Monday, December 6, 2010

As empty as a Monday morning church: the grieving heart

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.

C.S. Lewis writing 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:

My heart as empty as a Monday morning church 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)


  1. Glad you like it, Gary. It really spoke to me and I thought it resonated very well with what Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed.

  2. The sadness is for we who remain. As for the deceased...the next thing they will be aware of is the coming of Jesus with all of His heavenly angels. Praise the Lord that we don't burn forever or until our sins are paid for, or that we don't sit in heaven looking down on all the pain and suffering going on with our loved ones who remain until their last heartbeat.
    ......."and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." "

  3. Ok Ron I take back the crusty comment. g.

  4. Oh, I've been called a lot worse than crusty, but thanks just the same. Does anyone want to strike up a conversation about where we go when we die? Seems that most mainstream religions think that man is immortal in spite of what scripture says. A part of us trundles off to be with God and the rest of us is in the grave. Another myth without any scriptural backing.

    By the way, Allan Jackson is my favourite country singer. His lyrics "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning" is unsurpassed by anyone. It brings goosebumps and tears.

  5. Sounds like a good topic Ron. I don't know if Ken is up to the challenge or are you just trying to bait him? I would think that this is not a salvational issue no matter what line we take. I think it all has to do with how we interpret "in the blink of an eye."

  6. Many people pray to the dead thinking that they can intervene for them because they are in heaven. Since the bible clearly advises us against this kind of thing I think it's probably salvational as it's something that draws us away from our focus on Christ.

  7. Gary: This is not about finger pointing, or about being right or wrong. To me it's about trying to understand what God has written for us in His instrction booklet..the bible. If it is written within The Book then it's for us to understand with the help of the Holy Spirit.

    I was just visiting Savannah, Georgia a couple of days ago and couldn't believe that a city that virtually shuts down on Sunday could have such a history of the paranormal. It was voted The Most Haunted City in the USA. Odd that such a religious place is also so in touch with the devil.

    We have ample information within the bible strongly advising us against any form of sorcery, talking with the dead, or even praying to, or for, the dead. If we believe that the dead are not really dead but in another zone, or even in heaven, then would it not be natural to pray for them to intrcede in our behalf. The Catholic religion believes in praying for intercession and Mary is one of those prominent intercessors that they pray to. (and I'm not hating Catholics here...just stating their belief)

    Since the Lord is opposed to us speaking with the dead or praying to, or for the dead, do you not think that it is important to know the state of the dead? I don't believe it is a salvation issue, except for one thing. If we close the doors to understanding more about God, is it not like telling our wife that we don't want to know anything more about them, we know enough already.

    It's a realtional issue and if we truly love Him then we want to know everything we can about Him and His plan for us.

    To base everything on whether or not it's a salvation issue is rather selfish and denotes that we are simply interested in getting to heaven the easiest way possible. Yes, salvation is a free gift but Jeus wants us to know more and more about Him, and the way to find out is to study His word. If we come home from work and kiss our wife on the cheek and then say, please don't tell me about your day because I know enough about you already, would our relationship not be rather stunted? How long will she continue to make you dinner and wash your clothes, and clean the house when you are not interested in anything about her except the bare minimum to keep the marriage alive.

    Salvation is a relationship issue. It's about loving Jesus and what He did for us. If we don't hunger to learn more about Him then our relationship is in trouble, just as a marriage would be.

    Hope this makes my position more clear.



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