As I said in my last post, I find comfort in prayer and meditation. I am not quite ready to describe what I experience when I go there. It is so precious and sacred and it would hurt if someone said or even thought it was “magical thinking” or some “well if it makes you feel better that’s good….” sort of thing. The entire comfort of it is its reality. I would not be comforted by pretense and I do not have imaginary friends. I will just say that the experience involves assurance that my son is with Jesus and is happy and involved in his new life.
But I am still in my body and cannot be in meditation all the time. Nor should I. I have to work, I have to go to the grocery store, I have to interact with family and friends, I have to move my body from place to place. I have to live this world where Jesse no longer lives. I must endure the stabs in the heart every time I think of some little thing I will never again see him do: walk through the front door, pet the dog talking in a high-pitched doggy voice, give that little chuckle so uniquely his, show us some cool new technology thing on the computer, pick up his laundry, open his annual Christmas pajamas and socks….. The rest of my life stretches before me — a Jesse-less desert. My love for him is rooted so deeply in my heart and its tendrils are interwoven throughout my being, but the growing flowering plant is ripped away.
Then the voice of reason or the voice of Jesus whispers, “Do not look ahead like that. You may be agonizing over a desert you will never need to cross. Even if you must walk those miles you will not walk them alone. Sorrow hurts but you don’t need to swell the pain to more than it needs to be.” I was in my car this morning when this thought came to me, on my way to the grocery store. I then took my iPhone and turned on an audio book I am listening to for a second time. It is a collection of sermons by the 19th-century itinerant preacher and prolific writer George MacDonald.
I have known for many years that George MacDonald had a huge influence on some of my favorite 20th century writers including C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, but until this summer I had not read any of his writings except The Princess and the Goblin, probably his best known children’s book. Then this past July, right in the middle of my summer project to catch up on my political philosophy reading, I suddenly had a strong desire to read MacDonald. I don’t know where the idea came from but it was persistent and irresistible. I found myself searching my Hoopla app for what was available on audio. I found the sermon collection, which is called Getting to Know Jesus, and also downloaded The Princess and Curdie, proving its never to late to read the sequel.
The sermons impressed and inspired me, the sincere and compassionate words shining new light on the teachings of Jesus, clearing away many musty old misconceptions. There is fresh spirit of truth and joy in these writings that filled me and made me thirst for more of the same. I had listened to three quarters of The Princess and Curdie by the day Jesse died. I finished that book about 10 days after. Everything is now before Jesse died (BJD) and after Jesse died (AJD). Today is 20 days AJD.
So the past couple of days I have been re-listening to Getting to Know Jesus and today on the way to the grocery store the sermon called “Sorrow – The Pledge of Joy” came on. It is a talk on Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” How much more alive did this sermon sound today than the first time I heard it. I hung on every word. This piece is the most encouraging comforting thing on mourning the dead I have ever heard. In the first paragraph MacDonald writes, “Grief is an ill-favored thing, but she is Love’s own child, and her mother loves her.”
You can read the entire sermon here but I will share a couple of passages that mean so much to me right now….
Much of what goes by the name of comfort, is merely worthless; and such as could be comforted by it, I should not care to comfort. Let time do what it may to bring the ease of oblivion; let change of scene do what in it lies to lead thought away from the vanished; let new loves bury grief in the grave of the old love: consolation of such sort could never have crossed the mind of Jesus. Would The Truth call a man blessed because his pain would sooner or later depart, leaving him at best no better than before, and certainly poorer–not only the beloved gone, but the sorrow for him too, and with the sorrow the love that had caused the sorrow? Blessed of God because restored to an absence of sorrow? Such a God were fitly adored only where not one heart worshipped in spirit and in truth.
“The Lord means of course,” some one may say, “that the comfort of the mourners will be the restoration of that which they have lost.” He means, “Blessed are ye although ye mourn, for your sorrow will be turned into joy.”
Yes, the only real comfort in the death of a loved one is that the dead one lives again and we will one day be reunited in even greater joy than before. At least for me there is no comfort in statements like “he lives on in our memories.” Memories are nice things, but I want him to live on as himself.
The next passage perfectly captures the feelings of a mother grieving a child. She does not want to hear that time will lessen the pain. She hardly cares about her pain. Her concern is that her child is okay and that she will see him again.
Assuredly they who mourn for their sins will be gloriously comforted, but certainly such also as are bowed down with any grief. The Lord would have us know that sorrow is not a part of life; that it is but a wind blowing throughout it, to winnow and cleanse. Where shall the woman go whose child is at the point of death, or whom the husband of her youth has forsaken, but to her Father in heaven? Must she keep away until she knows herself sorry for her sins? How should that woman care to be delivered from her sins, how could she accept any comfort, who believed the child of her bosom lost to her for ever? Would the Lord have such a one be of good cheer, of merry heart, because her sins were forgiven her? Would such a mother be a woman of whom the saviour of men might have been born? If a woman forget the child she has borne and nourished, how shall she remember the father from whom she has herself come? The Lord came to heal the broken-hearted; therefore he said, ‘Blessed are the mourners.’ Hope in God, mother, for the deadest of thy children, even for him who died in his sins. Thou mayest have long to wait for him–but he will be found. It may be, thou thyself wilt one day be sent to seek him and find him. Rest thy hope on no excuse thy love would make for him, neither upon any quibble theological or sacerdotal; hope on in him who created him, and who loves him more than thou. God will excuse him better than thou, and his uncovenanted mercy is larger than that of his ministers. Shall not the Father do his best to find his prodigal? the good shepherd to find his lost sheep? The angels in his presence know the Father, and watch for the prodigal. Thou shalt be comforted.
This passage talks about losing a child “who died in his sin,” a horrible thought. I know Jesse wasn’t perfect. None of us is. I am so grateful to have the assurance that he is not suffering. But I can imagine how much hope this would give grieving parents who are worried about that.