In over 30 years of being a pastor, I have officiated countless funerals. I have prayed with families grieving the loss of someone dearly loved. I have held mourners as their sobs shook their entire bodies. I have spoken the final words at a graveside. This is, for me, an awesome responsibility and high privilege. It can also be a great and heavy weight.
The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. This does not mean that Christians do not grieve. We do, most surely. Our tears are no less real. The sense of loss is no less painful. Separation, even though we know it is temporary, breaks our hearts and disrupts our lives in unimaginable ways. We grieve, but In our grief we are buoyed by hope and the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
With all this heavy on my heart, I write. Writing is therapeutic for me. It gives me a space to clearly communicate my heart and mind. Admittedly, it also exposes me a bit. I never want to be fake or to pretend I am someone I am not, but I also understand that my church family and the community look to me to express my confidence in God’s love and sovereignty.
When I meet with people for counseling or comfort, I open my heart to share their burdens. I cannot carry their burdens for them, but I can come alongside and help shoulder some of the crushing weight for a time. Their burdens, at least in small part, become my burdens. I am called and compelled to take their hands and walk with them at least part way through their dark valleys. As I stand before my congregation each week, I look at the faces, and I know the burdens and hurts that many carry. And I share just a little piece of them.
Here comes my exposure, my confession –
Sometimes, it is overwhelming.
Sometimes, there are too many dark valleys in so short a period of time.
Sometimes, the little mound of burdens becomes a mountain.
Sometimes, I am filled with an intense sadness, and a well of tears pours out even from my dry eyes.
Sometimes, I simply want to curl up in a dark and quiet space and grieve over all the pain, all the loss, all the empty desks, chairs, beds, cribs, and arms.
I am not looking for pity, nor have I yield to depression. God is faithful. He enters into that dark place, into my grieving… and He whispers to me, “I am here. You are not alone. Death is not final. Loneliness is not forever. You don’t have to walk this valley or carry this burden alone. As you have held the hands of others and walked with them, let me walk with you now. Lean on me. Let me carry that burden for you.” And as I rise to my feet, with every step the weight becomes less and the darkness becomes light.
Peter’s words to Cornelius are my words today, “I, too, am a man” (Acts 10:26). If I have ever given you the impression that I am something more, I truly apologize. I am a fellow traveler with each of you through this life. We share alike in the joys and the pains of being human.
We grieve, but I know that our grief is tempered by hope. We hurt, but God binds up our wounds. The King of glory has promised to never leave us or turn His back on us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). And He has graciously filled our lives with His children who become His arms wrapped around us, His hands drying our tears, and His feet walking with us through the dark valleys. We are the body of Christ, and we are in this together. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:6)
Before signing off, let me reiterate that this is not a cry for sympathy nor an invitation to a pity party. I’m okay. My Lord strengthens me moment by moment, and His people lift my up and minister to me, and He has given me a family that energizes and encourages me. What I am doing is taking the risk of opening up my emotions to you with the hope that it may somehow encourage you.
You don’t have to be a rock all the time. You don’t have to carry your burdens alone. You don’t have to act as if you are invulnerable to the pains and losses of life. You can be honest about your struggles. You can lean on those who love you. You can be real and vulnerable and weak, for that simply opens us up to find strength beyond measure, love overflowing, and peace that is beyond all understanding.
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)