February 4, 2013

Responding to death

As a new Christian, I watched the Lord give peace to my elderly mentor Irene, as she buried her husband. She said, “I realize that my grief is just me feeling sorry for myself. When I think about where he is, I am joyful.” 

Today’s devotional again uses this verse, only this time to discuss the Christian response to death.

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5)

Life is filled with smaller challenges that in some ways prepare us for those that will knock us off our feet. The devotional writer recently buried his spouse. He reveals deeply personal thoughts regarding loss and grief and those thoughts challenge me. 

Each time my husband’s blood tests reveal an advancement of his CLL, I feel as if a chunk of life is taken from us. Each test brings a test. I am not able to push death to the back burner, but must think about dying and the sorrow that it brings. I’ve raced with men on foot. Can I keep up with that dark horse? 

Actually, the Bible says very little about those who have lowered a loved one into the grave. It offers far more about those who have gone to be with Jesus. Today’s devotional asks if I could dare compare my “clumsy nothings” of my “poor blundering love” with all that Christ gives His people in eternity. This question mixes sadness and joy together in a pounding mass. 

Second, I realize I could go before him. I am older. I could be hit by a stroke or a truck and my husband might be the one lowers me into that black hole. In either case, can either of us give this up willingly? Can we tell God that we prefer being alone rather than having our spouse miss anything of the riches of glory? Is our love truly selfless?

The devotional author says, “When the blow fell… I felt I had lost her forever, that to all eternity she must shine far ahead of me, and my heart kept crying out, ‘I choose it, I choose it, do not for my sake deny her anything.’ I know, now, that I have not lost her. For love is not a thing one leaves behind. When we are young, heaven is vague. But as our friends gather there, it gains vividness and homeliness. And when our dearest have passed yonder, how real it grows, how near: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. It is not far. They are quite near. The communion of the saints is a tremendous and most blessed fact.”

And this writer reminds me not to be afraid of life nor the frailty of it, nor the places that are steep and lonely, because we have a wonderful God. Romans 8:38–39 says nothing can separate us from his love, including death. Then he adds this, which blesses me and haunts me at the same time…

No, not death, for standing in the roaring Jordan, cold to the heart with its dreadful chill and conscious of its terror, I, too… can call back to you who one day will have to cross it, “Be of good cheer for I feel the bottom, and it is sound.”

On this Monday morning, I’m reminded of Irene who was given grace to not feel sorry for herself, and feel the emotions in this reading from one who has been to the bottom and found solid footing. Both make me weep. I want to go on to more cheerful thoughts, but God wants me to pause and realize that no matter what happens next, He is sufficient.

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