Friday, February 18, 2011

Death and First Generation Believers

Death.  It's been a subject of conversation in our house and within our team.  My husband's aunt died this year.  He was never close to this aunt, as she had a tongue about as sharp as a flaying knife.  He is now with his family, and they are remembering the aunt.

One of our good friends here also passed away.  He was in his late eighties, and ready to go.  Ready to join his wife, siblings, and parents in heaven.  We went to the funeral.  Later on, one of my team members questioned me about funerals.  "Is it a different culture here that no one cries at funerals?"

I knew what she meant.  Back there, the grieving at funerals is so intense that it was not uncommon to see people scream to the point of passing out over the dead body as they wailed in grief.

She found these funerals confusing.  People did not cry.

I explained that because we have hope, we do not grieve the same.  She could mentally understand this, but she could not totally grasp it.  She said, "but we still cry... we miss them so!"  I agreed that we missed people, but in cases like this where one has died after a long, faithful life - especially where the spouse has already died - we often do not cry.  That "uncle" is so happy now.  He is with Jesus.  There is no grief.  Even if we could, we would not want him back - his suffering is over.  It would be selfish to grieve so much for our own sadness and not be thrilled for him.  We are sad, yes, but we are also so happy for him.

I did tell her that she will see more tears at a younger person's funeral.  Then we do cry - not so much for the one who had died, but for the pain of those left behind.  Then she will see tears... but they will also be mixed in with a quiet, unshakable hope.  This life is not the end.

She could understand.  I could see it in her face that she mentally agreed with all we said.  But her heart could not wrap around it.  I told myself to be patient.  She has not grown up with death as we have.  We grew up knowing this life is temporary.  We grew up hearing of heaven and how wonderful it was.  For my friend, a first generation believer, death is a whole different thing.

She was trained to fear it.  There was no happy ending.  In her family, like in my husband's, there was no one who has died with hope.  She has not seen that.  When she thinks of her family dying, it is only without hope.  While her mind understands the hope believers have, her gut reaction to death is still intense grief.  Learning to approach something with a complete change of thinking takes time.

I believe she will one day view death of believers as we do... as this family did when they spoke of their grandfather's "promotion" into the next life.  It will just take time.  Time and the slow renewing of her mind.

I'm glad she felt free to question and bring her fears out.  I'm thankful for my family who taught me both with their words and their lives not to fear death.  I'm thankful that on the other side is a big reunion.

But in the middle of my peace, I need to remember to let my heart break for those first generation believers like my husband to whom a death in the family is going to mean eternal separation.  I've never faced a death like that yet in my life... the thought is horrifying.  And when my friend questions me because she can't understand all the joy we have, I need to hear her fears.  She has to cut a new trail into the difficult confusion of dealing with death.  I get to walk one already laid out for me by those who have lived and died in front of me.

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