My Dad’s “parting shot”, taken at the National Cemetery
Ever have someone congratulate you for “holding it together”? I used to think of it as a compliment. It is, in some senses. I mean, they mean it as a compliment.Ever experience joy at a funeral? No, not schadenfreude, but honest, heartfelt joy? Just before Christmas, I got an incredible gift of true joy that came from a guy who’s discipled me for years, at a time when it made all the difference in the world:
It was a week before Christmas. Dad had died a couple days prior. Arrangements had been made. Now, I was on a plane from ATL to BOS, to a funeral I didn’t think I needed to be at (I was over it, remember?). I was leaving my wife to watch 4 kids, including two sick 8 month olds, by herself for 48 long hours. In the middle of the trip to Dad’s funeral, I got a text, one I didn’t think I needed, which sustained me and became a banner of hope I carried for the rest of my stay.
“Make sure to feel what you’re feeling. There’s no script for this.”
Suddenly, clarity. I thought for hours about how my family had made a name for itself by making it
through the tough times with humor. We could deflect from our issues with the best of them – just crack a joke at an uncomfortable moment, and we didn’t need to weep anymore. We’d also built a great reputation for “holding it together”. You know, keeping a stiff upper lip when the chips were down. We could “be strong” with the best of them.
And, yet, we were missing something.
There’s a point in the opening chapters of Matthew when Jesus gets up on a hill and starts teaching people some of the definitive points of what the kingdom of God is all about. It’s an upside down economy where the weak are made strong, the wise seem foolish, and something I needed to hear brought me tears of both pain and great joy. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be…”
Holy $#!&. Are you serious? No magic words? No secret prayer that’ll make it all go away in one fell-swoop? I thought all I had to do was “keep it together” and everything would be alright. Be strong and you’ll be fine? Not in God’s economy. Jesus promised us something amazing would happen to us if we’d just let down our guard to Him: mourn and we’re candidates for comfort that we’ll never find anywhere else. Conversely, we’d all (my 8 brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, etc.) been carefully taught to ignore the pain and it would go away. But, in truth failing to mourn revokes our candidacy for true comfort. Don’t mourn = disqualified for the comfort tailor made for you by the God who made you.
Gathered around the sarcophagus (alright, it was just a coffin, but it sounds more Indiana Jones, doesn’t it?), getting ready to bring Dad’s body from the funeral home to the church, were my brothers, sisters, and I. My brother Jamie had power of attorney, so his past few days had been eaten up by the taskmaster of preparing the funeral and taking care of administrative details so sterile you could eat off them. Yet, here, aside a body vacant of life, he finally fell apart for just a moment.
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Guys. Before we go, can I tell you something that’s given peace to my soul in a way I can’t even describe to you? Jamie finally cried. And, we all need to follow that example.” I told them about the text I’d gotten – read it aloud, told them how the guy who sent it to me had lost his dad to Alzheimer’s just over a year prior, quoted Matthew 5.4, and preached for 12 seconds on not being strong:
“Please, fall apart soon.” I said, “fall all apart, teary and snotty and messy. Nobody wins by being strong and Paul even said God’s power was made ‘perfect in weakness’. Please, don’t be strong.”
I didn’t know if it would have an impact, really. I just knew I had to say it.
I also knew something else: I had experienced it right there, several times. From the wake to the funeral, I’d had about a half dozen or more opportunities to look my Dad’s body right in the eyelids and weep, sob, or just tear up for a moment as I realized the many losses that had piled up, confessed them to God, and knelt overcome by the comfort that rushed in, in its place. This wasn’t one of those things they just tell you in a ministry training, conference, or seminary. It was the truth. Straight from a guy who’d discipled me for three years and right out of the word. And, I’d experienced it to be true.
So, are you experiencing loss? Will you trust God like David did in Psalm 6, Psalm 51, etc., like I was told to by my mentor, like my mentor before me had, and mourn? You will be… comforted.