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February 28, 2021
Gazing toward heaven does not mend a grieving heart
Technology has changed the world. The small nation known as Qatar is 7,500 miles from Alabama. Flying from the United States to Qatar takes about 14 hours. Yet this week, amazingly, it took only a few seconds for a friend in Qatar to send me an email message.
My friend and brother in Christ, Klaus Guenzel, is a lieutenant colonel in the German Air Force. Our friendship developed while he was stationed at Maxwell AFB for several years. His message, brief and direct, accomplished his purpose; he provoked some serious thinking.
Having read my articles describing my journey in grief since the death of my wife, whom Klaus knew well, he has consoled me in earlier messages. His latest message was candid but not offensive: “Thinking about the past does not get you anywhere; so, get up and go to work!”
Klaus tempered his point by including a sermon by Charles Spurgeon, a lengthy message on the ascension of Christ using this text: "And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). Klaus commented: “This sermon may be helpful to you in your sorrow.”
As usual, Spurgeon’s excellent sermon was indeed helpful. Though it may have taken him two hours to preach that long sermon, Spurgeon’s “lessons” delivered in 1884 are still relevant today. While it was quite normal for the disciples to be looking intently into the sky as Jesus rose and disappeared into the clouds, their gazing had to stop. Nothing was to be gained by prolonged gazing. Thus, the question of the angels: “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
Spurgeon made his point boldly. There was nothing wrong with watching Jesus ascend into heaven. But it is fruitless to continue looking toward heaven since Jesus will return and when He does return, you want to be found serving Him, not looking into the sky! So, get busy serving Jesus – in your home, in the field, where you work, among the people with whom you live. Do what Jesus has given you the power to do – help the poor and needy, the widow and the fatherless; teach the children and offer hope to the hopeless. Then, said Spurgeon, when Jesus returns, you will not be found “gazing up!”
I took Klaus’s word to me not as a rebuke but as a gentle warning, spoken tenderly with love. So I asked myself these questions: Are you thinking too much about the past? Are you spending time “gazing toward heaven” that would be better spent serving Jesus in ordinary ways each new day? Are you too focused on your own pain and not enough on the pain of others? In other words, has the time come to simply glance at suffering and gaze intently at serving the Lord?
I had a good private laugh at myself. A few years ago I dared to write and publish a book titled Just Get Over it and Move On! I laughed at the obvious truth: It is a lot easier to say that than to do it! Now, in my old age, I can hear the Lord saying, with a smile, “Get busy practicing what you preach!” And then He adds, “And don’t forget, I am here to help you do it!”
My serious thinking expanded into a bit of research into the deeper meaning of “the stages of grief.” What I discovered has helped me with my continuing struggle with sorrow. You may find this helpful too for grieving is universal; all people grieve and all people need help to overcome grief.
First, the “five stages of grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) that became popular through the writing of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, were stages experienced by the dying, not by loved ones mourning their loss. The famous psychiatrist was writing about grief from the viewpoint of people who were facing their own death. This gives the matter an entirely different perspective from my original understanding though the “labels” of the stages may be helpful to those who are grieving.
Second, over time many well-meaning counselors have wrongly influenced grieving people to believe that their only hope of recovery was to go through these five stages of grief successfully in the order listed. The truth is, people grieve differently and some never experience all five of the “stages.”
Third, there is no definitive time period for the stages of grief to be completed. Every person’s experience of grief is different from that of others, though there are similarities. It would, therefore, be quite absurd to suggest that the grieving process should be “completed” within a certain time period. Of course, the longer the process continues, the more likely professional counseling may be needed. Focusing too much about the past, as my friend Klaus reminded me, or even about heaven, can lead to apathy, and apathy to mental confusion and inaction.
How has all this helped me to deal with my friend Klaus’ loving warning? It has caused me to have a better understanding of the process of grieving. It has freed me of any concern to go through all five “stages” of grief or to “complete” the grieving process within a particular time period. Indeed, I expect my grieving to continue through the rest of my life, but in a measure that does not inhibit my living as a servant of Jesus.
I expect my memories to generate more joy than tears, and Klaus, more serving than gazing. Hanging on a wall in my home, for example, is a crocheted statement that Dean and I treasured. It reads, “Marriage – May there be such a oneness between you that when one weeps, the other will taste salt.” God was so kind to us. He gave us that oneness. We tasted salt many times. I tasted it when Dean was dying.
I don’t plan to cry when I read that. Instead, I will ask, what can I say or do that will inspire my sons and their wives, and other couples who are dear to me, to seek and find that oneness? How can I serve Jesus in such a way that others will find hope that such oneness is possible when marriage is surrendered to Jesus?
In that way, Klaus, I will allow “thinking about the past” to motivate me to “get up and go to work” for Jesus! + + +