As I deal with the untimely death of a young man whose parents and grandparents are my friends, I realize how inferior and weak my ministry is at a time like this.
Before I can write the next phrase, a mother calls to ask me to talk to her son who is struggling with the death of a classmate. That is followed by a call from a lady whose mother is dying of cancer. And then my granddaughter texts about the death of a longtime family pet.
My biblical scholarship and pastoral training strain to have a place in the midst of my emotions. Emotions win. They did for Jesus as He cried at the grave of His friend Lazarus.
All of the parties ask the same question — “Why?” So do I. My friend Paul Powell once wrote, “Even if we knew the answer, we must realize that answers don’t heal broken hearts.”
Intellectually, I get it that death is a part of life. Spiritually, I understand that death is not only the consequence of sin, but God’s graceful gift that enables believers to transition to heaven. Knowledge doesn’t mean that we have to like it!
Fifty years ago I prayerfully struggled with what I understood to be a call to the ministry. I assured God that I felt extremely comfortable with the idea of preaching, but wasn’t too keen on the idea of dealing with death and human crises.
One day as I sat in a hospital parking lot, fearful of going into the presence of a mourning family, I said, “God, if this is what you want me to with my life, then You’re going to have to take charge of the situation.”
He did, and He often reminds me that He’s capable of taking charge of all situations. “His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in my weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So how do I respond to death?
1. I accept it as a fact. “There is a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2; Hebrews 9:27).
2. I grieve — “Not as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
3. I honor the deceased and understand the person’s significance. When those we treasure become a memory, let the memories become the treasure.
4. I face the reality of my own mortality. The Apostle Paul was ready to die because he trusted God and “fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Death ends a life, but not a relationship. Every person whose death we grieve must have had value to us. Celebrating that value honors not only that person but the relationship that existed and will continue to exist as long as we cherish their memory.
Grief is the hardest part of the process. It involves such elements as shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression and eventually acceptance. Everyone needs permission to grieve in their own way and on their own time schedule.
How do I help people in their grief? I listen, and often cry with them.
The Rev. JIMMY TOWERS is pastor of LifeWay Fellowship in Killeen.