In memory of my brother,
Brad Weber, 1956 – 2017
“Do you think Brad misses his family in heaven?” This was the question my sister, Laura, asked when my brother died. “Will he miss the walks he took with his wife and a lifetime of shared intimacy? Will he miss being with his grown children and cheering them on as they find their own way? Or will heaven be such a wonderful place that there will no room for grief and tears?”
Our basic assumption is that grief is a “negative” emotion to get through as quickly as possible. Because it is so painful, we try to avoid it and treat it as something bad. Because it is so painful, we think that there will be no grief in heaven.
But what if grief is God’s gift to us? What if grief is God’s way to bring healing to broken hearts, both now, and in heaven?
Dr. Ron Walborn, president of Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, NY, believes that grief is a gift. He defines grieving as the process that brings our wounds to the surface and exposes them to the healing power of God. “Grief,” he says,” is a spiritual discipline that allows you to move on with your life. If you don’t grieve your wounds, they will ‘own’ you. You will be stuck in the past and unable to move on to the new things that God wants to do in your life.” (From a lecture at the Christian Health Care Center, Wyckoff, NJ, May, 2017).
According to Walborn, grief is not limited to the death of our loved ones, but encompasses all the seasons of our life. For example, we need to grieve the transitions in our children’s lives—the first day of school, graduation from high school, and yes, even their marriages. When we recognize that a significant part of our lives have ended and a new thing has begun, we keep ourselves from becoming “helicopter” parents and free our children to find their own way. When we get a new job or move to a new home, we must grieve the good things we are giving up—a home filled with memories, a change in friends, etc.—in order to fully embrace our future.
As we grow older we must grieve the loss of independence and increasing health problems. This grieving allows us to age graciously. It reminds us of our dependence on God and others, and frees us to let go of our fierce pride in our own independence. It enables us to bless our children and caregivers by graciously accepting their care.
As we approach our own death we must grieve our successes, failures and the loss of our loved ones. This preparatory grieving helps us to prepare ourselves to spend eternity with our Lord. We let go of all that has been, both good and bad, in order to make room for something more. For when we grieve we become free to pray with the Psalmist :
“Whom have I in heaven but thee?
And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.”
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever (Psalm 73:25-26).”
Dolly Parton (that great pastoral counselor and theologian) once said, “Laughter through tears, is one of my favorite emotions.” To me that is what grief is—laughter through tears. The tears come first, but with the passing of time, love, joy and laughter also begin to well up within the soul.
So to answer my opening question: “Do I think Brad misses his family in heaven?” the answer is “Yes!” To be human is to grieve; to be spiritually alive we must pass through grief. Some day, when the New Jerusalem descends, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. But for right now, I believe that Jesus and Brad are reviewing his life with both tears and laughter, bringing healing to the broken parts, strengthening the weak parts and refining the good parts. When they are done, Brad will love his family, and his God, even more than he did in this life.
Rev. Michael A. Weber, ©May 18, 2017.
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