(Do not miss the personal testimony of a pastor friend at the end.)
Someone asked, “Why do pastors not weep at funerals? My pastor didn’t even weep at his own mother’s services.”
Interesting question. I think we know the answer.
In my case, by the time we laid my wonderful mama to rest, I was in my early 70s and she was nearly 96. She was so ready to go. If it’s possible to prepare to give one’s beloved mother back to Jesus, I think we were that. And yes, we still miss her every day, and it’s been almost eight years.
But there’s another reason for the lack of tears. Starting early–my mid-20s–I began doing heart-breaking funerals, one after another, the kind that will tear your heart out and stomp it and leave it writhing on the pavement. Do enough of these, and eventually you run out of tears.
It’s not that you do not care, do not love, or cannot feel. It’s just that you care and love and feel without tears.
In novels, every loose end must come together and be tied up. In real life, they almost never do.
My friend Holly, a wife and mother and piano teacher, was telling us about her son Andrew’s snowglobe. The music it puts out “drives me nuts,” she says, “as a musician with certain OCD tendencies.” The snowglobe’s music apparatus plays “White Christmas,” but not completely.. After the line “May your days be merry and bright….” it just ends, then repeats itself. Holly asks, “What evil genius in the music box factory decided they couldn’t put in those final nine notes? Gaaaah!!!
I smiled. Holly’s father is a pastor and her heart belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why I felt comfortable in sending her my little lesson on Andrew’s snowglobe music box.
“What a great metaphor for life, where maybe ten percent of anything ‘resolves.’ Novelists must make all the threads come together at the end, but in real life, that rarely happens. So, Andrew’s globe is sending him a message: ‘Get used to it, kid.’
“Only at the end, the ‘real end,’ will all things come together and all accounts be settled. When that happens, every eye shall see Jesus, every knee bow before Him, and every tongue confess Him as Lord. Amen.”
My friend Rebecca is the mother of a son, 8, and a daughter, 6. Here’s what happened the other night.
I was asleep in the dead of night. Suddenly, I became aware that Mia, my six-year-old, had crawled into our bed and was talking to me.
Mia: “Mom, how old is Jesus?”
Mom: “Honey, Jesus isn’t any age any more.”
Mia: “Mom, did you find Dad and make him marry you? or did Dad find you and make you marry him?”
The lady is on her deathbed, it would appear. Her mind comes and goes, according to family members. Sometimes she is lucid, at other times not.
They called me. Would I come by the hospital to see her? The daughter said, “Sometimes when she is ‘with us,’ she seems troubled. Today she said, ‘There are some people I need to apologize to.'”
“We were hoping you could give her some peace.”
Since I was the family’s pastor many years ago, I knew some of the history. My feeling was that the lady was a genuine Christian although I sensed she had not progressed in spiritual maturity as she should.
In her hospital room I greeted her and we chatted. I said, “You have given your life to Jesus Christ, is that right?” The voice was weak, but she was nodding her head. She had. “And you love Him?” Again, yes.
“But you have not always been faithful.” She shook her head, indicating it was so true.
I said, “Neither have I. None of us have. We have all done a poor job of living for Him. That’s why we appreciate so much His faithfulness.”
We were gathered around the bed where my wife of 52 years lay. We had signed the papers to unplug her from life support. Everyone was in tears. After a time, I said to my family, “Now listen. One of these days it will be Grandpa lying here. And I don’t want all this crying.” Granddaughter Abby said, “Why not?” I said, “Well, good night, I’ll be 98 years old and I will have preached the previous Sunday! What’s to cry about?” They all laughed.
I say a lot of things just to get a laugh. It goes back to childhood so it’s who I am, I suppose. But this one is dead on. I want to live a long time and stay active serving the Lord and loving the special people around me. Ideally, the only people attending my funeral will be friends of my grandchildren since I will have outlived all my contemporaries.
I may or may not do that.
My times are in God’s hands. I know that and I’m good with it.
I go to a lot of funerals. Yesterday, in fact, I went to two. For the first I occupied a pew and I was the officiator at the second.
More and more I give thought to my own memorial service. And in planning it–if that’s what I’m doing here–I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I deserve a service befitting the King of England or something. Simple is good. And brief is not bad.
This was written some years back after the drowning death of little Haylee Mazzella, the granddaughter of my dear friends Dr. Buford and Bonnie Easley. I came across it this week, handwritten hastily, in an old file. I have no idea whether I ever shared it with the family or not. The grandfather is now in Heaven, alongside our wonderful Lord Jesus and Buford’s precious granddaughter. My heart still hurts from the memory.
If our grief could ease just a sliver of your grief, you would have none left because so many friends are sorrowing for you today.
If our tears could dry your tears, you would weep no more, because so many are heartbroken for you today.
If our pain could erase yours, you would never against experience a moment’s discomfort the rest of your life, because so many are hurting for you today.
If our prayers could bring your child back, she would be with us this very moment because so many are interceding for you today.
If our grief could ease your grief, our tears dry your tears, our pain erase your pain, and our prayers undo this tragedy, it would be done in a heartbeat.
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, that they may rest from their labors. And their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
“I tell my students, when you’re standing at the graveside of a saint, make the message clear and plain. Because you’ve got the only message in town!” –Ken Chafin, longtime seminary professor, teacher of evangelism, pastor
I’ve been going to funerals a lot lately.
Not conducting them, but going as a mourner.
I’ve reached the point in life where almost weekly I learn of the deaths of longtime friends and former parishioners. This week, it was an 86-year-old member of a church I served in the 70s and 80s. The week before, the deceased was the widow of a colleague I’d served on a church staff with in the early 1970s; she was 92.
I always pay attention to how the ministers do their funerals. Always want to learn to do this better.
And that brings me to this.
One: It’s not wrong to hate death; our Lord hated it also.
He broke up every funeral procession He came to by raising the dead. Scripture calls death an enemy (I Corinthians 15).
Two: Scripture says death is out of business.
“Shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus promised that. “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
“We do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:4)
My wife gets attached to cars. I do not. Recently, I gave my 2015 Camry to my oldest granddaughter. I’ve done that several times before–starting with the ’96 Camry to my son many years back, later the ’05 to a granddaughter, the ’09 to our twin granddaughters, the ’13 Honda C-RV to my son, and now this one. I’m happy to pass them along, and as one might expect, they enjoy getting them.
To me a car is a thing, an instrument we use. My oldest granddaughter names them. The ’05 is Sandy and this ’15 is Pearl (names based on their colors). Like most cowboys in the old west, I don’t name my mounts. I take good care of them and have them serviced by the dealer on the recommended schedule, and thus have almost no trouble from the car. But when it’s time to replace it with a newer version, I’m happy to let it go.
Think of that as a parable. We let things go so they can be replaced by something better.
“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).
Fears crop up from time to time.
They co-exist right alongside my faith, like tares among the wheat (referencing Matthew 13:30).
My faith and my fears are not friends, you understand, nor are they unknown to one another. They have fairly well existed alongside one another from the beginning, so they are well-acquainted, in the sense that competitors on the gridiron who do battle in repeated contests come to know one another intimately.
I identify with the fellow who, when told that all things are possible if he could believe, answered, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).
What do I fear? Let me count the ways. (I do this knowing full well that fears love to be given room and attention and energies, all of which serve to feed this cancer, causing it to mushroom.)