In November of 2014, my dear friend Shirley lost her son. Andy, only 41 years old, went to sleep at his home in Lubbock and woke up in heaven with Jesus.
I had the honor of speaking at Andy’s memorial service. In reflecting on it all when it was over, the thought occurred to me that, as alone as Shirley feels in this moment, she is not alone in her grief. On that day other mothers around the world, women she will never know, were saying goodbye to their children, too. Here’s hoping what I expressed to Shirley will be of comfort to others, too.
My dear friend Shirley,
I know we’d both give anything to be sitting at your kitchen table right now, eating some of your famous cookies, drinking tea and talking about your latest glass creations. Yet in God’s sovereignty, here we are.
Years ago my good friends Duane and Sheri Cross were living in Colorado when their 10-year old son was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He did not survive.
Their closest friends were missionaries, serving in Africa as Bible translators. They tried desperately to get back for the funeral but they were deep in country and there was no way to connect the flights.
In lieu of their presence, they sent a letter of condolence. In the letter they shared a story. They said that in the process of learning that tribe’s language they discovered their word for “grief” was translated “to sit in tent with”.
“To sit in tent with”.
We can’t possibly imagine what you are experiencing, unless of course we’ve been there ourselves. Some of your friends will be able to speak to the depths of your pain and grief because they’ve been where you are. In 2 Corinthians 1:4 it says that “we comfort others with the comfort with which we ourselves have received from God”.
For the rest of us, your friends and family, the best we can do for you is to “sit in tent with”. To simply be here for you. And if I may speak for all of us, please forgive our awkward and clumsy attempts at comfort. When our friend is sad, we want to help. We want to make it better. And because we want so badly for you to know how much we care and how much you are loved, in the trying we might say or do some dumb things. Our words may be ill-timed, yet please know they come from well-meaning hearts.
Because deep down, we know we can’t fix it for you. But we can “sit in tent” with you. We can be there to listen. To converse if you want us to. Of course, we will pray for you.
Psalm 139 tells us that God has all our days written down in His book before there was yet one of them. That means God put planning and forethought into our lives. From our perspective, God didn’t write nearly enough days down for Andy. Yet in God’s sovereignty, we are here. Memorial services are events where we celebrate a life lived. In Andy’s case, a life well-lived. We remember his many accomplishments and the lasting contributions he made to the people God put in his path.
As significant as those days of achievement are, they wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for you. Andy wasn’t born fabulous. He had to learn the skills and talents that took him where he went.
He learned those from you.
Those days of you teaching Andy right from wrong? They are in God’s book, too. The moments when you caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. The moments when you had to discipline for the purpose of teaching him a life lesson. All the events where he looked up and saw you in the audience. All the prayers you prayed for him. And all the countless moments you were unaware he was watching how you lived. Your love for God. How you treated people. How you cared for and loved others.
That we celebrate Andy’s life today is a tribute to you.
I think you need to hear this. Especially on this day. You were a great Mom to Andy. God is pleased with how you raised him. As we celebrate Andy’s life, we’re celebrating your commitment to the most important job in the world…raising godly kids.
Shirley, you did good.
I would be remiss not to remind you of something you already know. We, those of us who believe that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins, we have a hope. Our time here, while it may seem especially long without the ones we love, is but a micro dot in the span of eternity. In Hebrews 10:24, God tells us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together”. Churches have hijacked that verse to put on their walls to remind people to be a regular on Sunday mornings. To be sure, church is a good thing.
But that’s not what the verse says.
It says don’t stop getting together. We are not to stop gathering around the table to eat dinner together and talk about the hope we have in Christ. Don’t stop drinking lemonade and sweet tea on the back porch with your friends. We assemble together not just for a morning of corporate worship. We assemble together to live out all those “one another” commands that Jesus gave us. Not the least of which are encourage one another, comfort one another, laugh and cry with one another, and pray for one another.
In short, we get together because when the season for “sitting in tent with” is over, we move the conversation to the dinner table. Or the porch. And everywhere else we celebrate this thing called life. Because we have a hope and a future in Christ.
Shirley, in times of trouble, we go with what we know. We know that God loves us. We know He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. We know that He will continue to perfect the good work that He began in us. We know that He is near to the broken hearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit.
We know that He is our all-knowing, ever loving heavenly father. And we know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Know that you are loved by many. We are here to “sit in tent with” you.
“Let us hold fast to the profession of our hope without wavering, for He (God) who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23
Todd A. Thompson – November 22, 2014