“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 [NASB]
The past week my heart has been heavy for multiple reasons, but in large part it has been the void of Sarah’s absence. December 20th would have been her twenty-first birthday. Twenty-one years old, a cultural milestone birthday that has resulted in social media posts of more than a few of her peers celebrating. While I celebrate with each of them, my heart aches from my inability to celebrate with her. In the midst of that aching I was told there is concern Scott and I are grieving too long.
We are actively living, serving and celebrating life events with family and friends on a daily basis, so I’m not certain what caused their perception. But if by “grieving” we simply mean that I am continuing to miss Sarah and long for her presence, then I acknowledge that I am still grieving.
The misconception that parents whose children have died should stop grieving their child’s absence, and stop within a specified amount of time, is a common one. I was not surprised to hear the words, nor was I offended. But I confess my initial thought was one of self-preservation, to steer clear of all future vulnerability and take a vow of silence in regard to the reality of grief. Just as quickly as that thought formed, though, my mind was flooded with the faces of so many journeying this painful path of child loss behind us. So this is for them and all who will follow them.
Missing our children and longing for our reunion with them is not sin. Missing our children is not an indication we are failing to take hold of the Hope of Christ. Hope does not exclude grief. Those who have hope grieve. We who hope in Christ grieve. We, who have all of our hope in its entirety completely and firmly fixed on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, still grieve.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13 [NASB]
The Hope of Christ has never been more real to me than it is in this very moment. I have never been more certain than I am now of my eternal future and the inconceivable magnitude of what will be delivered to me in that grace. The unrelenting grief of Sarah’s death and her ongoing absence has profoundly bolstered my understanding of the reality and certainty of my hope in Jesus Christ.
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 [NASB]
Grief does not diminish my hope, it fortifies it. Grief, if we allow it, is a refining flame. It melts away the dross, enabling us to “extract the precious from the worthless” (Jer. 15:19). Grief has rightly shifted my focus from the temporal fully to the eternal. Through my grief I intimately know and confidently cling to the Hope of Jesus Christ like never before. I rejoice in that Hope with great joy even as I continue to grieve Sarah’s absence.
Conversely, the certainty of that very Hope perpetuates my grief. The reality of my Hope and my fixed focus on eternity causes my soul to groan with longing, urgent for its culmination and fulfillment. I am so confident He is coming back, and that I will see Sarah again, that I groan with expectant longing for it.
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for [our] adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” Romans 8:22-23 [NASB]
Our groaning is an expression of grief, and creation joins us in it. Because of sin this world bears the pain and scars of suffering, as do we. As a result, we who understand and possess the Hope of Christ through His indwelling Spirit groan with longing within ourselves.
“For indeed in this [house] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.” 2 Corinthians 5:2-4 [NASB]
We groan with longing for the end of sin and suffering. We groan with longing for the coming day when all things will be made right. And in the groaning of our souls we join the chorus of saints throughout scripture from beginning to end crying out to Him, “How Long, O Lord?“
“Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!” Psalm 90:13 [ESV]
There is no sin in my missing and longing for Sarah’s presence. There is no sin in your missing and longing for your child’s presence. We who are in Christ are groaning with longing because we have hope. We are groaning with longing because we are certain there is coming a day “in just a little while” when we will see Jesus face to face, and our precious children with Him (Heb. 10:37).
“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he [already] sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Romans 8:24-25 [NASB]
In the meantime, as we wait, we rejoice in the Hope that allows us to grieve and enables us to expectantly persevere. We echo Paul in saying, “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better…” “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me” (Phil 1:22-23).
And “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” we persevere, urgently and expectantly following Him (Col. 1:11). Walking in His wisdom and His power, making the most of every opportunity to make Him and His Hope known to a hopeless world.
We rejoice in the Hope of Christ that allows us to grieve and enables us to persevere. And we eagerly wait, persevering in the midst of our grief, comforted by the knowledge that “those who sow in tears will soon reap with songs of joy!”
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” Psalm 126:5-6 [NIV]
“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” Hebrews 10:37 [NIV]
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20 [NASB]
Come, Lord Jesus.