The unusually difficult start to this year in particular has brought to mind that our lives are characterized far more by seasons than by isolated moments. It's interesting that many of us prepare and make appropriate daily decisions in light of the particular season we find ourselves in. Whether it’s winter, summer, autumn or spring our daily decisions regarding what to wear, eat, what we do, where we go, are all governed by that particular season.
Now not only are we exposed to physical seasons, but as we venture through life, we also experience circumstantial seasons. Seasons of joy & sorrow, seasons of abundance & scarcity, seasons of trials & seasons of enjoying the ride.
The bible teaches us the importance of this principle, constantly prodding us to ask this critical question “what season am honestly currently in?”.
King Solomon a former King of Israel said Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die... a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
Here, one of the wisest historical Kings to have ever lived, speaks about the value of recognizing the season we might find ourselves in. If we don’t, we sometimes end up making permanent decisions in temporary circumstances which can be detrimental.
My gut feel is that for many of us the season we currently find ourselves in, is characterized by change, uncertainty, loss and death. Some have lost jobs, relationships, familiar life rhythms, routines, experiences and the list goes on... However more than these losses many have lost loved ones. People close to us have passed away.
In this season of death we may be experiencing a “dark cocktail of emotions - shock, grief, anger, perplexity, confusion, guilt, and fear. Death of a loved one is the greatest loss of all. A life cut short seems such a waste. There is a terror to the randomness of it all. This is how we feel and it’s quite normal. The bible actually gives us license to be honest with how we feel. We confront some brutal honesty when we read through the psalms and how they scream out to God, lamenting the uncontrollable hurts inflicted by death.
These words of Solomon, written from a place of darkness and depression help us navigate seasons such as this. An old friend of mine, who has journeyed with his own grief and the grief of countless families surprised by death, showed me three things we can all do in times such as these,
It’s a time to Mourn
It’s a time to Give Thanks & It’s a time to Reflect
Verse 4 says there is
“A TIME TO MOURN”
Mourning is appropriate. Mourning is not an event but rather a long painful process. The loss we feel after the death of a loved one is immense, incomprehensible and all engulfing. We can find ourselves going back and forth through so many questions and yet find no answers.
The words “What if” begin to plague our minds as we paint scenarios and desperately long for different outcomes.
“What if” I had been there, “What if” there was something more I could've done,
“What if” they’d got there sooner.
All the “What if’s” fill our souls with doubt and guilt but ultimately they play an integral part of the mourning process. Our loved one was there one day and gone the next. What will life look like in their absence? It’s in this place, of raw and utter honesty with God, that many promises such as in Psalm 34:18 penetrate so deeply
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”
Here, God promises to walk closely with you as you enter into deep mourning.
In this time of mourning if you ever find yourself wanting to comfort someone who’s just suffered such loss, there is no need to give advice. Words, no matter how wise and gentle may not penetrate the pain. We often talk too much and stay too long when just being available and “close to the brokenhearted” for whatever they may need is the best comfort.
Secondly we learn that this is
“a time to dance”.
The root word here also translates to meaning... celebrate or GIVE THANKS
As we reflect on the memories and experiences shared with those who were so close to us, this is also a moment or a season to give thanks. Give thanks to God for the last time you held their hand or felt their touch. Give thanks for the highs and lows of the partnership you shared in battling life together. Give thanks for the way you resonated with one another and the “ahHa” moments you shared. Give thanks for their peculiar mannerisms that made them who they were. Give thanks for the way God brought you together for a season. It may feel like flesh has been torn from the bone but this should also fuel our gratitude to God for the closeness He allowed us to experience for a season.
Finally it’s a
"time to reflect"
Solomon takes the time to document that life is made up of seasons. He’s reflecting and modelling for us the importance of taking the time to reflect. To reflect on the season we find ourselves in and to reflect on the implications of this particular season. It’s interesting that later on in his observations Solomon says that,
“It’s better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are certainly going to die, and it is a good thing to think about it while there is still time.” Ecc 7:2 (TLB).
These are sobering words but I remember a close friend say “we will all have our turn in the front row and we will all have our turn in the coffin!”
The season of loss and death we find ourselves in should cause us to reflect soberly on the brevity of life. Solomon states that
“God has set eternity in the human heart”. Ecc 3:11
That one day we will all personally meet our maker face to face. This should cause us to reflect personally and with our children, on our need to be prepared to die.
You might ask as I do, how do we prepare to die? What do we need to do?
Religion is characterized by the word Do. Do certain things and you’ll impress your boss, your industry and your god to find the security and identity that your soul longs for.
A life that is governed by “Do” is always anxious and insecure about dying, because there is no security as to whether it quite measures up.
Christianity, uniquely different to every other religion or worldview is characterized by the word Done. Christ has done for you and for me, what we’re unable to do. Both his life and his death have done or secured for us this new identity or legal right standing with God. God’s eternal verdict over our failures and inadequate moral performance is “not guilty”.
When confronted by death, in the midst of terrible news, this is amazing news. That someone would live a flawless life and face death head on in order to prepare us for our death.
In trusting Jesus, who suffered with us and suffered for us we can know that God’s judgement on us is banished and he now looks at us with eternal grace and kindness.
Our part is to receive what’s been done and not try and achieve by doing more.
Growing up, the boarding school I attended had an evening ritual, a tradition that’s etched in my memory forever. At 6pm the school trumpeter would stand in the bell tower, the highest point of the school and play the last post. As soon we heard the sound, we had to stop, stand still, cease all we were doing for the duration of the song. It’s an absolutely amazing tradition to behold. Teachers in the classroom, players on the sports field, any parents driving onto the school premises, runners running, singers singing, even the cooks cooking dinner would freeze and stand in awe as the music resonated down the hill, cut through the air and through our very souls. Everything was silent except the sound of the trumpet. This was our daily moment to reflect. The "Last Post", a moving and unforgettable tune honoring the fallen soldiers in times of war, symbolizes that the duty of the soldier is done and that they can now rest in peace.
I know that talking about death can seem insensitive and intimidating. If I’m honest, I would’ve preferred to speak into any other topic, but if we resist these topics in seasons of catastrophe, then we miss out on what God wants to say. If you can, would you take time now, wherever you may be, to pause to this song - to mourn, give thanks and reflect on what God might be saying to you.
Friends, In his kindness God has called you to eternal glory in Christ. After you have suffered a little while, may he restore, support, and strengthen you, and may he place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.
“We want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
“Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3)
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms” (John 14:1-2)
"Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:5-6)
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:10-13)
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
“When the earth quakes and its people live in turmoil, I am the one who keeps its foundations firm.” (Psalm 75:3)
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me” (Psalm 23:4)
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him… Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8)
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)