Photo Credit: National Institute on Aging
Time can be so fluid…like water in our hands. Hard to hold onto. This is evidenced often in this blog as Monday Morning Moments are posted on Tuesdays at times, and Friday Faves don’t make it up until Saturday or Sunday…or not until the next week.
Life happens…and is punctuated by significant and not-so events. One full-stop experience is the death of a loved one. It stops us in our tracks. We are shocked by it even when we see it coming. Death turns our feet into concrete and yet at the same time moves us to action. Necessary action that drags us forward in dealing with the loss of that one so important to us. Someone has to make arrangements; someone has to make decisions.
When that someone is you, a grand narrative is born in the darkness of loss. It is a gift from God in the wake of bereavement.
We who are bystanders, or close watchers, in the company of one grieving can learn so much about life…and the attentiveness of God over that one in distress.
In Genesis, an account is given, centuries ago, of the death of Sarah, the beloved wife of Abraham. This Abraham is considered the founding father of three major world religions today. In the Scripture he was considered a friend of God (James 2:23), and his faith was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
The lessons on life that we learn from this husband grieving the loss of his wife include the following:
- Death of a loved one reorients us to the transient nature of life. Even though Abraham and Sarah had been married for 90-100 years, the day would come that death would separate them. Their lives had taken them far from their home of Ur, in Mesopotamia. For many years, they lived in Canaan, always in tents. Always “foreigners and outsiders” (Genesis 23:4). As Abraham wept over the loss of his wife, he realized he had no place to bury her. Should he take her back home or make some provision for burying her where they lived? No matter how long we live, how long we may be married, or how wealthy we are…in this life, in many ways, we are simply sojourners…passing through.
- The loss of someone we love moves us to put down a stake. In Abraham’s situation, this was a literal “planting a stake”. He negotiated with the men of Hebron to purchase a burial cave (and the land surrounding it) to lay his Sarah to rest. This was huge for him because, although he was wealthy, he had not bought any land, waiting on God. God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. Now, because of the necessity of a burial tomb, Abraham would stake claim to God’s promise by exercising his faith that Canaan would be his family home for all time. The cave for Sarah would also be where he and others in his family would be buried as well. In this land, Canaan. For many of us, the reality of losing a loved one brings into sharp clarity what all is lost with them. My mom was an incredibly faithful prayer warrior for her family and friends. She also lived a life of self-less service to others. It was joy for her that God would allow her such a life of purpose. When she died, I realized that putting down a stake, in her passing, would be to enter into the spiritual work she left behind. Taking hold of the baton my mom passed to us. Praying for and serving others. I’m not where she was in that…but growing.
- Even in our pain, we can trust God to give us wisdom and care in dealing with those around us. When we are grieving, life doesn’t feel normal. It’s as if we operate on slow-motion. Our thoughts are muddled. People are saying things to us but we can’t seem to hear correctly. In the depth of his grief, in order to secure a burial place for Sarah, Abraham had to deal with people not like him in a culture not his own. Yet, he negotiated with sensitivity and clarity. In fact, the way he did his business that day is a lesson for any of us in working with others. He was gracious and generous. The sale of that land to Abraham went very well for the seller, and the ownership of it should never come into question in the future. When we are faced with responding to others, in the midst of our grief, we can take his example. God will lead us to be our best selves, even in the hardest of situations…if we keep our eyes on Him and we treat those in front of us in good faith. When we lose someone, people usually mean well…even when motives are suspect, we can respond graciously. If, like the owner of the property Abraham would buy, the person seems focused on their own gain, we can act with wisdom and expedience. Abraham needed a burial place that would forever be considered his property. He did what needed to be done…and God gave grace.
- Lastly, whatever the loss, we can look to the future in hope and confidence. Abraham had a great promise from God for the future. He had only begun to see the promise unfold, but he trusted God for the rest (see Hebrews 11:13-16 below). When we lose someone the idea of never seeing them again would be horrific. In fact, I don’t see how people, who believe that this life is all we have, can survive the death of a loved one. Everything in this life gives evidence that we are made for eternity. I rejoice in the knowledge that this life is not our forever home. We have another homeland…a better place. God has it ready for His children – for that loved one we are mourning now and for us on another glorious day.
“These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” – Hebrews 11:13-16