I Have Been Surprised by Grief

I have been surprised by grief.  The countless opportunities I have had to help guide people through the grieving process certainly prepared me for much of what my own grief would offer. I get the anger, the denial.  I get the personal pity and even at times, a sense of desperation or fear that the hurt I feel will always be around.  I even get the random prompts to call and check in with the one who is no longer available.  I understand my “new normal” involves a hole or an emptiness I did not have before.

Death is a difficult certainty.

But even with all my first-hand accounts of watching people go through a grieving process, I was still surprised.  Surprised by what?  Surprised by death’s clarifying simplicity. Surprised that something like death could bring me a new perspective on the pressures in my life.

Maybe it’s the stage of life I find myself but my days are filled with a compilation of complex pressures.  Some might say there is pressure from being a driven person, which I probably couldn’t argue too much with.


I feel pressure to lead the church I serve well and the pressure as a leader to our staff.  I want ALIVE to be successful, to be influential. I want to position the church to accomplish the vision God has given to us. I want to provide messages that inspire and call people to holiness and mission. I want to provide insightful solutions to problems staff bring to my desk, and I feel the weight of teaching them to manage problems and the thrill of seeing confidence replace insecurities.


I feel pressure as I seek to lead our District.  My learning curve is steep, the whole building a plane while flying it. I want our pastors and church staff to have more notches in the win column than losses.  I want our churches to thrive and see that steady stream of freshly redeemed lives pouring into their doors!


But I sense the pressure is deeper than just being driven. I sense pressure in areas where I don’t feel driven to be the best or to be competitive.


I feel pressure to treat my wife Lisa well.  I want to cherish her.  I want to build a marriage with her that will thrive.  I want to grow old with her, but do it in a good way; not just survive.   I feel pressure when it comes to my kids.  I want to provide and desire to protect. I want to give them opportunities I didn’t have, a start at life that is better than the start I had.


In an effort at full confession, sometimes I feel pressure in my relationship with God.  Most of this conversation is too intimate for me to share here, but the pressure to do and the pressure to be seem to be constant companions.


And this gets me to my grief surprise.  My mom passed away in July.  I have her picture on the dash of my car and still fight the prompt to call her on Monday to talk about how Sunday went.


Lisa and I were hiking and talking about our children and some of what we hope and dream for them.  And then it hit me.  It has never been so clear as that moment on the trail for me.  For mom, I am her son, and that’s all that mattered.


Mom was proud of many things in my life, but at the core, I was and always will be her son, that’s it.  Not her son with degrees.  Not her son with position.  Not her son with accomplishments.  Not her son with attendance records.  Not her son with income.  Not her some with failures and successes. Just her son, the second of five children.


For some reason, this provides a peace-giving clarity to me.  I am her son and that’s enough.  Sure, she was proud.  Sure she prayed when I was carrying a heavy load at the church.  Sure, she had the pictures of her grandchildren to pull out and brag about.  But when you boil it all away and what is left is the barren landscape of grieving, I am her son.  That’s all I would ever be to her, because that is all she ever wanted me to be.  Her son.  And nothing could take that away from her or away from me.

You want a preaching point?


1 John 3:1 (NIV84) How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!


Galatians 3:26 (NRSV) 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.


So I wonder, if the clarity through my grief crosses over to my relationship with my Heavenly Father?  Am I always his son?  Does he pull out of his Divine wallet pictures of my children? Does he keep a scrapbook of my accomplishments but in the end, what really matters is I am his son and he is my Heavenly Father?


I hope so.  I desire that clarity.  I need that security.  I believe the burdens I pick up and the ones someone gives me, can be lifted.  I’m not trying to earn anything.  I don’t have to earn love, acceptance, a seat at his table.  I don’t have to carry every pressure alone, in fact, I don’t carry the pressure alone. I am his Son, and that is more than plenty, more than enough, more than abundance!


It’s like the Heavenly Father whispers from Heaven, “Rest easy.  You are my Son.”

See you on Sunday, 

Pastor Tom