Hopeful Grief: Personal Examples

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Default article daily reflection

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

I realize that the notion of hopeful grief might still seem odd to you. If you just joined us, you might want to check out Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s reflections, in which I explain that Christians are free to grieve, but with grief shaped by hope. This hope, which is confident expectation, is based on the bedrock of the resurrection. The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead gives us confidence in the resurrection of all who belong to the Lord. Thus, we grieve with hope.

I thought I might offer a couple of personal illustrations of hopeful grief, since I realize this concept might seem odd, even impossible. The first example comes from an experience I have had during the last five months. In early fall, my son, Nathan, began as a student at New York University. I was–and still am–excited for him and pleased that he is able to study what he loves (film, writing, psychology) in such a fine school and an amazing city. But there is a downside for me, a big downside. I miss Nathan’s friendship and company. I miss just being with him. Leaving him on Broadway in the middle of New York City was one of the most emotionally difficult things I have done in life. When I got into the cab and left him, I grieved mightily. But I had hope, hope that his experience at NYU would be wonderful, hope that I’d see him fairly soon, hope that we’d be able to stay connected electronically. So my grief was hopeful grief.

Yes, you might say. That makes sense. But what about when a loved one dies?

Of course, that can be much, much sadder. I have never experienced the loss of a child, which, as a pastor, I know to be excruciating. But I did lose my dad when he was only 54 and I was 29. I’ve mentioned his death a couple times in recent reflections. He died after a long, slow battle with liver cancer, one in which he lost almost half of his weight.

The actual occasion of his death was peculiarly hopeful. I was in the memorial service for the father of a dear friend. It was a beautiful service, which emphasized both the wonderful life of my friend’s father and his new life with the Lord. In the middle of that service, I was summoned by an usher, who led me to a telephone. There, I heard that my dad had died. How strange and fitting to hear this news when I had just been celebrating the eternal life we have with the Lord. I grieved then, and did so for many days thereafter. Even now, more than 25 years later, I can miss my dad terribly. But my grief has been molded and tempered by my confidence that my dad has stepped into an altogether new kind of life, one in which his body is not wrecked by cancer, one in which he is fully the person God created him to be.

Please understand, though, that when I speak of grief, I mean genuine sadness. When we lose someone we love, we feel sorrow, intense sorrow, sorrow that can last for a long time. But, as Christians, we don’t drink our sorrow straight up. The bitterness of loss is flavored and softened by the sweetness of hope.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you gone through something like I have related from my own life? What happened with you? How has hope been mixed with sorrow in your life?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for being there with me in times of loss. Thank you for sharing in my sorrow, for understanding how I feel, for offering comfort.

Even more, thank you for the hope you give us, hope for life beyond this life, hope that you are working all things together for good, hope that your love will never let us go.

All praise be to you, God of hope. Amen.