When the Lord gave me the theme (or maybe better said, battle cry) for the year at DSBC, I sure didn’t realize at the time how relevant and needed it would be for me personally. “Forward Motion” would be the emphasis that would drive our church year. Every sermon series, campaign, strategic study and prayer focus would encourage God’s people to MOVE FORWARD in their faith walk, Christian service, relationships, personal evangelism and so on. I’d been looking forward to jumping into this emphasis for months and longed to get in the pulpit this past Sunday to kick it off and begin shepherding God’s people toward taking that most difficult first step in the journey forward.
As many of you already know, we didn’t launch our Forward Motion sermon series this past Sunday. I did preach but not from the Double Springs pulpit and I did not preach the message that I had spent weeks preparing.
Sunday, at the small country church in Red Hill, Georgia that I grew up in, I preached my hero’s funeral.
Without going into much detail, my deddy had not been feeling well and called me Friday morning to ask me to come over and feed his cows, chickens and hunting dogs. He thought that he may have had the flu. When I arrived I could tell that he was feeling poorly and asked if he’d let me take him to the hospital because he said Mama was having a hard time getting him a doctors appointment for that afternoon. He argued a bit about going to the doctor, which was certainly not out of the ordinary and is admittedly a trait that he passed down to me. As I figured I’d make no headway, I went to the barn to bust the ice up in the water trough and feed the cows. I decided to come back to the house and check on him before feeding the chickens and beagles and when I did, it was obvious that his condition had deteriorated significantly. I called an ambulance and waited with him for it’s arrival. En route to the hospital, his faith became sight. He left this world and entered a place that is beyond my comprehension as God has prepared a place for His own so wonderful that no mortal eye could see and no mortal mind could imagine.
Though unexpected, I don’t know that I could use the word “shock” to describe my initial feelings. Numb would probably more accurate. It just all seemed surreal. Everything from the conversation we’d just had that morning, the decline of his condition in such a short amount of time, loading him into an ambulance, his insistence on me making sure I turned the heat off before we left (ever the penny pincher), it just all seemed like a strange dream. In many ways, everything that has followed feels the same way. My brother and I taking mom to the funeral home on Saturday, receiving literally hundreds of friends who came to express their condolences before the funeral, preaching the service from his worn out Bible and using his own study notes to do so, waking up and not seeing him at his spot at the table with Bible and coffee in hand…just surreal. I’d somewhat prepared myself for dads death years ago as his health issues really began to cause problems and multiple, major surgical procedures ensued. He’d even talked with me several times about what needed to be done when the time came. I knew and expected this day to come but at the same time, I didn’t. That’s hard to explain so I won’t even attempt to do so here. Men like him; quiet but words full of much needed wisdom when he spoke, meek but incredibly strong, tender but tough as a $2 steak….men like that don’t die.
Yet, they will. They do. He did.
The author of Hebrews tells us that it’s “appointed once for every man to die”. Nobody get’s a pass there. Not even my father. Sin brought death into this world way back at the beginning as man chose to rebel against the God who created him. Sin is accompanied by just consequences. Separation from God is one of them for He is holy. Death is another. The good news of the Gospel is that though a man cannot dodge death, he can be prepared for it. He can have peace with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. A man who’s been to Calvary, has embraced forgiveness, been washed whiter than snow has no need to fear death as it has lost it’s sting. To be absent from the body, the Apostle Paul said, is to be present with the Lord.
My deddy knew and loved the Lord Jesus and because the promises of God are “yes and amen”, I do not grieve as one who has no hope. Praise God, it’s not goodbye but see you later!
All that said, it hurts so bad. The earthly bond that God blesses us to be able to share with others is so strong. When it’s severed, there’s unexplainable pain and deep grief. Now, I know that this is not the end of the story, I believe Gods promises so strongly that I’ve built my life here and the one to come upon them…but it still stings & I miss him so much.
Over the last few days, I’ve tried to think through everything that he’d told me to do when he passed. I believe that as the oldest son, I have a responsibility to shoulder the brunt of the load that deddy would carry if he was still here. My brother has strongly and willingly jumped right in as well. Neither of us will ever be able to fill deddy’s shoes but it won’t be for lack of effort. I’ve been as busy as I could be trying to care for mama, family and my own kids who thought their Papa hung the moon (a feeling that was mutual). I stayed busy because when I slowed down I’d wonder how in the world I would cope with all this personally.
I spent the first few nights with mom and the night of the funeral, sleeping in the bed I grew up climbing into every night, I realized what I really needed to do. It was something that I’d counseled countless other grieving people to do over the last 15 years of pastoral ministry. It was what I’d spent the past several weeks preparing a sermon series about. I needed to move forward.
That’s not callous. It’s not indifferent. It’s just reality. No matter the circumstance, there are only three paths we travel concerning our spiritual walk. We can move backwards in bitterness and rebellion. We can be stuck and become still which leads to apathy and in time, stagnation. OR we can put our heads down and even through great grief, move forward.
I believe that only one of those three paths honors the Lord and that night, I made the choice that I would move forward by faith.
But how? I mean, it’s one thing to make a statement and quite another to follow through with it. Maybe you are at that same crossroads in your own walk and want to take your first step forward but are at a loss as to how. While I don’t profess to be an expert on moving forward after loss, I will share with you a few thoughts that I believe will guide you no matter what circumstance has brought you to your knees
I believe that the first task on the journey forward is accepting the reality of the situation. There’s a natural denial of reality that most often accompanies crippling circumstances. It’s real. The various emotions that have flooded you are real too. If you’re like me and the circumstance you have found yourself in involved death, it is difficult but necessary to come to grips with the physical finality of losing a loved one and recognize that you will not see that person again in this life. As previously stated, If your loved one was a Christian, not only will you see him again in the life to come, but they are now in an immeasurably better place — in the Lord’s presence, with no more pain or fear or sorrow. But here on this earth, there is a finality and there’s no amount of pretending that can change that. This sounds blunt, I know. It’s necessary, though. One day, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new'” (Rev. 21:4-5 NKJV). We love that hope filled promise and long for that day but there’s a life left to live here in the meantime and only when we’ve embrace the reality of our difficult circumstances will we be ready to truly live it.
Our journey forward also include learning to be o.k. with feeling the sting. Many try to avoid pain by suppressing emotions or even rejecting the feelings they are having. In an effort to keep from feeling the pain that accompanies difficult things like grief, they may intentionally avoid places and circumstances that remind them of their loved one. To be honest, this was my initial response after my father died. I’ve been driving his truck (which has been strangely therapeutic) and on my way home to get a few things before the funeral the other day a old Southern Gospel song came on the radio that my deddy loved, “Thanks To Calvary” by the Cathedral Quartet. I began to break down on I-85 when George Younce, deddy’s favorite singer, hit his first deep, growling bass note and immediately turned the station. However, I realized that the only way to move through grief is to, well move through it. It is impossible to escape the pain associated with mourning. Jesus wept over the loss of His friend Lazarus, even though He knew He was about to raise him from the dead; we, too, have permission to weep. In fact, it may even be necessary. Tears are like a God given pressure relief valve. I cranked the song back up and wept all the way to Townville. I needed to and I’m glad I did.
Because this life is, according to old Job, “full of trouble”, we all experience pain and the only thing worse than the pain of losing a loved one is the pain of never loving or being loved in the first place. In a very real way, the pain of grief is a gift to us because it is evidence of the presence of love.
Another step forward is making the adjustment to a life that is now very, very different. That’s kind of where my family is now. We had a great life with Don Caudell around and we know that because of the promises of God that we believe and hold fast to are true, the life we’ll have moving forward will contain peace that passes all understanding, the joy of the Lord and many great times with each other. Things will be different but they will be good. Pessimism is an easy ditch to fall into when you’re hurting. It breeds bitterness too. Moving forward involves picking up some pieces, believing God, resting in one another and making adjustments. By Gods grace, we’ll do just that. I hope you will too.
Let’s determine to take the first few steps and move forward.
“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28)
Sole Deo Gloria!