There is a very difficult thing not to do for a person who lost a loved one at what would seem to be a premature age. It is a tendency for many of us to want to “imagine” in a way that the person is still with you in your own perception of time and space. It is hard not to look into a room and imagine your loved one right there. It is hard not to think about the number of days passed since that person was called to Heaven. It is hard not to celebrate those special days (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) Some people do these things more so than others. It’s just the way that each person learns to heal in the process. I have learned that grief does not come with a universal road map. It is very personal and unique to each person whom God calls to such a journey.
I myself have not counted days at all since Susana was called home to Heaven. As a matter of fact, it was just a few days ago that I realized that it was the 11th of October and it made me realize that Susana has been gone now for 8 months, though in so many ways it seems as if it was just yesterday. Now, I certainly have cried my eyes out in those eight months, but for me personally, I just haven’t kept track of the days. But I know others on this journey who know the exact number of months, weeks, and days since their loved one was called home. Everybody just has their own way of walking on such a journey. And everybody hurts who is on such a journey. That’s just the way it is.
But, there is one thing that I believe all of us (who have lost loved ones) have to avoid doing…playing the should have, could have, would have game. I myself have been guilty and I’m sure that many of us who walk this road have done it as well. But, the more I understand God’s complete sovereignty over every single life on this planet, the more I realize the danger, and even sometimes sin of playing such a game, depending on our attitude at the time. Allow me to explain:
An example of the should have, would have, could have game: My wife, daughter, newborn son, and I have just moved back to Haiti where we serve as missionaries. The last time that we were all here Susana was with us. So, as we are moving stuff into our new house here in Haiti, I look at my daughter Isabela playing in her room by herself between the 2 beds, one that belongs to her and the other that belonged to Susana, and I say to myself with great pain in my heart, “Susana should be here with us right now.” And that’s the way that I feel…like there is something missing and that if Susana could be here, then everything would be okay. It seems very simple and very harmless, right? But think about how that statement can offend God. Me saying that Susana should be here right now is an offense to the sovereignty of God. It is an indirect way of me saying, “God, your plan went wrong. This is not right. You messed up.” And I don’t want to say such things to a God who I know does all things well, who works all things for the good of those who love Him, and who does not let a sparrow fall to the ground apart from it being His will.
So, I am not saying that celebrating that special day with your loved one who has been taken by God is a bad thing, but it does become dangerous when we let our imagination get to the point where we stare at the number of candles on the cake and say that our loved one passed should be the one blowing out the candles. It may sound harmless, but it is not. In a way, you are saying that God messed up. And we must hold to the truth no matter how great our heart aches, that He did not mess up. He is in full control. He knows what is best for us and for our loved one who is now with Him. He does all things well.
It is dangerous for me to imagine to the point where I say, “Susana could have been such an incredible worship leader because she had a beautiful voice and love to sing worship songs to Jesus all the time.” Or, “Susana would have been such a great missionary because she was so compassionate.” Or, “Susana should have lived to an old age. These sound harmless, but I must be careful because they can have a tendency to challenge God’s sovereignty. She couldn’t have been a great worship leader (though I’m sure she is singing her heart out now) because God never appointed her the days to do so. She shouldn’t be here with us right now because it was appointed by our great and loving God who does all things well that her days on earth were to end just over eight months ago. Her days were not cut short whatsoever. Every one of them was ordained. God didn’t mess up. There are no plans for her future here on earth that will now never come to be…there never were in the first place! God’s will was accomplished. And for me to start thinking what she should have been, would have been, or could have been is to assume in some way that she had this future ahead of her that she never got to experience because something went wrong. And that is just.not.true.
So again, for the Christian, we must hold on to the truth regardless of what our feelings tell us. We must walk by faith, and not by sight. We must fix our eyes on what is unseen, which is eternal, rather than on what is seen, which is only temporary. We must control our emotions, as hard as it is when we are experiencing so much pain, so that God’s sovereign will is still magnified in our lives. We all grieve in such a different way. Count the days if you so wish to do, visit the grave site, or remove the pictures and reminders, it’s just a personal preference. But avoid letting your imaginations take you to the should have, would have, or could have place which can indirectly offend the Sovereign God who holds your loved ones even now.
Below is an excerpt that I just read from a puritan writer (some of my favorite things to read) named Richard Baxter. He writes much about how to view death and glorify God. I hope that anybody who is walking this road can be challenged and encouraged by these words.
Direct. X. To overcome your inordinate grief for the death of your relations, consider these things following.
1. That excess of sorrow is your sin: and sinning is an ill use to be made of your affliction.
2. That it tends to a great deal more: it unfits you for many duties which you are bound to, as to rejoice in God, and to be thankful for mercies, and cheerful in his love, and praise, and service: and is it a small sin to unfit yourselves for the greatest duties?
3. If you are so troubled at God’s disposal of his own, what does your will but rise up against the will of God; as if you grudged at the exercise of his dominion and government, that is, that he is God! Who is wisest, and best, and fittest to dispose of all men’s lives? Is it God or you? Would you not have God to be the Lord of all, and to dispose of heaven and earth, and of the lives and crowns of the greatest princes? If you would not, you would not have him to be God. If you would, is it not unreasonable that you or your friends only should be excepted from his disposal?
4. If your friends are in heaven, how unsuitable is it, for you to be overmuch mourning for them, when they are rapt into the highest joys with Christ; and love should teach you to rejoice with them that rejoice, and not to mourn as those that have no hope.
5. You know not what mercy God showed to your friends, in taking them away from the evil to come, you know not what suffering the land or church is falling into; or at least might have fallen upon themselves; nor what sins they might have been tempted to. But you are sure that heaven is better than earth, and that it is far better for them to be with Christ.
6. You always knew that your friends must die; to grieve that they were mortal, is but to grieve that they were but men.
7. If their mortality or death be grievous to you, you should rejoice that they are arrived at the state of immortality, where they must live indeed and die no more.
8. Remember how quickly you must be with them again. The expectation of living on yourselves, is the cause of your excessive grief for the death of friends. If you looked yourselves to die to-morrow, or within a few weeks, you would less grieve that your friends are gone before you.
9. Remember that the world is not for one generation only; others must have our places when we are gone; God will be served by successive generations, and not only by one.
10. If you are christians indeed, it is the highest of all your desires and hopes to be in heaven; and will you so grieve that your friends are gone thither, where you most desire and hope to be?
Wow!!! Even just reading these 10 statements each day could do me a world of good as I try my best to keep running the race of faith that He has called me to. Numbers 3, 8, and 10 really speak to my heart. What about you? I really hope that this encourages some of you.