BLESSINGS OF BEREAVEMENT
by J. R. Miller, 1896
At first we would be disposed to say that no blessings can come out of bereavements. But the grace of God has such wondrous power, that even from the saddest desolating of a home—good may come.
One blessing from the breaking of a home circle is that thus we are led to think of our better home. If things went always smoothly with us here, if no flowers ever faded, if there were never any interruption in our earthly joys—we would not think of the enduring things of the eternal and invisible world. It is when earthly good fails us—that we learn to set our affections on heavenly good. Many a man has never found his home in God—until his human nest was desolated by the storms of sorrow!
A bereavement in a household, draws all the family closer together. Love never reaches its sweetest and best, until it has suffered. Homes which never have been broken, may be very happy in love, and very bright with gladness; but, after sorrow has entered as a guest, there is a depth in the love which was never experienced before. It is a new marriage when young parents stand side by side by the coffin of their first-born.
Grief is like a sacrament to those who share it with Christ beside them. It brings them into a holier fellowship than they have ever known in love's unclouded days. Many homes have been saved from harshness of spirit, and sharpness of speech, from pride and coldness and heedlessness—by a sorrow which broke in upon the careless life. The tones were softer after that. There was a new gentleness in all the life. Most of us need the chastening of pain to bring out the best of our love.
A bereavement ofttimes proves a blessing to those who remain, through the laying upon them of new burdens and responsibilities.
Many a son has become a man—the day he saw his father's form lowered into the grave, and then turned away to take up the mantle which had fallen at his feet—the care of his mother, and the management of home affairs.
Many a thoughtless girl has become a serious woman, as in a day—when she returned from her mother's funeral, and put her hand to the duties that now must be hers, if the home is to be maintained.
Many a father has grown almost instantly into beautiful gentleness, when the taking away of the mother of his little children compelled him to be to them henceforth, both father and mother. Heretofore he had left all this care to the mother. He had never done more than play with his baby when it was happy. Now he has to be nurse to it, soothing it when it cries, crooning lullabies to hush it to sleep, often walking the floor with it nights. It is hard—but the new care brings out in him beautiful qualities never suspected before.
Many a mother has been transformed from weakness to strength—by the bereavement which took her husband from her side, leaving her with little children to bring up. It seemed as if the burden would crush her; but it only brought out noble things in her soul—courage, faith, energy, skill, love—as she took up her new double responsibility.
Thus the breaking of a home—is often the making of the lives on which the sorrow falls.
Few bereavements cause more sorrow and disappointment, than when little children die. But even in these, there are consolations. That the baby came at all, was a blessing. Life was never the same in the home after that, never could be the same; it had in it a new element of blessing. Then its stay, whether it was for one day, one month, or a year, was like the tarrying of a heavenly messenger. Nothing can ever rob the home of the blessings it left there—in its brief stay. Ofttimes the influence of the beautiful life even for a few days or weeks—is greater in the home and upon the lives of the household—than that of another child who stays and grows up to mature years.
Another blessing of bereavement, is the preparation for sympathy and helpfulness which comes through sorrow. We have to learn to be gentle—most of us, at least. We are naturally selfish, self-centered, and thoughtless. Sympathy is not a natural grace of character, even in most refined natures. Of course we all feel a momentary tenderness when a friend or a neighbor is in any trouble.
There is a sympathy which every gentle heart feels with sorrow. We cannot pass a funeral procession, and not, for an instant at least, experience a subduing, quieting sentiment. But the power to enter really into sympathy with one in grief or pain—comes only through a schooling of our own heart in some way. While my home is unbroken—the sorrows of other homes do not find responsive echoes in the love which dwells in my heart. Love which has not suffered, cannot fully understand another's heart's pain. The mother who has never lost a child, cannot deeply comfort another mother, sitting by her little one's coffin. But when a home has been broken, its inhabitants have a new power of helpfulness. A neighbor's mourning clothes, means more after that.
Thus it is, that sorrow in our own home—makes all the world kin to our hearts. A bereaved heart, is a wonderful interpreter of other people's griefs. The power to be a true helper of others, a binder-up of broken hearts, a comforter of sorrow—is the most divine of all gifts! Surely, then, it is worth while to pay any price of pain or suffering, to receive the divine anointing to such sacred ministry. It was in suffering, that Jesus Himself, was prepared to be in the fullest sense and in the deepest measure—our sympathizing Friend.
"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" He asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" John 11:33-36
These are some of the blessings which come from the heart of God, into earth's broken families—when Christ is guest there. We are sure that there is always a deep, true sympathy with us in heaven, when we are in grief—for was not God's home broken too? He gave his only begotten Son, that into this world's darkened homes might come blessing, healing, and salvation!
HOW THEY STAY WITH US
DEATH is ever bearing away the fresh and fair and beautiful ones of earth—and leaving hearts bleeding, and homes desolate. Apart from the religion of Christ, there is no light in the darkness of bereavement. The best that philosophy can do—is to try to forget the grief. Science can do nothing better. But the Word of God lights the lamps of true consolation, in the gloom of Christian sorrow.
In Christ, we never really lose our godly friends who pass away from us in the vanishing of death. They go from our sight—but they are ours still. They were never so lovely in life, when they walked before us—as they are now, when only love's eyes can see them. They live in our memory, in our very soul; and it is in transfigured beauty that they dwell with us. We do not think any more of the faults and blemishes, which we used to see in them so clearly, when they were with us. Death's hand has swept all these away! At the same time every lovely feature in them shines out now, like a star in the sky at night, and all the good things they ever did are remembered, and appear radiant as angel ministries. Such strange power has love, under the quickening touch of death's hand.
There is another way in which our beloved ones stay with us after they have vanished from sight in death's mists. Everything they have touched, becomes in a certain sense, sacramental. Their names are written everywhere. They have left part of themselves, as it were, on each familiar thing or scene with which in life they were associated. Wherever we move we are reminded of them. Here is a path where their feet walked. Here is a tree under which they sat. Here is a book they read, with the pencil marks indicating the thoughts that pleased them. Here is a garment their hands made, or a picture they painted, or some bit of work they did. About the house, everything is sacred, because of the memories it awakens.
Our friends are not altogether gone from us—who are brought back so vividly to our memory, by the things and the places amid which they once walked.
Nor do we lose altogether the influence upon us, of those who have passed from us. True, we hear no more the whisper of warning, the loving counsel, the chiding when we have done wrong, the urgent, inspiriting word when our courage has failed us, the commendation when we have done well. Yet, in a sense, the influence on us of our friends who have gone, is still very potent. Many a son has been saved from ruin—by the memory of a mother's pale dying face, speaking without words—its loving entreaty and its earnest warning.
Many people are urged to high endeavors and to noble attainments and achievements, by the thoughts of their dear godly ones dwelling deep in the holy peace and joy of God. A mother who for a year had had a godly child in heaven, said that she had never known such a year of calm, restful peace. She believed in the actual existence of her darling in the blessedness of heaven, and the realizing of this had kept her own heart in quiet confidence, amid all life's cares and trials. Even her sorrow she had forgotten; it had been swallowed up, like the night's darkness in the morning's glory—by the triumphant assurance that her darling child was living with Christ.
There is yet another sense in which our departed Christian friends stay with us after they have vanished from earth. We know that they are still living, that they still remember us and still love us—though we are in a sense separated from them. Love is stronger than death; and love binds us and them in close and holy bonds—even though they have passed over the valley of the shadow of death—and we yet stay on this side. Through the longest years, this tie is not destroyed. We do not forget our Christian friends—and they do not forget us. Thus we have them still, and never quite lose them in the years that we have to walk without them. Then, by and by, we shall have them again in blessed reality, when death touches us in turn—and we pass over into the same glorious joy in which they are dwelling.
A large part of the blessed hope of heaven is its reunions. The Bible gives us many glimpses of the glory and beauty of the glorious home which awaits us. We are told of streets of gold, of gates of pearl, of a river of the water of life, of a crystal sea—all that earth can find of splendor—is brought into the picture to heighten our conception of the glories of heaven. But that which makes heaven dear to those who have loved ones there, is not so much the promise of all this splendor of beauty—as the hope of reuniting with the dear friends who are in the midst of all this incomparable beauty.
Do we get the most and the best possible in our bereavements, from the truths which Christ brings to us? Does not our faith's vision often become so dim with our tears, that we lose sight altogether of the immortality into which our Christian dead have entered? We say we believe in the endless life; but too often it is such a shadowy, nebulous thought, which we have of it that no comfort comes to us from it! We really mourn our departed friends as lost—while we go on saying in our creed, "I believe in the life everlasting." Yet we are robbing our own hearts of the comforts that God has provided, when we do not take to ourselves the blessed hopes and consolations of our Christian faith. We really hold no living friends with such a sure clasp—as that which makes our sainted ones ours. There are many ways of losing living friends; but those who have passed into God's keeping are forever beyond the possibility of being lost to us.