A Night of Remembrance

A Night of Remembrance
by Eric Elder

Click here to listen to this talk: “A Night of Remembrance”

On this night when we remember those who have “passed through the veil” before us, I’d like to share three thoughts with you, three encouragements really.

The first one is this:

On this night of remembrance, this night for us to remember those we love who have passed through the veil before us, I’d like to share three thoughts with you, three encouragements really.

The first one is this:

#1) Don’t waste your pain. Instead, let your grief be a reflection of your love.

There’s an author of several books on grief named Bob Deits who said:

“Grief is the last act of love we have to give those who have died.”

If that’s the case, and I believe it is, then any pain you feel, any sense of loss or hurt, can actually be an expression of your love for the one that you’ve lost.

I’ve heard it also said:

The depth of your grief is a measure of the depth of your love.”

If you’re grieving deeply, don’t let that feeling of grief overwhelm you. Let it be a remembrance, a reminder, of the great love that you shared with the one you’ve lost.

If you’re just trying to avoid pain, you might be tempted to rush through your grief as fast as possible. But if, on the other hand, your grief really is a way to express your last act of love to one who has died, then you might rather take as much time as you need to make sure you express it well.

There’s no hurry or timetable with grief.

Having said that, though, I do want to give you hope. After my wife died, I read a book called Getting to the Other Side of Grief. And I wondered, honestly, if there really was “another side” to get to?

Most days I felt like I would be living in my grief forever. But I can say now, just as honestly, there is another side of grief. I have experienced that crossing over. And Jesus said as much, when He talked to His disciples just before He died. He said:

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20b).

So that was point #1, don’t waste your pain. Instead, let your grief be a reflection of your love.

#2) Know that your grief is unique; give yourself permission to grieve in your own way.

Just because you don’t grieve the same way you see others grieving, or think you should grieve, don’t let that throw you into a panic.

A friend of mine recently said the best advice someone gave her during her first year of grief was to give herself permission to grieve as the grief came to her. When she felt numb, she wondered why she couldn’t cry… didn’t she love her husband? Of course she did, but she was just too numb to be able to feel anything. Knowing that it was okay to feel numb gave her great freedom. She was told, “You get to choose the way you celebrate Christmas this year.” That was freedom to her: the freedom to grieve and to do what she felt she needed to do.

Also know that there are stages to grief, but they don’t always come in the same order or the same length for every person. Give yourself permission to walk through these stages of grief, these “cycles” of grief, in your own way, in your own order and your own time.

I’m also encouraged by the different ways people in the Bible grieved differently. While the depth of your grief can be a reflection of the depth of your love, it isn’t always. People respond to death in so many different ways.

When King David’s son lay dying, the Bible says he fasted and prayed for days on end. But when his son actually died, David got up and ate and carried on with his life. This doesn’t mean he didn’t love his son. He did, as evidenced by his fasting and praying prior to his son’s death. but the Bible says:

“Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate” (2 Samuel 12:20).

People were shocked that this was how he behaved, when before he had been on his face, fasting and praying. And he simply responded by saying, basically, that he had done what he could do. (“But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” 2 Samuel 12:21.3.)

When Moses died, the Bible says:

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites'” (Joshua 1:1-2).

So God said, “Okay, he’s died, so get up, let’s go into the land.” It’s a little shocking.

And yet on the other hand, when all of Job’s children died tragically and suddenly without warning, the Bible says:

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised'” (Job 1:20-21).

And his grief and his suffering went on chapter after chapter after chapter, until God finally brought him to to the other side and then restored him, giving him a double portion of what he had before. Your grief can be very different.

When Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus died, the Bible describes Jesus’ reaction in just two words, one of the two shortest verses in the Bible. The two words were simply these:

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

By the way, the only other two-word verse in the Bible is this:

“Rejoice always” (1st Thessalonians 5:16).

“Jesus wept” and “Rejoice always.” I think there’s a great deal of latitude for us to grieve, and even to do both at the same time.

Again, it reminds me of Jesus’ words that I mentioned before:

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20b).

If you feel numb and can’t cry, that’s okay. If you cry like a baby, all the time, that’s okay. Your grief really is unique, and know that your grief can change over time as well, even to joy. Leave the timetable in God’s hands.

#3) You are not alone.

Even though grief is unique, perhaps the greatest tool Satan has to discourage you is to make you think that you’re all alone in your grief, that no one else has ever felt the feelings you’re feeling, that no one else could possibly relate, that no one else could truly understand what you’re going through.

When my wife and I had our first miscarriage, sadly of four miscarriages, we felt so alone. All those emotions and feelings were so new to us, we couldn’t imagine that others could possibly know what we were experiencing. But as people began to find out what had happened to us, they reached out to us, telling us that they too had lost children through miscarriage… they had just never talked about it. We were surprised by how many people had gone through this same thing. Even though ours was unique in some ways, because of our own views on children and loss and our personal circumstances, there were some commonalities, too.

And when I lost my wife to cancer 5 years ago, I read a book by C.S. Lewis called A Grief Observed, about his losing his own wife. While the details of his situation were different, there were so many similarities, it was uncanny. I reread that book again this week, and I think I cried through every page of it, just experiencing again what I experienced 5 years ago.

In her foreword to Lewis’ book, Madeleine L’Engle talks about the similarities between Lewis’s grief and her own, saying this:

“Lewis mentions the strange feeling of fear, the needing to swallow, the forgetfulness. And C.S. Lewis and I share, too, the fear of the loss of memory. No photograph can truly recall the beloved’s smile. Occasionally, a glimpse of someone walking down the street, someone alive, moving, in action, will hit with a pang of genuine recollection. But our memories, precious though they are, still are like sieves, and the memories inevitably leak through.”

You may feel some of those things, too. If you do, know this: you are not alone. There are people, people in this room, who can relate to what you’re going through. There are people throughout history who have lost loved ones to wars, disease, and “natural causes,” all of whom have felt the pang of grief, regardless of the circumstances or the timing of their loved ones’ deaths.

I was at a funeral of my cousin’s husband this past weekend. He died suddenly of a massive heart attack at age 49, in perfect health up to that point and without warning of any kind, leaving behind a wife and three teenage children.

I’ve sung “Jesus Loves Me” at the graveside of children who’ve died before their first birthday. I’ve sat in a cancer center where my wife was getting a treatment, overhearing a man who had just retired saying he had worked his whole life looking forward to the day he could retire, and now he was facing this.

There’s just never a good time to die. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and God understands that. But until the day that Jesus comes back, none of us will get out of here alive!

If you’re feeling alone, please know that you’re not! Please, make use of that fact that there are others around you who have gone through, and are going through, what you’re going through. There are people here tonight who will be glad to talk with you and pray with you. We have a GriefShare group that will be starting up again after the holidays where you can meet weekly with others who are going through grief (and you can find other GriefShare groups in cities around the world at this link). My own personal testimony about Griefshare was that it was the only place where I could pay attention to what anyone was saying, whether in the church or otherwise. Grief was the only thing on my mind for months and months on end.

And, of course, just as Jesus knew what it was like to lose a loved one, in Lazarus, God Himself knows what it’s like, as he watched Jesus die. Even though the cause was good, and God knew what was on the other side, the loss was real. God knows what you’re going through, too, as do many others around you. You are not alone.

And one more time, that reminds me of the words of Jesus, who knows what you’re going through as well:

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20b). 

To summarize these three points, these three encouragements:

1) Don’t waste your pain. Let your grief be a reflection of the your love.
2) Know that your grief is unique and give yourself permission to grieve in your own way.
3) You are not alone. Make use of the people and resources around you and God above.

As I close, I want to pray over you these words of Jesus:

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20b).

Even in the middle of your grief, as you remember your loved one tonight, I am praying in faith these words of Jesus over everyone of you in this room, or listening later or reading this later, that your grief will turn to joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

3 thoughts on “A Night of Remembrance

  1. Eric,
    I am so grateful for your comments. I listened to your message, and was moved “again” to the point of tears. Your experience was genuine and heart-felt. Thank for sharing.

  2. I have 2 Christian friends who are experiencing grief this Christmas. One friend just recently lost her husband, the other friend lost both her husband and her mother this year. This is their first Christmas without their loved ones. It is so hard to know what to say to bring them comfort, but I’m going to forward your sermon to both ladies in hopes that this will validate their pain and give them strength for the future. I read in a book a quote attributed to C. S. Lewis that said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Thank you for your daily inspirations and verses. It is no coincidence that particular verses and messages arrive in my inbox just when I need to hear exactly those words. God is most definitely at work.

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