Last week, I found myself attending a funeral for a member of the church family at my childhood church. We celebrated the life of a sweet lady who was so instrumental to the life of the church and whose son was a friend of my dad. It was a beautiful service and led me to reflect on the past year and the three funerals that I have attended for my own family members in that time.
During the service, some time was spent reflecting on the act of giving thanks to God and it was said, “when we experience true thanksgiving, we allow ourselves to be open to the reality of what God can do.”
Open to the reality of what God can do.
Isn’t that just a beautiful statement? And it paints an even more beautiful image of joy and hope. There are many things that I discovered about the experience of losing loved ones as I’ve journeyed down this path for the past two and a half years. One of them being that, no matter how much it may defy your logic, it is certainly possible to experience joy and gratitude in the face of immense sorrow.
The experience of grief is a choice. Whether or not we experience grief is not one of them, for we all must do that, but we certainly have a choice in how we experience it. And I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way to experience grief as long as Jesus is our anchor.
For me, I can remember vividly standing in the front yard of my grandmother’s home at 1:45 in the morning as paramedics inside attempted unsuccessfully to revive my Aunt Shelia just a few yards away. I had just watched my grandmother leave this world for Heaven 40 hours earlier and six hours from that moment, we were going to be receiving guests for her funeral. As I stood there, I immediately found myself replaying the events of the last two years of my life over in my mind. The loss of my dad’s older brother and younger sister 11 days apart, the physically demanding school year, the transition of finding a new church home, and rediscovering my faith…it had all led me to this very day. And in that moment, with the stinging pain of this reality, I can so clearly remember praying – Oh, Father, so this is why. This is why you’ve had me on this journey.
It was a peace that surpassed all understanding. And it still does.
You see, in that brief, precious moment of clarity, I had allowed myself to be open to the reality of what God could do through this and what he had already done. For so long in the aftermath of this experience, I was overcome with a sense of joy that I never quite knew what to do with. I wasn’t even sure how it had found me because, again, it surpassed all of my logic and understanding. I felt joy because there was no doubt within me that my Grandmother and my Aunt were in Heaven. I felt joy in the way God had made it so that we (my immediate and extended family) were all together during this experience; we had spent nearly every moment of the week prior to their deaths together as a family. But I think, most of all, that I felt peace and joy in the way that I saw God’s promises comes to life in every moment of that experience.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4
“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” – Jeremiah 29:12-13
“My comfort in my suffering is this; Your promise preserves my life.” – Psalm 119:50
When we find ourselves burdened with sorrow, a posture of gratitude and thanksgiving says that although we are hurting, we know in our heart of hearts that this isn’t merely something that is happening to us. It is acknowledgement that says, Father this hurts but I know that you are hurting with me. It is a statement of trust because, since we know and believe that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, we know God is still good even when it hurts because when we are at our absolute weakest, God is at his absolute best. And when we trust in that truth, we can allow ourselves to be open to the reality of what God is doing through it all.