My Bible reading is quite sporadic at the moment, but I have been rereading the gospel of Luke. One morning, I had some time to myself so I picked it up and began to read. It was the time in Jesus’s early ministry when he was healing the sick.
I read about the account of Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead.
‘Soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. Just as he arrived at the gate of the town, a funeral procession was coming out. The dead man was the only son of a woman who was a widow, and a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart was filled with pity for her, and he said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he walked over and touched the coffin, and the men carrying it stopped. Jesus said, “Young man! Get up, I tell you!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.’
(Luke 7: 11-15)
The words ‘his heart was filled with pity for her’ jumped out at me from the page and repeated over and over in my mind. I continued to read but was drawn back to this passage. It was hard to digest any other words.
But I continued and then read the story of Jarius’ daughter:
‘…then a man named Jarius arrived: he was an official in the local synagogue. He threw himself down at Jesus’ feet and begged him to go to his home, because his only daughter, who was twelve years old, was dying.
… a messenger came from the official’s house. “Your daughter has died,” he told Jarius, “don’t bother the Teacher any longer.”
But Jesus heard it and said to Jarius: “Don’t be afraid; only believe, and she will be well.”
When he arrived at the house, he would not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, and James and the child’s father and mother. Everyone there was crying and mourning for the child. Jesus said, “Don’t cry, the child is not dead – she is only sleeping!”
They all laughed at him, because they knew she was dead. But Jesus took her by the hand and called, “Get up my child.” He life returned and she got up at once.’
(Luke 8 : 40-56)
The fact that Jarius’ daughter was twelve, like Abi, struck me. Did she suffer the same thing I wonder?
My cynical side felt pangs of anger, as I questioned why God didn’t save my twelve-year-old? I believe in Him, so why her? Why then? But these feelings didn’t develop. Rather than feeling hurt and bitter, I actually took comfort from these few lines.
I began thinking of the way Jesus reacted to loss, and knew that I was meant to read these words that day (believe me, I hadn’t been feeling very ‘spiritual’ at that time). I was meant to work this out for myself and compile this post.
I’ve written before about how Jesus wept for Lazarus, how the sorrow of grief is something he felt. How he showed us that tears reflect the love we feel for each other. That God wants us to be able to express our emotion this way, when we are sad. That yes, grief hurts.
Losing a child is the most painful type of loss – grief is not a contest of suffering by any means, but child loss is simply the hardest grief to bear. For a parent, and yes, primarily a mother, to lose her child – the child she grew, nurtured, loved more than herself – is so deep, unnatural and impossible to accept. It’s a different type of loss. But that morning, I realized the death of a child was different for Jesus, too.
Jesus shares our pain entirely. He understands the different types of grief we feel; he feels the rock in the stomach and the stabs at the heart. He feels a mother’s heartache as though he were her. Of course, he does!
I looked at different interpretations of the text of the widow’s son:
When the Lord saw her, his heart was filled with pity for her… (Good News Bible)
When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her… (NIV)
When the Lord saw her, his heart broke… (The Message)
When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her… (KJV)
Then, with Jarius’ story, it struck me what Jesus said about his daughter’s state:
Jesus said, “She is not dead but asleep.” (52)
When he said this, at this time of my reading, I feel that he was describing death as a kind of ‘sleep’ – the deepest sleep we’ll ever know. This excerpt from a book I have read often, explains this very well:
‘A child belongs in his or her parents’ arms. That’s how it should be. No other place could be better or safer for our child, or so we feel.
When a person [or baby, at any age] dies, the soul leaves the body. Our bodies are ‘tents’ – houses that the ‘real’ us live in. St. Paul wrote that when we are absent from the body (dead), we are at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). He also seems to indicate that when a Christian dies, the Lord Jesus puts him or her to sleep, and they awake in heaven (1 Thess. 4:14). ‘Sleep’ is one of the most common pictures for death in the New Testament. We don’t fear sleep; it is something we need and desire.
The person who dies is not asleep. He or she is alive and fully conscious in the presence of God. Heaven is a place of perfection, so it is possible that children don’t remain in childhood there. They may well grow up. In heaven, no desire goes unsatisfied, and all our desires there are good. There is no pain or grief in heaven. In heaven, earth’s questions are answered.’
(Gone but Not Lost, David W. Wiersbe)
Knowing that God shares my pain and is there for me is immensely comforting and restores my faith that He is good. Knowing that Abi is growing in perfection in heaven in His presence is the only thing that gives me hope and settles my weary soul knowing she isn’t here anymore. It may not dissolve my grief – but as I’ve said above, we are meant to grieve.
Grief is not a bad emotion, even though it feels that way!
Grief is love – in its purest form.
So I will celebrate my grief and my love for Abi. And when it’s my turn, I will be welcomed home to them.