the holy ( Genesis 32). Let us live.   Let us walk God’s up-rooted path: praying- serving- giving and one day we will find ourselves whistling unforced praises for the beauty and promise of this good gift of life.

 

Copyrighted not to be used without permission Paul Purdue

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