If you’ve ever lost someone–a grand parent, a parent, a spouse, a brother or sister, a child–then you know that nothing is harder than burying someone you love. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what kind of life you lead–losing a loved one brings about grief. And when you’re grieving, it’s easy to feel like all hope is lost.
But you can find hope in the midst of grief.
My Own Story of Loss
This past week marked six years since I lost my grandfather. We called him “Papa.”
He was an incredible man. He was sort of the nucleus of our family. Everything revolved around him. He wasn’t selfish. He just had such a charismatic personality. He was magnetic. He drew everyone in.
He loved us deeply, and we all loved him back.
For some reason as I’m thinking of him now, I keep remembering this time he chaperoned me to a boy scouting event. I brought a cake for some kind of competition. I got to design it myself, and he helped me make it.
I decided to make a cake that represented our community. There were roads, houses, schools, a baseball field. We used broccoli for the trees.
I remember thinking it was so funny that we put broccoli on a cake.
It’s weird the memories you have after someone passes.
Papa was relatively healthy throughout his life. He battled cancer once and won. He had a hip replacement. But other than that he did alright.
But when he started to go down hill, it all happened so fast. One day he fell and injured himself pretty badly. Then he got pneumonia. Then double pneumonia. Then he fell again. It was like a vicious cycle. Later he developed dementia. And soon he was beyond the point of being able to care for himself.
I remember one of the last times I saw him. We had him in a longterm care facility. His memory was fading. He had lost a lot of weight. He was just a shadow of the man we used to know.
And then, shortly after that, he passed away.
A Difficult Reality
It’s hard when you lose someone you love. It’s been six years now, and just thinking about him today brings tears to my eyes.
As much a part of the human experience as death is, it is never easy to lose someone you love. Grief is real. And it’s difficult. And it lingers.
If you have ever lost someone close to you, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
As a pastor, I have had the responsibility of walking through the pain of loss and the grief that follows with many people. I have sat down across the table of a grieving family to plan the funeral service. I have helped a grieving spouse write the obituary for her deceased husband. I have been there when the family got word that their loved one didn’t make it.
And through all of this I have learned a few things.
It’s OK to Grieve
It is OK to grieve the loss of a loved one. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this. Our culture is anti-death. Because of advances in medicine and technology, we no longer see death as a legitimate part of life in a fallen world. We see it as a failure. And because we see it as a failure, we try and cover it up.
Have you ever noticed how life-like the deceased look in their casket? Dressed in their Sunday’s best. Hair combed over. Makeup adding warmth and color to their cheeks.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that they are no longer with us.
Or have you noticed that funerals are becoming less and less common? Instead people are having “Celebration of Life” services. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. Remembering people–their life, their legacy, their impact–and celebrating those things is perfectly fine.
But sometimes I wonder how much of this has to do with our desire to deny death.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is OK–in fact it is necessary–that we grieve.
When my grandfather passed away, we did that. We grieved.
And it was in the middle of that season of grief that I rediscovered hope
The Bible Says
During this time I had really just began studying the Bible for myself. And I remember being with the whole family at my grandmother’s house, crying, sharing memories, and all of that. And I remember thinking, “There has to be something in this Book to encourage my family right now!”
So, I slipped into a back room, just me and my Bible, and I started reading.
I turned over every page. I searched the whole thing for a word to share with my grieving family.
And I came across this passage that Paul wrote to a brand new church in Thessalonica.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, ESV).
Did you notice what Paul wrote at the beginning of that passage? “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
Even the Bible validates grief.
It is OK to grieve the loss of a loved one. In fact we should grieve. But Christian grief differs from other forms of grief. Christian grief is a hope-filled grief.
A Hope-filled Grief
Paul says that Christians don’t have to grieve like other people. We do grieve, and we should grieve, but our grief is different because we have the hope of the gospel. We have the hope of resurrection.
Paul says that because Jesus lived and died and rose again, we too–those who believe in Him–will have life after the grave.
He takes it a step further and says that when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will be raised first, and then the rest of us will join our resurrected brothers and sisters in the clouds to meet with the Lord.
That means that if Jesus were to come back tomorrow, then those we have lost will be first in line to meet the Savior!
What an incredible hope!
Paul wraps up that passage, saying, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
There is hope for those of us who are grieving loss, and that hope is the hope of resurrection. It’s the hope of Christ.
Hoping in that Day
Death is sad. It’s the enemy. But this passage gives me hope. And I think it can give you hope too.
And here’s why.
Because of Jesus, my grandfather won’t stay in the grave forever. One day Christ is going to raise him up, and he won’t be in that broken body we buried. He will be in a new body, a glorified body. No sickness will have dominion over him on that Day. No pain will hurt him on that Day. His mind won’t fail him on that Day.
One day I will see him again, and he will be in a perfect body with a perfect mind all because Jesus died and rose again.
So I weep today because I have been without my Papa for the past six years. But I don’t weep like those who have no hope. In my grief I look forward to the Day my Savior comes to raise up all of those who have put their hope in Him.
That’s going to be a great Day!
“Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18, ESV).
Question: What Scriptures bring you hope and encouragement in times of grief? Join the conversation clicking here.