By Allen Rea
On April 23, 2018, after fighting her disease for a very long time, my mother died.
The woman that gave birth to me, that cooked me many meals, that loved and supported my every action, left this world.
It has been said that when one loses a parent, he loses a part of himself. Even though I kept my difficult promise to conduct her funeral, I have been raging a battle since April on learning how to “sorrow with hope.”
The Apostle Paul did not get to plant deep roots in Thessalonica. They were a model church (1:7), and he appears to have gone over every major Christian doctrine with them. The Thessalonians boldly and courageously embraced their new faith in the midst of persecution and hardship.
In the intervening time since Paul’s departure, some of the Christians at Thessalonica had fallen asleep. This phrase refers to the Christian’s death. Luke uses it of Stephen in Acts 7:60.
The death of these dear Christians may even have been a direct result of the persecution.
Apparently, they had some confusion about death, and Paul sought to correct them.
Knowing the Truth about Death
First off, Paul did not want them to be ignorant. He wanted them to know the truth about death.
My mom struggled deeply with death, not because she did not have faith, but because she had never experienced death before.
My mother came to faith at a young age. She even desired to be a missionary in her younger years. She underwent a great time of revival in her life and grew much under the preaching of Billy Graham in the 1970s.
But she was ignorant about death.
In one of our final conversations, we talked about the Bible, as we often did. She asked what death would be like and how long it would take to get to Jesus. I told her that I had never died before, but I trusted Paul’s words in 2 Cor 5:8: “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” With her quick wit she replied: “Well, what did you go to seminary for if you don’t know all the answers?” We laughed a little as she painfully drifted back off to sleep. However, I soon came to realize how prophetic her words were.
Paul wished to wash away all the ignorance the Thessalonians had about their dead loved ones. With Scriptural knowledge we shouldn’t “sorrow as others who have no hope.”
I preached my mom’s funeral. I was strong for my four precious children who were experiencing the pain of losing a loved one for the first time. I was strong for my father. Only my wife knew how fragile I was.
In the time since her funeral, it has been a daily struggle to sorrow with hope.
I have read 1 Thess 4:13-18 at nearly every funeral I’ve ever officiated, however, I had never really learned to sorrow with hope.
This was no fault of my training or education, because you need experience to truly understand that kind of Biblical text. Thanks to this passage, and many others, I am well informed of the majestic bliss that my mother is currently experiencing. I know about the new heavens and earth where we will fellowship together.
However, the pain of sorrow with hope is now in her absence.
Permission to Feel Sorrow
I rarely, if ever, left my mother’s presence without her affirming me in some way. She would always mention how proud she was of me. My love language is “words of affirmation.” I did not realize how much I would miss her words until she was silent.
She heard many of my sermons. Few, if any, were wonderful, however, she was always my biggest fan. “Charles Stanley ain’t got nothing on you,” she would say.
She always called me “baby” or “sweetie.” As a matter of fact, her final words to me were: “Allen, you are so handsome.”
I was never ignorant of her love and affection for me. But I am glad that her praises are now solely directed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I miss her.
I miss her words.
I miss her presence.
I am thankful the Bible gives me permission to sorrow.
The Bible gives us permission to sorrow. The struggle is how to sorrow with hope. Sorrowing without hope would be unbiblical. Sorrowing with hope is our permission and prerogative as we grieve.
I watched my mother slowly and painfully deteriorate. I am so happy that her pain has ceased.
I watched her disease wreak havoc on her frail body. I am so happy that she is promised to receive a new body.
I watched my mother step out of this earth and step into eternity. I am so happy that it was into a Christ-filled eternity.
I am not ignorant, but I sorrow with hope. I miss her smile, her warmth, and her unwavering support. I always felt stronger after speaking with her.
I miss seeing her eyes light up when her grandchildren ran into the room.
There are so many things that I hopefully sorrow about.
There is coming a day when she and I will take some time to walk the street of the New Jerusalem and I can fill her in on my story.
My race is not finished yet, but she is already in the winner’s circle.
I have miles to go before I sleep, but she is already at rest. I have more sermons to preach, but she has already heard all she could. Her absence pains me, but death has neither sting nor victory.
Learning to Sorrow with Hope
I’m a young pastor learning new things every day, and one of them is how to sorrow with hope. Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry when I think about my precious Momma. Sometimes I get angry and sometimes I can barely stand. However, the Word of God brings me comfort (1 Thess 4:18).
The Word of God stands ready to wash away our ignorance and breathe comfort into our lives.
I know where she is, and I know Jesus will bring her with Him when He descends for His church. I may never cease to sorrow, but as long as it is hopeful sorrow, then I am processing her death in a Biblical way.
Allen Rea is Pastor of Higgston Baptist Church in Ailey, GA.