My father is dying. It’s a sentence I never dreamt I’d be writing this year. Just a year ago my dad was a vibrant and healthy 77-year-old man. In February, my Father was diagnosed with lung cancer. The cancer had already metastasized into his liver and bones. Dad began a valiant yet short battle with cancer. He handled the chemo very well and at times we were very hopeful and encouraged. However, just a couple of weeks ago, we found out cancer had engulfed his entire body and traveled into his head and even has lodged itself in my Dad’s bone marrow. With very little hope of physical healing, Dad stopped treatment and we called in hospice to care for him during his remaining days. Today, he is literally sleeping in his deathbed waiting for the Father to call him home.
Two things I have learned well in ministry: I hate cancer and death stinks. I learned to hate cancer when my sister, Krista, battled cancer so courageously and won. Far too often in ministry, and with my father’s illness, I am reminded how much I hate cancer. And as Dad lay dying, I am reminded once again about how much death stinks. If you have ever suffered through the death of a loved one, you know what I mean. In preparing my fall sermon series, God had me in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. It is a beautiful and a very personal letter. In the first two chapters, Paul teaches us a remarkable dichotomy about death. It is something I’m learning first hand and a lesson I want to encourage you.
The first lesson is found in chapter 1. It’s rather simple and straightforward: For Paul to live is Christ to die is gain (1:21). The second lesson is in chapter 2. Paul’s friend, Epaphroditus, was very ill. He was ill to the point of death but God spared his life. Paul’s second lesson is rather simple too: If his friend would have died, Paul would have suffered “sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27). Do you see the contrast? On one hand, if Paul died, it would be gain. Why? Because in death he will be “with Christ which is better by far” (1:23). On the other hand, if his friend died, Paul would have been greatly grieved and would have experienced sorrow upon sorrow. Paul is giving us the right to grieve and to hurt even though we live in the knowledge of the reality of the resurrection.
What can I take from this? For the believer who dies, death is beautiful and is a remarkable gain. If the Lord’s tarries, the only way a Christian will see Christ is through the passageway of death. However, for the loved ones left behind, death stinks. The void we feel is real, the pain in the depths of our soul is real, and the tears we cry never seem to dry up. My father’s death will mean gain for him. He will be absent from the body yet present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). The presence of Christ is “better by far” (Phil 1:23). He will be more alive than you and me. I heard one time that Christians leave the land of the dying and enter the land of the living. I really like that idea. But for my mom, my brother, sister, my family and dad’s friends, his death means sorrow, pain and hurt.
So, what will I do when my father passes away?
- I will grieve.
In his amazing grace, God gives us tears. I will cry. I already find myself crying. Just the other day, I turned to one of my dad’s old books and I saw his handwriting. If you have ever tried to read his handwriting, you will know I didn’t really read his note. I just knew it was his and I cried. I find myself crying in the most bizarre places. I came home the other day and just wept driving into the driveway. How weeps driving into a driveway? A person thinking about this father dying, that is who. Tears are a very healthy way of expressing grief. Do not be afraid to cry. God also gives us touch. I can’t tell you how invaluable my wife and kids will be to me. I will hold Heidi’s hand and hug my kids. I will share my pain with my family. As we hold one another, cry and hug God’s healing balm will be passed from one individual to the next. Together we will walk through this difficult time.
- I will grieve with hope.
My dad is dying but he will not die! My dad will breathe his last breath but he will be alive! When my father was diagnosed with cancer in February, I knew my greatest hope was not for my dad to be physically healed. My greatest hope is that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. My greatest hope lies in the fact that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for my sins, for dad’s sins, and for your sins. My only real hope is that Jesus was resurrected on the third day and my dad will be resurrected on the Last Day. Because Jesus lives my dad shall live! That is the truth of the Gospel. That though my father dies, he will be alive forevermore. It is that truth I trust. It is that truth I press into and anchor my soul in those dark moments. It is that truth I continually preach to myself through my pain and tears. In time, it is that truth that will overcome the darkness of my grief.
Tears, touch, truth and trust are all given to us by God to help us navigate the road of grief. My grief will be a journey I take with my Lord and family. It will be a journey, unlike anything I’ve traveled. You may be on a similar journey. Don’t compare your grief journey with mine. If you have had to endure the death of a spouse or child, your grief and pain will be much more than mine. Allow yourself to grieve. Allow yourself to cry. If you are walking through grief, remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to. If you are in Salina, I’d be more than happy to talk with you. I may not have a lot of answers but I will point you to our wonderful Savior and the truths of the hope in the Gospel. As a pastor, I am giving your permission to grieve, to hurt and to heal. God is faithful and will see you through. Pray for my family and me. We are asking God to allow us to grieve but in our grief to make much of Jesus. My dad is dying and that really stinks.