It was a $5,282.00 period at the end of a short and beautiful sentence that was my brother’s life: the cost of the permanent gravestone I saw for the first time today. The reality of the eighteen-month losing battle with brain cancer, like a sledge hammer, once again knocked me off my feet.
I have grieved regularly over the months. Sometimes choosing to welcome the tears rather than resist them. Sometimes inviting God into it, into the questions, into the “unfinished” of my brothers life-cut-short and the emotions surrounding all that can’t be undone.
But today was my first day back to see his permanent gravestone on his now grassy, solitary grave. In the days after Lance’s death, my other brother, Parker, a true craftsman, handcrafted a temporary marker that we had anchored in the wet April dirt before Lance’s burial. But last month, after the ground had amply settled, the permanent gravestone was installed. This was my first trip back to Pennsylvania and my first time seeing my brother’s name etched in the cool, black granite face.
I sat for an hour. Taking it in. Once again with my brother. Remembering the agony and hilarity of all those days together. I was caught off guard by the grief and tears that rolled in like rhythmic sets of waves on a remote and rocky beach.
Though there was a temptation to “hold it together,” deeper still I could feel Jesus’ invitation:
It’s okay. Fall apart.
I went in my heart into the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus laments over one of the great limits we’ve placed on our humanity and therefore on our experience of who God is and what He can do in our lives.
Exasperated over their unresponsiveness, with passionate longing to see the hearts of His people truly whole, Jesus cried to them,
“We played a pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” (Matthew 11:17)
“You have forgotten how to feel!” Jesus laments. “And in that, you’ve lost your capacity to respond to Me and My Father!”
We neither rejoice enough over the goodness of God’s personality and His delight in pleasure, nor grieve enough over the intensity of the Fall and its long reach into each of our stories. What is it in me that neither laughs enough over all that needs to be enjoyed nor weeps enough over all that needs to be grieved?
Laughter and tears are both canvases upon which the deepest parts of our humanity are expressed. Yet we’ve guarded our hearts from feeling either joy or grief robustly and therefore forfeited a deeper revelation of the Father’s heart and personality and who He wants to be for us and with us.
As Jerry Sitter offers in A Grace Disguised, in grieving a loss beyond comprehension;
“The experience of loss does not have to be the defining moment of our lives. Instead the defining moment can be our response to the loss. It is not what happens to us that matters as much as what happens in us.”
These are two of the most powerful and instructive words in all the Scriptures (John 11:35). His heart grieved. For Martha. For Lazarus. And for all of us who have tasted death in its every form. He didn’t take a shortcut and pass over death. He plunged into its depth.
And he defied it.
This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!
I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don’t in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very “nature” is to die, so how could they “naturally” end up in the Life kingdom?
But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
(From 1 Corinthians 15 in The Message)
What is it you need to grieve?
What if the Father is wanting to access your heart through your unshed tears?
What if there were a revelation of His heart for you that is only accessible by walking through your grief?
What if He were asking you to give yourself permission to fall apart?
How would you know?
Father, I confess many things keep me from feeling the reality of my story. Distraction, denial, fear, and more. I confess there is some doubt in the goodness of Your heart that has led me to avoid feeling the pain of my story on so many occasions. I confess that “hold it together” has trumped knowing Your heart for me time and time again inside of me. I choose to believe there is life for me in facing the ways in which death, destruction, and loss have intersected my story. I believe there is Life here in me. Life for me. Life through me. Inextinguishable LIFE, through Jesus Christ. How I long for revelation of Your heart as my Comforter and the One Who Is Always With Me. Holy Spirit, guide me now to the memories and themes of my story that You would have me grieve. Holy Spirit, open my heart to listen for Your leadership to guide me into letting go, falling apart, and grieving all the death in my life and in the lives of those I love. And in this very place, give me a revelation of Your Heart and Love that becomes a brilliant treasure for me hidden in this darkness. And in all of it, God, bring about Life beyond my wildest dreams. I give You permission to break the agreements I have made with limits on who You can be in my life, what You can do in my life, and how You can do it. I agree with You. Your heart, Father. Have Your way. Today.
If you are wanting more guidance to pray through grief into life, I’d encourage you to meditate on 2 Samuel 22 and Ezekiel 37:1-4.
Below are the most helpful books I have found on walking with God through grief—life giving way to death so that death might give way to life: