Both my parents passed away in the month of March. The anniversaries of their deaths are within one week of each other. It’s now been 20 years since my father went to glory and seven since my mom opened her eyes to the full presence of Jesus.
Two dear friends lost a father within the last year, and one—through burning tears—asked me if the intense grief will ever go away. She was close with her father, and his sudden loss caused overwhelming pain and longing.
Does the pain from loss go away? No. I don’t believe we ever shed the hurt entirely, though I do think time eases the despair. The sting that surfaces from time to time and the tears that well in varying seasons are reminders we’ll never feel OK with death—nor should we.
Until the Lord returns, death remains part of this broken and twisted world, so we seek comfort in various ways as we grieve it. Well-meaning people hoping to provide comfort often say things like “Your parents are watching you from above, and I know they’re proud of you.” Others share stories of unexplained phenomena related to their dead loved ones and seem to think we should all be looking for signs from beyond the grave.
The intention behind these ideas is a kind one. But may I gently suggest such statements try to make tangible something that’s intangible? And when we do this, our eyes can easily become stuck on what’s in front of us, causing us to miss the opportunity to look beyond to the One who provides the greatest comfort we could ever need or want.
Gracious Reminders from Jesus
Recently, a friend shared the incredible story of a satellite capturing a few moments of intimate family prayer and praise. My friend’s family had traveled to the place where their dear son and brother died in a car accident, and they stood on the road, circled up, praying as a family. A few weeks later, wanting to see the spot again where her son took his last breath, this mother searched for the road on Google Earth. To her amazement, a satellite had been flying over at the exact moment the family was assembled. There are photos that mark this precious gathering.
Some might say this was a sign from her son that he’s all right. But when we lose loved ones who had a relationship with Jesus, we don’t need hints from them. We can know they’re not just all right—they’re dancing, praising, and living in the very presence of Jesus! It takes faith to believe this. But the Scriptures assure us that while there are many mysteries surrounding the intermediate state, when we die, we wake in the presence of Jesus.
When we lose loved ones who had a relationship with Jesus, we don’t need assurance from them that they’re all right.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith isn’t conditioned upon what we can see with our eyes—it isn’t secured by the physical. Faith is the conviction God’s Word is true and there’s a spiritual world where God is present and always working.
How beautiful that God, in his graciousness, reminds us he’s with us, just as he did for this mother through a seemingly random photo taken by a satellite. How has the Lord assured you he’s near in the deep grief that accompanies loss? The evidence of his presence is there if we look, but let’s not get confused about who’s watching over us. Look beyond your loved one to see and experience the love and kindness of our great God.
Incomparable Comfort from Jesus
After I spoke at a retreat a couple of years ago, a woman approached me at the end of a session, embraced me, and said, “Your parents see your teaching, and I know they must be so proud.” That wasn’t the first time I heard these words uttered, but it was the first time the words stuck with me.
Are my parents really watching me?
The truth is, Scripture doesn’t give us enough evidence to say for sure one way or the other. It could be that the Lord provides glimpses of what’s going on in my life and in the lives of my sisters. But we do know that if our loved ones see things on earth, they don’t see with the same eyes you and I have because their perspective is no longer tainted by sin.
It’s important not to hyperfocus on what our loved ones may be seeing or not seeing. This emphasis can lead us to think more about our loved ones and less about Jesus. We might even begin to have more conversations with them than we do with the Lord. In Matthew 11, Jesus invites us to come to him when we’re tired, burdened, confused, or worn out. Jesus will provide real and lasting rest. Walk with Jesus, talk with Jesus. In him alone we’ll find the calming and comforting rhythms of grace.
Sure Hope in Jesus
Whether my parents see me now or not, I know I’ll see them again. And because the Lord in his grace and mercy opened my eyes to understand the death he died to pay for my sins, I know I too will one day see Jesus face to face.
Whether my parents see me now or not, I know I’ll see them again.
In the meantime, death doesn’t have the final say. Even as we grieve the loss of those we love so dearly, we know these goodbyes aren’t the end of the story. As the Heidelberg Catechism asks and answers,
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Amen and Amen. May we live the life God has given us so devoted to him that others will look past us and see our good and gracious God.
The Gospel Coalition