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As a pastor for more than 35 years, I have ministered to many families that have lost loved ones, including children. I have always tried to find the right words to say. But in all honesty, when I would walk away from those situations, I would say, “I hope this never happens to me, because I don’t think I could handle it.” But then it happened to me.
Being a pastor does not guarantee that I get a free pass on pain. I live in the same, fallen world that everyone else does. When I heard the news about my son Christopher, it felt as though my world had stopped. It felt as though time had frozen, and the air had been sucked out of the room. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I couldn’t stand; I collapsed on the ground. I wept and cried out to God, and I said, “Lord, you gave our son to us. I give him back to you.”
But I had hope, and that hope was knowing that my son was in heaven because he put his faith in Jesus Christ. And because of that, I know I will see him again. He is not only a part of my past, but he also will be a part of my future. Even so, I still weep.
When David’s son Absalom died, David wept and said he wished it would have been him instead of Absalom – even though Absalom had been a wicked son. When Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was stoned to death, we read in the Bible that “godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2 NIV).
If you are trying to find the right words to say to someone who has lost a loved one, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. People will say strange things. I know, because I have heard plenty of them in the past two-and-a-half years, including, “Hey, man. Don’t cry. They are in heaven”; “The Bible says, ‘There is a time to laugh and there is a time to cry. There is a time to dance and there is a time to mourn'”; “Well, God must have needed another angel in heaven”; “God picks His best flowers first”; and “Well, whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” And just a week after Christopher’s home-going, someone asked me, “Are you over it yet?”
Friends of mine whose child died told me that someone came up to them and said, “I know what you are feeling. Our dog just died.”
My friend Steven Curtis Chapman, who has also experienced the loss of a child, said the best thing anyone said to him in the midst of his grief was, “There are no words.” And sometimes the best thing you can do is simply be there for someone who is grieving and limit your comments to something along the lines of, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you, I am praying for you, and I am here for you right now.”
So if you have lost a loved one, go ahead and cry. You don’t need to rush through the process. Go ahead and mourn, but cry out to God, who cares about you. And don’t trade what you do know for what you don’t know. Here is what I do know: I know that God loves me. Here is what I do know: I know that God can work “all things … together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NKJV). I know that I will see my son again. I know that one day all of my questions will be answered. So I will not trade what I do know for what I don’t know. Instead, I will simply say, “God, help me.” He is in control of my life. The word “oops” is not in his vocabulary.
We live in a fallen world that has pain and tragedy. Things don’t always make sense. Jesus even said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 nkjv).
Sometimes we can understand, to a degree, when bad things happen to bad people. A bad person does a bad thing, and there are repercussions. We think, You see? What goes around comes around.
But what about when a bad thing happens to a good person? I will give you the answer: I don’t know. I don’t really feel like I have all the answers, because I am a fellow struggler, a fellow mourner. I don’t have what people need, but I know who does. Hope has a name, and it is Jesus Christ.
Nick Vujicic, author of Life Without Limits, was born without limbs. He asked the understandable question: “If God loved me, why did he allow me to be born without arms or legs?” Nick wondered what purpose his life could possibly have and even contemplated suicide. He prayed that God would cause his limbs to grow, but that miracle was not granted. Instead, God showed Nick that he was the miracle. Nick has spoken at some of our Harvest Crusades and has traveled around the world, bringing hope and encouragement to millions of people.
You may be wondering where there is hope in all of the pain we face in life. For some there is a hope that things will just get better: that relationship will be mended, that illness may be healed, that job offer will come through. But there are others who have permanent disabilities or have lost a loved one, and there is no hope–at least here on earth. But this is where we must change our thinking and remember that life is not all about our time on earth. The Bible says our lives are like “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14 nkjv). Of this we can be certain: death will come. It is inevitable.
However, the Bible does teach that we will live forever. Every person has a soul and will live for eternity. This doesn’t mean that heaven is the default destination of everyone who dies. We determine where we will live forever. The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 nkjv).
We don’t determine the day of our birth, nor do we determine the day of our death. We really have nothing to say about that. But we have a lot to say about that dash in the middle. We have a lot to say about how we live our lives and what we do with them.