I have been greatly blessed these last seven weeks as I have been showered with the prayers, consolations, and encouragements of my friends, family, and all of the saints since my wife left the bonds of this earth. I continue to receive cards, meals, invitations, and visits to occupy my time, lift my spirit, fill my belly, and reminisce about memories of old, regale them with tales of what I am doing with myself now in my “new normal”, and opine on what I think I might be doing with myself in the future. (Much of that is still up for grabs!)
The most common phrase in our culture when someone dies is to tell the surviving family members “I am sorry for your loss.” Until I had experienced “losing Laura” to cancer I had not given much thought to the phrase… It’s just what you say, right? Like… “I’ll be praying for you…” Whether or not that statement actually clocks cycles in someone’s prayer time isn’t relevant… it’s just what you say. It’s the polite thing to do. So, when someone dies, we, as a culture, Christian or no, have been conditioned to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
It got me thinking…
Laura and I had a wonderful year… the year of Cancer. We both drew closer to our Lord as we had more time to read Scripture, more time to truly pray for and with one another, and more time for me to “husband” her and be her “Guy Friday” as I prepared meals, measured medications, picked up prescriptions, and administered saline every morning and TPN every evening to keep her “fed & watered”. We had our routine. We had new normal after new normal. And we had a year to prepare for the ultimate end or her earthly life. We “got our house in order” as they say – our spiritual house, our financial house, and our physical house – as we prepared for the many visits and meals… our “last suppers” with friends and family members.
Laura truly looked forward to “going home”. We worked on her funeral bulletin together for some six months, deciding to do something unique – instead of the typical funeral bulletin which simply listed the order of the service on a single page we created a keepsake, a collection of the great quotes of man and God that kept Laura’s spiritual tank full over the last year, with the various scriptures and devotional readings on the left hand pages and the order of service on the right hand pages. Within one of those panels, a piece from a devotional penned by Richard Baxter reads:
It is true that death itself is undesirable, but it is the common passage for the soul’s rest with God. Consider what unfaithfulness lurks in the heart of this sin. Either we do not believe the promises given in Scripture, or we doubt our interest in them. O if we would believe the promises of glory, we would be impatient of living! Is it possible that we can truly believe that death will remove us from misery to such glory, and yet be loath to die?
Towards the end of Laura’s year long journey with cancer she truly did believe and hope in the promises, the key word ‘hope’ garnering the meaning of an eager anticipation. She was far from “loathe to die” as Baxter put it. She did not simply want to leave the pains of this world behind to be “in peace” and free of cancer – she eagerly looked forward to the promises that God gives to those who follow him and yearned eagerly to claim them. To live the life unimaginable. She eagerly awaited the joys promised to all of us who believe upon the work of Christ, and was more than ready to pierce the veil and leave the pains, the sufferings, the fallenness of this world behind.
Pierce the veil? She was storming the gate!
For her, as should all of us in Christ, nothing “great” in this world is any comparison to even the least things of heaven. They are but pale reflections of the things promised, and we should loose ourselves of them with great joy. Death? Bring it on! You think you are going to destroy me? Ha! You are going to take me, escort me to my very goal. You are but… a tool.
The final petition of Scripture, the last sentence in Revelation 22:20, reads, “Come Lord Jesus!” When we pray this, we often predicate it with “…and come quickly!”
We say “Come quickly, Lord, because this world is full of sin…” “Come quickly, Lord, because I and my body are groaning under the weight of age, infirmity, and illness.” “Come Quickly, Lord, because as the saints under the altar plea, we ask ‘How long, O Lord, will you let the wickedness in this world continue???” And as Paul pled, “Who will save me from this body of sin and death?????” because he knew who he was without Christ… O, death… bring it on!
Until death takes us, and we continue to sojourn on in this world, we pray “Come, Lord Jesus, and come quickly.”
So Laura… Remember Laura? This was a story about Laura…
and, “I’m sorry for your loss…”
Since Laura’s death, I have attended two weddings. I thought of the father of the bride on one occasion in relation to my story of “loss”. Do we go to the father of the bride at a wedding and say of his daughter, “I’m sorry for your loss?” Do we offer condolences, saying “The young lady whom you watched grow up under your roof is no more. She is now a bride, a wife, now at one with another man, and no longer your little girl. The little girl you once knew and loved …is …gone?”
Of course not. It was the plan from the beginning. A Father cannot expect his little girl to remain his little girl forever. She has a plan, a goal, an expectation to be wed one day and come under the care of her future husband, no longer to be a concern of the father but under the full care and protection of the groom.
So when I hear, “I’m sorry for your loss”, yes, there is a certain earthly perspective where this is true. But keeping Laura by my side forever was not the plan. Keeping Laura in this world (or myself, for that matter) is not even desirable for that matter… Who will save me, who will save her, from her body of sin and death… Jesus, the Christ. That is the plan. That is the expectation. That is our goal. Goal… achieved. She has been wed to her heavenly husband, as we all shall be as members of the body of Christ – His Bride.
Did I “lose” Laura? No… I know exactly where she is. She in fact had the best birthday of her life this past May 29. She is alive with me because she is alive with Christ and we will both continue to live and enjoy eternity together. Though we look through a glass darkly right now and we don’t exactly know the mechanics of that (for instance, that verse in Matthew 22 talking about people not marrying or getting into marriage in heaven) but Scripture does reveal that we retain our identities, our histories, and our experiences on this earth into the heavenly realm. Laura is still Laura and will continue to be Laura forever. She has simply taken a journey… a journey which I myself will soon take, and in the perspective of eternity it will be a blink of an eye.
As I write this I am thirty-eight thousand feet above the Atlantic headed to Spain to assist a colleague in planting a church there. Several of our team left a week ahead of us. We did not weep and say “sorry for your loss…” We are right behind them! and even more are on their way!
Likewise, with the death of a saint, a child of God, a recipient of the Gospel, when they die, we need not weep. In fact, the fifth century Athenian statesman and general Aristides observed how death was celebrated in the early Christian church, explaining why this “new religion” was so successful:
“If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”
Tolkien even shed a good light on this in the last battle of Return of the King, as the battle was at its bleakest:
Pippin: “I didn’t think it would end this way . . .”
Gandalf: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path . . . one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass . . . and then you see it.”
Pippin: “What? Gandalf? See what?”
Gandalf: “White shores . . . and beyond. The far green country under a swift sunrise.”
Pippin: “Well, that isn’t so bad.”
Gandalf: “No . . . no, it isn’t.”
Whether the saints of past, present, and future are walking along white shores, a far green country, or streets paved with gold, we know that the goal is to get there. And we know where the saints are… they are not lost… they are in the presence of God, in the presence of Christ, in the presence of fathers, mothers, children and loved ones, all enjoying the promises given to those who will believe.
And we are right behind them.
See you soon, my love… as will we all! Save us a seat at the table. And don’t eat all the sushi before we arrive.
Yes, there will be sushi in heaven. And bacon. But that’s a post for another day.