“There is a hole in the world now in the place where he was.”
- Nicholas Wolterstorff
My sister got very angry with me. Through tears and frustration, she yelled:
“Don’t you feel anything for him?”
Well, of course I did. My father had been in some stage of dying, almost cheating death, for ten years. What distance had grown through the latter teen years, college, and the early phase of my marriage, had been bridged. We were the closest of friends. I delighted in the quirky and particular nature of God’s unique creation inside of him.
While his own life challenges and unawakened heart from the difficulties he had found in his 70 or so years made him hard to know, I had finally found him. Despite what his involvement and ability to offer in my life had taught me, I knew now that he delighted in me. I was the beloved son whose every call, every anecdote about the adventuring of the parenting of my children, seemed to be a growing strand of his pearls of great price.
They asked me to speak at his funeral and I couldn’t bring myself to play the part. There was a brokenness, a fear and longing that was sweeping through the family. A banquet of anger, bewilderment, and unreconciled relationships. Goodness, hope, and the very heart of God seemed to be on trial.
I felt none of that. I felt almost completely the opposite.
I had parsed the grief over the prior 10 years, all past frustrations had been reconciled, and his passing into “the end of his beginning” as my beloved Dallas Willard says, was the very proof of the nature and heart of God. He would be suffering and broken no longer and he would fully know the Father that he was created to fully know.
How could I speak about loss when the gap between this life and the next,
in the span of eternity, was merely a blinking of the eyes?
How could I reflect the grief they were feeling when I felt nothing but the joy
and release that only restoration and ultimate healing can bring?
They couldn’t possibly understand the joy I was feeling and I couldn’t reconcile myself to the grief they were experiencing. We were watching the same movie and interpreting completely different story lines.
So I didn’t speak at my father’s funeral.
I recently listened to the podcast of a man grieving the death of his beloved friend. This man is a spiritual giant, a father of sorts to me. His grief deeply affected me, almost caught me off guard. Despite his deep understanding of eternity and beautifully powerful, reconciled, and abiding friendship with the man, he was almost paralyzed by his heartache.
In some strange way, I am grieving my father’s loss this morning through different eyes as a result... more the eyes of my heart. And I am feeling the precious, consoling, holy pain of loss. I am aware, for the first time, that I didn’t speak at my father’s funeral due to something far deeper than my love, conviction, and great hope of eternity. I didn’t speak because I didn’t yet know how to grieve.
Loss has been such a common theme (part of the clear meta-narrative of my story) that the adaptive coping of my heart had taught me not to feel. Today, I am feeling it again, for what feels like the first time. Uncharted territory of my heart is being mapped. It is beautiful, glorious, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
- What do you need to grieve that you haven’t yet grieved?
- Can you feel the desensitization of your heart as you have adaptively learned to protect yourself from pain and disappointment?
- Listen to this podcast of someone deeply grieving honestly and well. It might just awaken some things you didn’t know were asleep.