The other day, I was having lunch with a good friend who pastors a nearby church. His best friend had recently died and it was hitting my friend particularly hard. He had to stop and compose himself several times during our lunch. “I’m sorry, ” he would say, “but this one is hitting me harder than most.”
Funny thing about being a pastor. We minister at a lot of funerals, but we don’t ever get to go to a funeral. If someone dies, the family will call us and we’ll go see the family, plan the service and tend to the pastoral care needs of the family. When the day of the service comes, we’ll lead the family into the sanctuary, preside over the service and then, lead the family out. We’ll be on our feet the entire time. We’ll never get the time to just sit and grieve. As pastors, we’re always supposed to be “on”. Anytime someone dies, we’re expected to model composure and grace. We’re expected to know just what to say. We’re never allowed to grieve. I learned a long time ago, no one wants to know about the pastor’s pain. We’re there to take care of those who are suffering and if the pastor is suffering, pastors need to keep that to themselves.
Yet, we do grieve. We bury friends and members of our families. We stand in silence when the world doesn’t go right. No parent should have to bury a child. No child should lose a parent too soon. Friends are taken, leaving journeys unfinished and conversations unsaid. As ministers, we’re supposed to be able to say something that makes the moment make sense. We give word to everyone’s grief, but we don’t get to grieve ourselves.
Several years ago, I learned to slip away and have my own funeral services. Whenever I was particularly impacted by grief, I would slip away to a secluded place and I would attend a funeral service for myself. I would sit quietly. I would stand and sing hymns (remember, no one was around so my singing didn’t affect any one else’s worship experience). I would read Scripture and I would pray. Then, I would say what needed to be said. I would be grateful for the life I had shared with the deceased. I would grieve their loss and I would yell out my anger. And I would cry. I would let myself go. I wouldn’t worry about staying in control or what I looked like. I would let go of my grief in great heaves and sobs.
Then, I would pick myself up and go back to the people I needed to serve.
I suggested this to my friend. “Make your own funeral service, ” I said. “A service that is just for you. You have to grieve,” I told him. “If you don’t, it will eat you up inside.”
Which brings me to this thought: maybe all of us need our own funeral services as we leave 2023. Maybe we need to find a quiet place and sing a few a hymns, pray, and then, give word to all we’ve lost in 2023.
We lost friends. Some of them died. Illness, disease and old age all took their toll. From now on, we’ll walk this journey alone and we’ll miss their company. Other friends we just lost. They didn’t die, but we can’t find them. Some moved away and promised to stay in touch, but they didn’t. Others have just stopped responding. We’ve been ghosted and we don’t know why. Every unanswered query is a little death.
Mistakes were made. Some were small and the only thing wounded was our egos. Still hurts, but there’s no permanent damage. Other mistakes, however, were colossal. Words got angry. Feelings hurt and relationships were wounded. Try as we might, we haven’t been able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And we grieve.
Dreams died. We had always dreamed of being a rock star or writing that great novel. We thought we were in line for the next promotion and it didn’t happen. Not only did these not come true in 2023, we now understand they’ll never come true. Maybe these dreams will be replaced by new dreams, but maybe not. The hard reality of our lives is dreams don’t always come true. Sometimes, they die. So, we grieve.
So, gather up all your sadness and let’s have a funeral for all we lost in 2023.
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. Sit in a comfortable chair and sit there as long as you need to in order to get there. Breathe. Speak the reasons for service. Name every person lost. Name every failure and regret. Take your time. Feel each loss. Grieve.
Grieve, yes, but remember we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. So, sing a hymn. There’s a reason we sing at funeral services. Sometimes, we can’t find find the words we need so we look to brothers and sisters who have walked these roads before us.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, it is well with my soul!’”
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
We’re not the only ones who have suffered loss. Others have been here before us and God has seen them through. He’ll see us through as well.
Confess what needs to be confessed.
Forgive those who need to be forgiven.
Then, let it go. Hold your hands up and release it all to God. Empty your hands of all the grief you carry. You can’t receive the new mercies of God if your hands are filled with yesterday’s regrets. Let it all go. Empty your heart. Empty your hands.
Now, give the Spirit time to fill your life again. Bask in the love and mercy of the Father.
2024 is here .
From and what I can tell, we’re going to need both hands free to handle it.