Have you been to a funeral lately? Did they sing upbeat praise and worship songs? Maybe even with a worship band? It’s happening more and more frequently instead of singing the old traditional sad hymns with the organ. I do understand that increasingly the trend in funeral services has been to “celebrate the life” of the deceased loved one. And this makes sense, but, personally I’m concerned about losing the older balanced approach, a balance of two very important experiences. At a “good” funeral, we should have space to grieve and space to express our hope as Christians, a balance of sadness and joy. In my opinion, we increasingly minimize the space to grieve. When I was able to deal with my mother’s death, some months after the funeral, in my late teenage years, I came to value Ecclesiastes 7:3, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” It is good for us to grieve.
This was on my mind last week because over at the Mere C.S. Lewis blog, I was posting quotes from A Grief Observed which C.S. Lewis wrote while grieving the death of his wife. It’s raw and difficult at times, but he shows us what happens to us when we grieve. At the Mere C.S. Lewis blog, I don’t present my thoughts as it’s all about Lewis, so I’m bringing that post over here! In the following passage, Lewis candidly talks about his experience of God during this time of mourning. For me, it connected very well with my own experience. What Lewis and I have expressed in preaching and in print, Alan Jackson has captured in music (and video). If it’s true that “a sad face is good for the heart,” I believe you will be richly blessed in the next few moments, especially if you allow your heart replay your own sadness. Lewis wrote:
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed pg. 7-8)
You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church
It used to be so full of faith and now it only hurts
And I can heart the devil whisper “Things are only getting worse”
You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church (Alan Jackson song)
For me, both Lewis and the song capture the intensity of that experience of God’s silence in my grief. And yet, He is there. Why else am I praying? Why is Lewis writing? Why does the widower go on singing? Even though our words sound faithless, they are still, in effect, being offering to God. Though it hurts now, I can remember my heart being full of faith. Even when I am faithless, God proves himself to be faithful (1 Tim). Yes, the church is empty on Monday morning, but how long will it remain so? Will my heart always ache? C.S. Lewis continues from the previous quote, writing:
I tried to put some of these thoughts to [a friend] this afternoon. He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ I know. Does that make it easier to understand?
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed pg. 8)
“Blessed are those who mourn,” says Jesus. We are not left alone. God is present with us, though we may experience only his silence when our grief seems the loudest. Lewis’s friend is more on track than Lewis in the above paragraph. The turning point in my experience was when I realized that the pain of the grief was drawing me closer to the suffering of Jesus. Many years have passed and many more experiences of grief, mourning and suffering have come, and today I am much closer—I can almost honestly say with the Apostle Paul, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5, NIV 2011). And only then do we experience the transformation of grief into something of great value.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV 2011)