A couple of months after Sarah’s departure I had the opportunity to visit with a friend I had not spent time with for several months. I was sharing with her some of our experiences surrounding the accident and in the process had a very candid moment in which I said that I would welcome death. As soon as the words parted from my lips I realized she might not understand. It was as if I could see the words tumbling through the air in slow motion from my mouth to her ears. The moment they hit her ears, her eyes widened and I saw fear, possibly even horror in them. I immediately tried to explain that I was not suicidal, but that I am just torn between heaven and earth, now more than ever. I’m not certain I was ever actually successful in alleviating her fears that day, and I felt terrible for having traumatized her. As a result, I’ve been exceptionally guarded in saying anything of the sort since.
What I failed to explain to her that day is that I was not just longing for an escape from the pain. It’s true that my heart continues to ache and throb. I do long for the day that He will wipe the tears from my eyes, and all the anguish will be as waters gone by (Rev. 21:4; Job 11:16). More than that, though, I am simply longing for Home. As Christians we know that we are aliens here, this world is not our Home (1 Pet. 2:11). But to my shame, I have to admit I felt pretty cozy here until June 8th. I clearly saw the waywardness of the world around us, but our family had a little bubble that felt a bit like heaven on earth. I loved it, I was content. I had a desire to be with Christ eventually, but as a mother my longing to be here to parent and disciple my girls was clearly more compelling. I deeply dreaded the thought of leaving. Sarah is now Home and my heart is torn. I long to be with her there, but I also long to be with her sisters here. My comfortable bubble, my little bit of heaven here has been shattered. Everywhere I go I am constantly reminded this is not Home. Particularly in our house, our earthly home, every room, every picture, every memory that floods my mind as I look around reminds me this is not my Home. I am so very homesick.
I also long for Home because I am battle worn. In addition to the weight of the pain of grief, there continues to be spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12). We don’t get a reprieve from the war with our flesh as we grieve, we continue to be responsible to walk in righteousness. When I am tired and weary, my fleshly desires, selfishness and pride rise up with every intention of consuming me. I must be alert and sober minded to crucify them, as well as to avoid the schemes of the enemy (Gal. 5:2; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). I am convinced our enemy, the predator of our souls, joins forces with our flesh and intensifies the attack when he sees us struggling, wounded and limping. So in the midst of our pain we must press on in fighting the war against our sinful flesh, while simultaneously buffeting the fiery arrows of the enemy (Eph. 6:16). I long for the day when the wars are over, for the day I am stripped of this sinful flesh with all its worldly passions and desires. I long for the day when the schemes and arrows of the enemy can no longer reach me. To die will be great gain.
I save for last the greatest reason I am longing for Home. I long to be with The Father and The Son, the very One who makes heaven Home. I long to be with my loving Father who sacrificed His Son for me. My Father who gives us His song in the night when we are too weak or broken to sing (Job 35:10). My Father who catches my every tear, takes account of them and holds them in His bottle (Psa. 56:8). My precious Lord and Savior, the one who gave His life for me. My compassionate risen Lord who I believe stood at the death of Sarah on June 8th, just as He stood at Stephen’s (Acts 7:55). Our Good Shepherd who softly and gently leads us, and carries us when we are wounded (John 10:11). Our Great High Priest who lives to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25). Our merciful Savior who beckons us to come to His throne of grace, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Indeed, to die and be with Him will be great gain.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.” Philippians 1:21-26 [NASB]
Paul’s words written from prison to the Philippians resonate so deeply in my soul. “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (vs. 23). The word translated “desire” in verse 23 is translated elsewhere as “lust” and “coveting.” Paul was deeply longing for Home, acknowledging it as “very much better.” However, he immediately goes on to say, “yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Paul was emulating Christ in surrendering his personal desire, to desire instead that which is best for his brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus Christ left His throne in glory, His and our Home, to come to earth to redeem and reconcile us. His act of coming, enduring and dying on earth was sacrificial from start to finish, not just at the climax of the cross. Jesus told the disciples at the last supper, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). The second greatest commandment, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39), was being intensified through this new commandment. As He was preparing to be crucified, He was telling His disciples watch me closely because you are to love one another in the way I demonstrate for you. Paul was responding in obedience to this command to love others as he had been loved by Christ. Compelled by fervent love he chose to persevere in sacrificially pouring his earthly life out for those who had and would come to know Christ. He embraced his call to live, recognizing that to live is Christ.
Though we may be imprisoned by pain, suffering or discouragement, and longing for Home, we must choose like Paul to say, “if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” However many days the Lord leaves us here we should long for them to be full of fruitful labor for Him. As we look at those around us, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers, the words of Paul should ring in our ears,“to remain is more necessary for their sake, for their progress and joy in the faith.” God has called us and longs to equip us to impact the lives of others through His love in us, if only we will humbly submit to Him and seek His face. Like Paul, fervent love for others should compel us to live, and to live fruitfully. We are not our own, we have been bought with a divine price (1 Cor. 6:20). As Christ-followers we are His bond-servants to do His bidding. We must embrace our call to live, recognizing that to live is Christ.
“not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” Romans 14:7-8 [NASB]
The anguish of my child’s death is a sanctifying flame being used by the Refiner to melt away my temporal desires and interests, leaving a piercing focus for that which is eternal. More than ever before I am acutely aware of the race I am running, the purpose for living. The charge from the book of Hebrews echoes in my mind, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3 NASB). So then, let us run this race with endurance, recognizing that to live is Christ.
There is much life to be lived and I want to urgently and obediently live every second of every day ordained for me (Psalm 139:16). His Word tells us we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10 NASB). I long to live the remainder of my days with my eyes so fixed on Jesus that I don’t miss a single appointment or opportunity that God prepared beforehand for me. The promises contained in His Living Word will guide and strengthen me to persevere. I will find hope in the midst of pain by meditating on the magnitude of the eternal weight of glory being produced through affliction (2 Cor. 4:17). Through the outpouring of His sustaining grace I will not lose heart until, finally, I will have completed the race on the day appointed for me. On that glorious day, through the power of Christ in me, I will join that great cloud of witnesses joyously proclaiming, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Artwork: Sarah Harmening