Last November (2015), I was called to the hospital for an emergency. It was a pastoral call. An unresponsive baby was rushed to emergency room and the family didn’t know anything yet. This child’s mother was on her way home from work and didn’t yet know that her baby was in dire straights in the hospital. Once she arrived, the doctors pulled us all together and shared with us the news of little Brayden’s passing. It was devastating. We later discovered that baby Brayden had died of pneumonia. There was nothing that could have been done.
I was asked to lead the funeral service. I had known Brayden’s mother, Morganne, and the surrounding family for years. I first met Morganne when she was in elementary school. Now she was a mother with a child who had just passed away.
What do I say?
What words does one share at a time of such unimaginable loss?
Those were both my questions and my petition to the LORD.
I share the words He gave me in the hope that others might need these words of hope as well…
As I was thinking and praying about what to share this afternoon, words were escaping me. This is unusual because my wife would say that I have a lot of words to say and being at a loss for words is unlike me.
Sitting in the emergency room with the family, waiting to hear the news from the doctors on Brayden’s condition… there weren’t a whole lot of words that came to my mind. Then, when Morganne arrived and we all heard the news from the doctors of little Brayden’s passing, we all struggled to make sense of the words we heard and didn’t quite know what to say.
- They seem so inadequate in a situation like this…
- What is the right thing to say?
- Seem meaningless to soothe the pain…
- Seem to fall short…
Words are symbols put together to carry meaning. Words are suitcases for significance.
I’ve been talking to the Lord about what words to say today… and I’ve been listening for His words on the matter.
I have children: two young girls. In order to empathize with another human being we try to step into their shoes in order to identify with their experience. As I was thinking about what this family might be going through, these words came to mind…
If I were in your shoes, this is what I would need to hear:
- God’s got this. You may not understand, but God does. Allow that knowledge to drive you to faith and repentance.
- You didn’t do anything wrong in your life to deserve this. You are NOT being punished for your sins.
- There is no one to blame (either yourself or another). Blame will only lead to never-ending heartache and perpetual bitterness and eventual cynicism.
- You will see Brayden again. And he will see you again. He is in the loving hands of God… even greater, if you can believe it, than your hands.
- Jesus knows your pain. He knew sorrow and loss. He wept at his friend’s death.
- You are loved by many. When it seems unbearable, there are many who love you all deeply. And even if you don’t need words, you really need the presence (silent words) of those who love you deeply.
I would also need to know that there is hope:
- Hope that this gets better…
- Hope that you can still function in life…
- Hope that you won’t ever forget this little boy and his impact on your life…
- Hope that this incredible heartache leads to life in the present moment and into the future…
…because to be honest, it all feels pretty hopeless, doesn’t it?
What words could possibly be uttered that could soothe this incredibly real and stabbing pain?
This might sound weird, but hear me out:
In the Old Testament of the Bible there’s a vision of a valley of bones. Ezekiel was one of Israel’s prophets and the LORD showed him this valley. The LORD asked Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?” to which Ezekiel answered: “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Then the LORD said to Ezekiel:
Prophesy [speak words] to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’
And the LORD did what he said he would do: he resurrected the valley of dry bones and gave them life.
People who believe and follow Jesus attribute this vision to what happened to Jesus when he died and came back to life, what is happening when human beings die, and what will happen in the future to everyone when Jesus makes all things new.
This all gets a little out there, but I believe these words to be both powerful and applicable here in this moment.
We need to know that there is hope amidst pain and suffering, heartache and loss. So what is the hope?
When a close friend of Jesus died, he said this:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
In other words, Jesus’ friend was physically dead, but spiritually alive. This is important for hope. Physically dead, but spiritually alive. Deep down we all sense that this physical world is not all there is. We know there has got to be something greater, otherwise life is just cruel. Natural selection, strong eating the weak, survival of the fittest, is just not good news! We sense, rightly so, that there is more to human existence than just our physical containers we call bodies.
On behalf of the Sovereign LORD, as one of his messengers, I would like to offer you hope: while Brayden has physically departed this world and our presence, he is spiritually alive! That is hope on which we can anchor our pain and sorrow, heartache and loss.
My hope is that we believe this.
There was a time during Jesus’ life on earth where many of his disciples were abandoning him, deserting him. When asked if the twelve were going to leave him, too, one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, said this:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
My hope is that we all believe this. This doesn’t take away the pain, it just reminds us—in the sorrow—that in Jesus is who we can place our hope in. After all, Jesus is The Word. The word became flesh and dwelt among us…
So, family: when you’re in need of hope… when you’re in need of words… remember, believe, and follow the one who is the embodiment of all words of comfort: Jesus.
So, friends of the family: when the family is in need of words, bring them Jesus… bring them his words of life that give hope and meaning, even in the face of heartache and loss.
Photo credit: Freeimages.com/Bob Smith