Faith Renewed Through Mourning
Saying that last year was a difficult year, is a major understatement. I would venture to say that human beings who have made it through last year will need time to heal from all the upheaval and challenges that were experienced. Several people I know have told me that 2020 was the most difficult year of their lives.
My experience was no different. The pandemic had a direct impact on preventing my job from flourishing, the first dog I ever owned died of an aggressive mast cell cancer, and I lost my father due to COVID-19. All that, coupled with the isolation that came with the lockdown, not being able to properly bury my father, and not even being able to travel to my country to see my family, compounded my sense of loss.
The only true and solid constant in my life was God. I can tell you in all confidence that in fact, he gave me joy! So, I want to share a few lessons grace has taught me about loss and grief. Perhaps you haven’t lost anyone close to you recently, but since we live in this world of sin and death, unfortunately if Jesus doesn’t return before, you will experience it. It is my hope the Lord uses what I share to prepare you for what is to come or to lead you back to joy in him as you mourn.
Death is like a punch in the gut of your soul. Even the thought of it potentially happening to one of your loved ones is a horrific feeling. When I found out that my dad had COVID, my heart sunk. My wife and I prayed together, and we wholeheartedly told the Lord that we would trust him with the outcome. However, I didn’t sleep that night. I was not at peace, and my mind was racing the entire night with every possible thought.
It was right around Easter when he was taken to the hospital. God did a miracle in my life. I remember sitting in my living room watching the Good Friday service and singing as Denise Rispens led us in the song “All for Love” and feeling supernaturally comforted. That Easter Sunday through Facebook Live I shared from my kitchen counter the most hope-filled and seriously joyful sermon I’ve ever preached, as my father was dying in a hospital bed thousands of miles away. He died a few days later, not surrounded by loved ones, and not being able to communicate with us; not even through a phone call or video chat.
What has happened seems unreal. “How can this happen?” you wonder. But it is real. Until Jesus Christ brings the new creation, death is gut wrenching. Even to the most faithful Christian, it’s painful. C.S. Lewis would say, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
Don’t hide it. Don’t mask it. Don’t avoid talking about your loved one or the pain you’re going through. Be like Jesus. Weep in public if necessary, around your loved ones, your small group, your church. Our society and culture says that is improper and embarrassing. It calls adult people who cry in public “crybabies.” It often looks down on those who get too emotional. It shames them as being weak.
And yet, in the Bible we see a weeping Savior; a perfect, sinless God-Man, Jesus Christ who weeps over the pain and loss of his children (John 11:35; Luke 19:41) and who even encourages us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). “Mourning is healthy because when you mourn in this way, the God of all comfort hears your cry and comes near with comfort that is profoundly more healing than a new situation, relationship, or location could ever be.”
Be more like Jesus. Embrace the real emotions. Stoicism isn’t biblical. Honesty with those around us is. The world of today needs more Christians who live authentically, even in the worst of times. I remember not being able to cry until the morning after my father’s Zoom funeral service. My wife found me sobbing in front of my computer as I was re-watching it. It was a healing moment. Since then, I’ve been able to cry with the Lord a few more times. Lean into those moments; don’t shy away from them.
I’m told the feelings of loss never go away, but as times goes by, you learn to live with them. When my mother came to spend a few months with us, she would bring up the memory of my father in almost every conversation. But she did so, in her own goofy sort of way, with humor as she recalled the happy moments she enjoyed in almost fifty years of life with him. I have begun to learn to do that as well, and it has been comforting.
Let the Gospel Teach You
Trials, loss, breakups, grieving are the experiences that evidence what our lives and faith are made of. C.S. Lewis says, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
Difficult times are a test, but when by God’s grace we overcome those tests, our lives and our faith in our loving God become stronger. Peter says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor” (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV).
The evil one will tempt you to become cynical, bitter, apathetic, and to detach yourself from the pain of others, and even detach from those whom you love. In fact, Tim Keller says “The greatest threat to our hope for a better world is not the natural environment but the various evils that continually spring from the human heart.”
I have a strong tendency to be grumpy. I once heard someone say that grumpy old men didn’t become grumpy because they got old. They were young and grumpy. So, don’t be young and grumpy. Instead, go back to the Word of God and rejoice in who God is, who you are in him through the gospel; dream about the new heavens and the new earth, be grateful for the life you have right now, and embrace hope. “Pressing hope into your grief makes you wise, compassionate, humble, and tenderhearted. Grieve fully yet with profound hope!… This will give you more strength than stoicism and more freedom to lament than hopelessness.” God will use trials to make you more like Jesus.
Find Hope, Joy, and Gratitude
Pop culture today says, “be positive,” “only good vibes,” “love yourself,” “you’re strong,” etc. But it doesn’t provide any way or power to be optimistic, to have a positive attitude about life or to come to grips with the fact that sometimes life can be really hard. On the other hand, the gospel is the power of God for salvation, not only for eternal life, but also for the life we get to live here! Therefore, let biblical truths such as the love and sovereignty of God, the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, the reality of the resurrection, the second coming of Jesus, the new heaven and the new earth, the end of all sin and death, be the rebuilding blocks to a renewed hope and a joyful present. Far from finding a silver lining, “the Christian approach is decidedly different since the believer trusts in a sovereign God who can turn any situation to their good (Rom. 8.28) and who can make someone more than triumphant in any adversity or other circumstance (Rom. 8.31-39).” In Christ, “in all these things we are more than conquerors!” (Romans 8:37).
I remember the days immediately after my father’s passing, feeling in my heart something like a persistent suspense that wouldn’t go away. I had so many unfinished conversations with my dad, so many experiences yet to live with him, including the birth of my son, Alejandro Enrique. My father was the object of those thoughts, feelings, and conversations. What will I do with them now? In no other time in my life had the doctrine of God and his sovereignty become more real to me than at that time. It became real, in the sense that it gave me contentment with the time and experiences God had given me with my father. God is my ultimate Father. He loves me even more than my earthly father ever did (and he loved me very much)! But God in his infinite wisdom ordained that it was time. He has said to me that, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Therefore, I’m grateful to God for the father he gave me and the time I got to spend with him. God’s sovereign plan for him and for me is perfect.
Purpose, Community, and Mission
As you press hope into your grief, you will experience a renewed sense of purpose and mission. It will not happen overnight or perhaps in a way that you expect, but it will happen. As you embrace your present, you will come to the realization that you have so much to live for. God will bring a revived desire to live for his glory by enjoying him, and the blessings and gifts he has given you. You will have a strong desire to share the gospel and the joyful community of church with others. You will also find that as you mourn biblically, your heart will have an authentically heightened sense to the pain and misfortune of others. When someone shares their struggle with you, your small group, or circle of friends, you will be able to more actively and caringly listen, say something uplifting, or ask appropriate questions, instead of simply nodding politely in response. With time and prayer, you will learn to pray, and lovingly and kindly reach out to help others who are suffering.
So, it is my prayer that you may grow more and more into the likeness of our Savior as you mourn. May what is hideous and frightening, cruel and unusual be turned into beauty, faith, hope, and love for God and for others. And remember that for God’s children, truly, the best is yet to come, for “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (London: Faber and Faber, 1961) Page Unknown.
 Paul David Tripp, Journey to the Cross: a 40-Day Lenten Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 40.
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (London: Faber and Faber, 1961), 20-21.
 Timothy Keller, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (New York: Viking, 2021), xviii.
 Timothy Keller, On Death (New York: Penguin Random House, 2020), 47.
 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 260.