Grieving With Hope

On March 28, my sister died unexpectedly at the age of 24. She had a seizure that was so big that she had a heart attack and died in the shower. She was getting ready for her first day on a weekend retreat for the purpose of slowing life down, breathing, praying, meditating and connecting to God again. Not gaining any special wisdom about her future, or the meaning of her life—just simply to be with God for the weekend.

How ironic that at the onset of a weekend like that, to experience God’s presence, she died and walked into the fullness of His presence.

Many people have told me that her life was “cut short,” or that she died a “meaningless death,” that this wasn’t “God’s will.”

I’ll have none of that.

Soon after my sisters death, I began reading Ecclesiastes and came across this offensive verse: “The day of death better than the day of birth” (7:1, TNIV).

What does that mean? How does that make sense?

This verse only makes sense if death is not just seen as the end of life, but the fulfillment of it.

When my sister was born, my parents wondered what Liz’s life would look like. What would she become? Whom would she marry? What job would she have? Where would she move out to? How would her life change other people’s lives? It was a beautiful time when all these questions ran through their heads. All these dreams they had for her, all the desires, all the time they spent praying for her, all before she was born. Then finally, my parents began watching her grow up and saw her grow into the things they had dreamed for her. They began to experience the heart-wrenching pain of watching her make stupid decisions. Liz’s birth and life, like every single one of ours, was all about potential.

Liz died, and how is that better than her birth?

Liz’s death was all about fulfillment, all about answers. My parents would have never dreamed that 1,000 people would come to their 24-year-old daughter’s funeral. My parents would never have imagined some of the stories that were told about Liz. Her death was about fulfillment, about culmination, about answered promises.

Liz’s day of death is better than her day of birth because now we can look back on her life and pray and reflect and see all the beautiful things God did in it.

Liz was born into sin, a sinful world and a sinful nature, but she died into perfection and the fullness of her Savior.

Liz’s death can only be seen as beautiful, better than her birth, if we have a God who planned to take her back at the very moment He did. God wasn’t shocked that Liz died; it was His plan. Liz had fulfilled everything He set out for her, and now she has “receive[d] an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Colossians 3:24).

Liz lived, died and gained Him.

What more could I ask for?

Am I hurting? More than I ever have before. Is it hard to trust God still? Yes.

Liz’s death, painful as it is, was a beautiful thing. God was made bigger because of it. God wins. Liz wins.

So I guess that leaves me in a weird place where despair and hope collide.

Psalm 88:10–12 says, “Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave … Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?”

Many times in the evangelical community we are taught that grieving is bad. That to hurt is to not trust completely. I don’t know how that thought has crept in when texts like this are in Scripture.

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It is OK for me to hurt and to hurt terribly bad. To cry out. To put God in the dock. To accuse Him.

However, it is foolish for me to do so without hope. In a way, I can understand the psalter’s sentiments here. Anger at God. Weakness. A desire to give up. Just wanting to die. Psalm 88:18 says, “You [God] have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend.” There is no hope in this psalm. Psalm 39, another psalm with no hope, ends with the following words: “Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again before I depart and am no more.”

These texts are seemingly hopeless in the context in which they are written. But there is hope.

Who is the One who has ever truly endured darkness (Psalm 39:13)? Who is the One who has worked wonders from the dead (Psalm 88:10)? Who has departed, and still has risen to praise Him (Psalm 88:10)?

Though hopeless in their context, in the greater context of Jesus, these verses are full of hope.

Jesus conquered death. Jesus suffered the true darkness so that I can endure my momentary darkness. Jesus rose from the dead so that while I am dying now, I can fix my eyes on Him.

So do I grieve? Yes. There are no steps to grief—there’s no process to it, and closure is the myth of the century.

But I grieve with hope. I grieve with confidence. Liz’s life was amazing, but not near as amazing as her death.

Isaiah 53:11 says, “As a result of the anguish of His soul, he will see it and be satisfied” (NASB).

Out of the anguish of my soul, because Christ has gone before me, through Him I have seen and am satisfied.

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