The Power of Presence (vs. Function) in Response to Grief

There is another in the fire, standing next to me

There is another in the water, holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding What Power set me free

There is a grave that holds no body

And now that Power lives in me

There is another in the fire…

 

For anybody out there who has been tasked with preaching God’s word and wonders if their sermons or Bible studies have any effect at all, I hope this blog post reaches you with encouragement. The truth is, you never know when one sentence or one concept will just stick. And truth is, perhaps you won’t know for 5 years, 10 years, or ever.

For me, I can think of a lot of snippets of sermons that I databased in my mind. But two of them guided my decision making process as a parent this last Saturday night.

That very morning, we faced what many parents have faced…my wife looked in our gerbil’s cage to find out that Pearl, the gerbil our daughters had gotten on Alsea’s birthday 3 months ago, was stone-cold dead. We told the girls right away. Abrielle and Alsea (old enough to know what was going on) cried for a little, but then the day continued.

And then, 12 hours later, as the kids were in bed, loud crying was heard. As Abrielle could no longer keep herself busy with the day, the loss of her pet came to mind and stayed. So I had to go get her.

What do you do with your grieving child? For most people, myself included, sadness is something bad, and begs to be remedied, to be fixed. We offer perspective, we offer distraction, we offer “the big picture.”

But I remembered two sermons that came to mind, one by Doug Bailey and one by Matt McConnell.

Pastor Doug taught us that just as God had programmed the body to have an automatic process to heal from a cut, bruise, or injury…grieving is a God-designed process for the heart to heal. To avoid grieving is to avoid healing. Don’t avoid grieving…go straight through it.

Pastor Matt, in his story of God’s leading him through healing from divorce, spoke of a time when he went outside and cried out to God hurt, angry, and at rock-bottom, and demanded an answer. And I will always remember what he said: “At very few times have I heard God audibly speak to me, but this was one of those very few times. I heard God say I’m here. And at the time, I thought ‘That’s not enough, God!!!’ But I learned that those words were actually what I needed.”

Matt’s sermon taught me that when humanity is seeking a “fix it” God, or when somebody is asking God for answers, God often may not provide those things. What God ALWAYS offers is His presence. He has the power to take away the cancer, and sometimes He does. But when He doesn’t…what He offers is Someone to walk through the grieving with us. Himself. We aren’t alone.

Someone who is angry may see this as a cop-out. But I have found that this is not the case. In this, we see two things. One, a reminder of how God may choose to operate. Two, a model of how we can be Godly in our response to grieving.

So when I was faced with my child’s unfixable broken heart, these past sermons equipped me to say what I needed to say.

Instead of trying to fix the sadness, I told her “I know you feel sad, and it’s okay to feel sad. I know that you miss her. The truth is, ‘missing her’ will never go away. But the hurt in your heart will go away. But right now, your heart’s going to hurt. So it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel it out.” Lean into the sadness. Lean into the mourning. It’s okay.

Instead of reminding her of God’s “teaching”, these past sermons taught me to remind her of God’s presence. “Whenever you feel sad, know that God is right next to you. And He feels it with you.” (This is why Jesus wept when Lazarus died. He did not say “Silly Mary and Martha, I’m going to resurrect Lazarus! Don’t cry!” Rather, he entered into grieving with them.)

And, following God’s model, instead of offering my “function” in fixing the problem or answering the “why’s”, I offered my presence. “I’m here, too. And I miss her, too. And I’m with you.”

After a little bit, she was able to go back to bed.

 

This experience reminded me of a motif that is all over Scripture. While God talks about His function a lot in the Bible, it is at key moments that He offers His presence. To Israel. To the Jews. At the end of Matthew where Jesus says “And surely, I am with you to the end of the age.” We seek function or answers, but He offers His presence.

 

This last month, February 27th would have been my mom’s 74th birthday. But cancer made her 62th birthday her last on this.

My three daughters, who only know her from stories, do ask questions about her. And while I have discovered that the “what if they had met her” thoughts and the “I miss you” feelings never go away, the hurt, the pain, the sad, they do go away. I was taught, by a couple sermons, how to lean into the sadness and grieve well. My heart was able to heal.

One year after my mom’s death, Sarah and I got married. Four years after my mom’s death, I became a father. I entered this new life phase without my mom. But when I think about my mom, sadness is actually not my chief emotion. Actually…empowerment is.

My mom built my confidence and empowered me to be the instructor I need to be for my business. She taught me, by example, how empowerment beats criticism when it comes to parenting.

Honestly, thinking about my mom doesn’t lower my chin. Thinking about my mom gets me to approach parenting chin up, prepared to be the best damn parent I can possibly be. Although not perfect, my mom’s words built me up. Her encouragement while she was alive helps me combat the self-doubt that every parent feels in their parenting decisions, even to this day.

There is a saying: “When you were born, you were crying while everyone else around you is smiling. Live your life in such a way that when you are on your deathbed, everyone around you will be crying, but you will be smiling.”

When I die, I hope that my children and loved ones cry, and grieve. And then I hope they get back up and kick some @$$.

I hope that they grieve well, and then they drive forward to accomplish what God equipped them to accomplish. And I hope that I will have influenced them the way that God would wish.

Until then, I hope that those in my life feel empowered by my presence. I hope I can point them to God’s empowering presence. Not just my “function.”

Don’t worry about your function…your presence is powerful.

And to anyone who is grieving…grieve well. Know that God is with you. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

 

P.S. One last thought that I believe to be practical. Many parents worry about their “function” with their children. A good parent would be teaching them right from wrong. A good parent would find teachable moments. A good parent would make sure that our time together is spent on wholesome activities. A good parent would make sure that time is spent on education, not silly, meaningless things. I believe that meaningless time with our children is awesome time, because our presence is more important than our function. This is not to guilt parents into “Hey, spend more time with your children!” but rather, to lessen the stress on parents by saying “Don’t worry about HOW you spend time with your children. Just, spend it!”

Thanks for reading my thoughts. 😊

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