By / Dec 14

Can we be honest and agree that after an exhausting day with toddlers, facing bath time is a true test of perseverance? By the time evening comes, the mom skills are simply depleted. A parenting hack I found useful when my girls were little was transforming into some form of alter ego. A secondary, alternative version of myself somehow ignited the energy to grind out bath time.

One of my favorite transformations was Mrs. Wishy Washy. She was the perfect combination of Mary Poppins’ magic and Mr. Banks’ crotchety disposition. Dirty children were detested by her, and she had no sympathy for filth of any kind. My wide-eyed toddlers watched as I resigned my duties and exited the bathroom, and then burst forth as Mrs. Wishy Washy. Without time to blink, my girls eyed a woman flailing a washcloth and howling that their mother had lost her plot. In constant complaint, Mrs. Wishy Washy began cleaning two toddlers and barking orders to lean left, turn right, and present their hands. Warnings against throwing a fit were common, and the girls usually remained silent. Before you could say, “Buckingham Palace,” bath time was over. Thank you, Mrs. Wishy Washy. 

The Weeping Widow brings laughter

So, it was no surprise to my girls when another alter ego, the Weeping Widow, emerged in the weeks following my husband’s death. Loss had obliterated our home and drained all joy and laughter. During that time, our church engulfed us with support. They put their love for my family into action by providing food and supplies. I didn’t have to cook for 40 days! 

It was somewhere around the 18th meal when the Weeping Widow made her debut in our home. I had just ended a call with a sweet parishioner and made the announcement to the girls that a meal was en route. Suddenly out of nowhere, the girls stood in defiance and declared that they would puke if that meal included ANY potato salad. They continued on a long rant about the amount of potato salad they had been forced to consume. I will admit, we did receive unusually large amounts of it. Nevertheless, when I saw them turn into ungrateful, Hebrew children, I transformed into the Weeping Widow.

Sporting a limp, and in my best English accent, I slid to center stage and pretended to greet the woman bringing us our sustenance. I expressed gratitude for her efforts then sternly warned her that if her meal included any potato salad, my children would throw up! I apologized for being the Weeping Widow—unable to provide proper meals—then demanded that our kind friend turn around and get us fast food. After all, preventing a vomiting incident was the ultimate goal. 

A few silent seconds exposed their thankless attitudes, and after our eyes locked, we all began to laugh. The laughter stood out against the backdrop of grief. I was suddenly aware of the lack of laughter that had crept into our home. You will be glad to know that when the sweet lady arrived, she handed us a delightful casserole with no potato salad. We sighed in relief and laughed some more. That day, I became quite fond of the Weeping Widow alter ego. She brought laughter back to our broken hearts. 

I’ve been walking through grief with God and the Weeping Widow beside me for two years now. Grief in God’s hands leads to holiness and purpose. I now realize God has entrusted me with the Weeping Widow for good works and laughter that he planned in advance. 

James 1:27 in the ESV Bible says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The word “visit” means to inspect, observe, or relieve. I believe God gave me the title of Weeping Widow to be on mission—a divine design enabling me to minister to women who have suffered loss and bring relief to them. 

What title has been given to you that enables you to be on mission? Don’t hate or resist suffering, but allow God to use it for his mission! Think and pray about how you can use it this holiday season and throughout a new year. And I encourage you to enjoy a belly laugh or two while doing it!

By / Sep 9

One of the things I remember most from my summer in England was the excitement when, while touring Windsor Castle, we were informed by a raised flag that the Queen had come to visit. I wouldn’t get to see her, obviously, but the air around the castle seemed to change the instant we knew that not far away was the country’s monarch. For a young American college student with only a passing knowledge of the British royals, the trappings of the British royalty were fascinating. And as I was told repeatedly by my British friends, “You Americans can look on in fascination, but only we can have opinions about the royals. They’re ours.”  

At its heart, that is how a subject should feel about their sovereign. My classmates had critiques of the royals, for sure, but they also deeply loved them and what they represented. The royals were able to inhabit a world that was above the political fray and the partisan identity. The royals were an image of the ideals of what it meant to be British, an embodiment of the best of the nation’s values and hopes. 

Lewis’ royalty 

C.S. Lewis had similar reflections when he wrote of the crowning of the first king and queen of Narnia, Frank and Helen. Frank, a cabby, and his wife were not native to Narnia, and would have fit no one’s pattern for royalty. Frank himself is very concerned and asks if Aslan is sure. Aslan responds by asking a series of questions: Will you rule over the creatures justly? Will you protect them from their enemies? Will you work hard for your subjects? Will you raise your children to do the same? Will you be the first in a battle charge and the last in a retreat? Frank responds that he would do all those things to the best of his ability, which Aslan says is all that a King can do. 

The qualifications for a good monarch in Lewis schema is not that one be the best, but that one have the best character. The potential monarch must see their life as one of service to their subjects, doing all that they can to enact justice for their people. It’s a life characterized not by the excesses of money and extravagance, but by the inward sense of duty to the best interest of the nation and its people. Frank and Helen may not have possessed royal blood, but they possessed a royal character.

Queen Elizabeth II possessed the same sense of duty and love for her country and its people. To read accounts of her is to be struck by her desire to fulfill the obligations incumbent on a monarch. For example, in 1944 then Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army where she was trained as a mechanic. She did not begin at a special rank but started as a lowly second subaltern. She was the first female of the royal family to serve in active duty of the British Armed Forces. At the time of her death, she was also the last surviving head of state to have served in World War II. 

The longing we were made for

This is not often what comes to mind when Americans think of royalty. We think of the banners flapping, swords raised in honor, and patriotic shouts of “God Save the Queen.” We lack language for the kind of grandeur and majesty that is embodied by a figure like a monarch. We don’t have a concept for a figure like Queen Elizabeth who has been the nation’s symbol for 70 years, while our presidents change every four or eight years. Just for comparison, her reign has been almost one-third of the entire history of the United States. And yet when we hear the British national anthem with thousands singing it, and see the military parade, and witness the pomp of a coronation or royal wedding, we understand just how unique this is and something within us stirs with longing. 

It taps into that part of us that longs for a monarchy and all the splendor that comes with it. Reflecting on her coronation, C. S. Lewis wrote in a letter that the Queen herself was “overwhelmed by the sacramental side of it.” The spectators were filled with “awe—pity—pathos—mystery.” Because in that moment, was the story of humanity: “humanity called by God to be his vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if he said, ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding’. . . . One has missed the whole point unless one feels that we have all been crowned and that coronation is somehow, if splendid, a tragic splendour.”

In monarchs we see small reflections of what we are supposed to have been as God’s rulers on this earth. Those who care for the world, steward creation, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God. If as an American I was to make a case for monarchy, my first piece of evidence would be the life and example of Elizabeth. Was she perfect? Of course not. But did she understand and fulfill her duty to embody for her citizens the best of the nation’s ideals? Certainly. And in the face of her own fear of inadequacy, she committed herself to trying because it was her duty. There are worse things to hold up in an age such as ours as a figure who committed her life to public service and the duty she owed the nation she loved.

By / Sep 8

Earlier this summer, the new national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live. The three-digit, memorable number was designed to efficiently connect people who are suicidal or in a mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional. With calls expected to increase as people learn about the helpline, some call centers say there are limits to what they can accomplish without more local resources. 

Suicide is not something we like to talk about. Yet, we must acknowledge that there are times when the circumstances of life threaten to overwhelm—a spouse leaves, a child passes away, a business folds, or a house burns down. We watch people we care about hurt, wander, and undergo immense difficulty. Sometimes their pain can turn into to feelings of hopelessness, depression, or even suicidal ideation.

As part of the family of God, we’re called to walk alongside struggling brothers or sisters to help shoulder the weight of a trial that threatens to pull them under (Phil. 2:3–4). The strength and encouragement of others is often the difference between finding healing or giving up. Galatians 6:2 calls us to bear one another’s burdens and to hurt alongside those who are hurting. Helping our friends, neighbors, and friends carry the weight of their troubles ought to be a priority of every Christian—and could be the answer to the lack of local resources in place to help those who are suffering.

We’re one body, called to help the hurting

When someone experiences tragedy, loss, or other overwhelming circumstances, feelings of hopelessness can arise, sometimes even leading to suicidal thoughts. While a crisis hotline, therapy, and medicine are extremely important, they’re not always sufficient. The best antidotes for hopelessness are a perspective rooted in faith and a community of support, both of which the church can offer to help those burdened by situational depression and suicidal ideation.

A person with suicidal thoughts may feel like there is nowhere left to go and no one who cares whether they live or die. For many people, the church is their last hope. Statistics reveal that 1 in 5 people suffer from some form of mental health issue, and those who love them are also affected by it. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence. Pastors need to wake up and start talking about depression and hopelessness from the pulpit, helping people to develop an attitude of looking to Christ for help long before a person would reach a point of suicide.

While no one can assume full responsibility for someone else’s circumstances or emotional wellness, the church can, and should, help to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health issues by addressing them. Let‘s not pretend the church is immune to these issues. There should never be a time when someone is embarrassed or ashamed to seek help for the way they’re affected by sin and brokenness. 

Churches should prioritize caring for those with mental health struggles

Research shows that people who are deeply depressed or have thoughts of suicide feel relief when they have a community of people they can count on. A strategic way churches can facilitate these relationships is by establishing support groups that include people who have “been there” and can offer a listening ear, encouragement, and perspective. Programs like Fresh Hope for Mental Health equip churches to provide those who are hopeless a safe place to process their pain and experience faith-filled hope through support groups, classes, and other resources that are led and written by peers who are living well, despite their own mental health challenges.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” With Jesus Christ as our focus, the church can uniquely offer something to those who struggle with mental health and those who love them: hope through Jesus.

Large or small, every church should strive to become a nurturing and compassionate haven for people with mental health burdens and their families. People who are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s our duty as followers of Christ to create a safe and honest place for them and love them well. 

By / Aug 10

The United States is a technologically advanced country with trusted science and medicine. And many of us assume most individuals in this country have access to world-class medical care and that their health is always in good hands. Yet, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), maternal mortality rates are on the rise in the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines motherhood mortality as “the annual number of female deaths from any cause related to or aggravated by pregnancy or its management (excluding accidental or incidental causes) during pregnancy and childbirth or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy.”

According to the most recent data from the CDC, in 2020, the maternal mortality rate in the United States—the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births—reached 23.8 compared with 20.1 in 2019. This rate indicates a total of 861 women who died of maternal causes in the United States in 2020 compared to 754 women in 2019, continuing an upward trend in maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

The data shows motherhood mortality rates rise significantly among women over the age of 40 and among non-Hispanic Black women. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate among non-Hispanic Blacks was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly three times the rate for non-Hispanic white women. This was a significant increase for non-Hispanic Black women from 2019 when the maternal mortality rate was 44.0. Among non-Hispanic white women, the rate only increased slightly from 2019 to 2020, rising from 17.9 to 19.1. Rates also increase with maternal age. Women over the age of 40 have the highest maternal mortality rate at 107.9—7.8 times higher than the rate for those under the age of 25.

Maternal mortality occurs as a result of complications during and following pregnancy and childbirth. According to WHO, some of these complications existed before and worsened during pregnancy. But most develop during a woman’s pregnancy and are preventable or treatable. Nearly 3 in 4 maternal deaths are caused by severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, complications from delivery, or unsafe abortion. These are all known complications with known solutions.

In a world marred by the consequences of sin, maternal deaths are not a new occurrence. There are women in the Bible who died of child birthing complications. Both Rachel (Gen. 35:16-20) and the wife of Phinehas (1 Sam. 4:19-20) died after prolonged and difficult labors. And despite our attempts to combat the consequences of sin with things like science and medicine, sin still affects our world today.

Protecting women’s lives

Today, healthcare providers have well-known solutions to prevent or manage maternal complications. WHO identifies two primary indicators for preventing maternal deaths: 1) Access to high-quality healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth as well as after childbirth; and 2) Access to contraceptives to prevent unplanned pregnancies (though Christians would not support the use of abortifacients or the morning after pill).

Sadly, there are still women in the United States who do not receive the care they need during or after their pregnancies. The five main factors that “prevent women from receiving or seeking care during pregnancy and childbirth” are:

  1. Poverty
  2. Distance to facilities
  3. Lack of information
  4. Inadequate and poor quality services
  5. Cultural beliefs and practices

WHO suggests that to “improve maternal health, barriers that limit access to quality maternal health services must be identified and addressed at both health systems and societal levels.”

The church’s response

So what should the church do? The church can start by genuinely caring. Christ-followers should care because all people have dignity and worth. No matter their circumstances or conditions, every woman, baby, and family is valuable. When Christians show they care about women and are broken over the issues that arise when women don’t receive the care they need, the world sees a little more clearly that God cares for women. He cares for the broken. He cares for the hurting. As Christ’s ambassadors, God calls the church to love women, babies, and families and to be conduits of life.

Pregnant women and their families, healthcare providers, hospitals and healthcare systems, and states and communities can work together to reduce maternal mortality rates. And as churches invest themselves in their communities and pursue the well-being of their cities (Jere. 29:4-7), they are uniquely positioned to be a source of hope and light.

At the state and community level, the CDC offers three specific steps toward reducing maternal deaths:

  1. Assess and coordinate delivery hospitals for risk-appropriate care
  2. Support review of the causes behind every maternal death
  3. Identify and address social factors influencing maternal health such as unstable housing, transportation access, food insecurity, substance use, violence, and racial and economic inequality

It may be easier for us to close our eyes and walk on the other side of the road (Luke 10:25-27), avoiding the hurt that could come from engaging with the rising issue of maternal mortality. But God calls the church to respond to suffering in the world around us. For example, in light of the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision, and the resulting restrictions on abortion, many pregnancy care centers across the nation are considering how they might meet the needs of the additional numbers of women and families who are walking through their doors for assistance. This has included adding more medical services, such as ultrasounds or STD-testing, which can be an important first step in prenatal care. 

God calls us to protect the physical lives of the vulnerable among us, seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8) as we live out the call to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19:18). And he calls the church to be a light in this world, pushing back the darkness by physically caring for women while pointing them to the One who became vulnerable in order to make them whole (Matt.5:14-16).

By / Jun 1

In a span of just 10 days, the United States was rocked by the news of two mass shootings. The first, a racially motivated crime, occurred in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people. The most recent tragedy occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and resulted in the deaths of 19 students and 2 adults. The nation finds itself, once more, discussing and debating what policies and prevention are needed to stop these atrocities and how to do so in a way that respects our Second Amendment rights. Christians should be ready to enter into those complex discussions with a perspective that is governed by a desire to honor God through obedience to Christ and protect the vulnerable. In the midst of these crucial conversations, it’s also important that we weep with those who weep while being forced to reckon with the inevitability of our own deaths.

Weeping in the face of sorrow 

Undoubtedly, when Paul instructed the churches in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep,” he envisioned the example of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb. While the Son of Man fully trusted in the Father and did not waver regarding his goodness and sovereignty—even amid the suffering and loss of Lazarus—he still wept. Jesus’ perfect knowledge did not prevent him from expressing perfect compassion and grief in the face of deep personal loss. As those who follow the Savior who wept over the brokenness that sin brought into the world, we too, when we take sin and its effect on our world seriously, will be moved to mourn with the mourners. In doing so, we imitate Christ, the Incarnate God who is near to those who are brokenhearted (Ps. 43:18) grappling with suffering that is impossible for our finite minds to make sense of. 

While we weep with those who weep and seek to bring comfort to others as those who have been comforted by the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), we will inevitably be reminded of our own mortality as we come face to face with the reality of death. And, if we are not, Jesus believed we should be. This is seen in a passage from Luke’s Gospel. When Jesus encountered a group of people asking questions about the fate of the Galileans who perished at Pilate’s hand (Luke 13:1-5), he quickly redirected their inquiries. 

Facing our mortality 

As one reads the passage, an underlying assumption about the crowd emerges. Based on Jesus’ answer, it would appear that the crowd presumed that there was something inherently defective about those who suffer in this world. Otherwise, in their mind, why would such a horrible thing be allowed to happen? That was the only way they could think to make sense of such a tragedy. Jesus, however, answered by saying that there was nothing substantive or morally different between the Galileans who perished under Pilate and those who did not. The evil committed by Pilate against those Galileans was not due to something wrong with them. 

Jesus then went on to make the same point in the passage by highlighting another tragic accident in Siloam, where a tower had fallen on a group of 18 people, killing all of them. Those that survived in Siloam were not more righteous than those who perished. In other words, one’s goodness or badness is not the sum total explanation for “why” any given tragedy occurs. Jesus rebuked the people for what was implied in their search for an answer to the evil they experienced and turned their question on its head by ending his comments with a warning of repentance. 

Those that addressed Jesus were hoping that they could establish criteria for the type of people that bad things happen to, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. He would not let them rest in the idea that somehow they could, through their own decisions and effort, avoid the horrors of this life in a fallen world. Instead, what they could do is repent and prepare for eternity so that they would not perish forever. In the Old Testament, the author of Ecclesiastes emphasizes the importance of considering our mortality: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (7:2). The solace of understanding this on the other side of the cross is that those who trust in Christ will ultimately pass through the valley of death into a life of neverending feasting and joy (Ps. 23; Ps. 16:11). 

Hope amid the horror 

While we dwell in this broken world and weep with those who weep, we must not assume that somehow we are or can be immune to the sufferings that others experience. Mankind’s rebellion against God has resulted in a good world gone bad because of the curse of sin. Our only hope of escaping the curse that sin has brought is for someone to bear the curse for us. This is what Jesus, the Son of God, born of woman, born under the law, does for all who would place their trust in him (Gal. 4:4). And this is the truth we point to as we love others and meet their physical needs in the midst of terrible sorrow. 

Jesus, as the only sinless, innocent, stainless human to ever live, came and took on our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (1 Cor. 5:21). He bids us to come to him in our grief and under the weight of unbearable burdens (Matt. 11:28). He alone has conquered death, and the precious promise we have is that all who are in him will be raised like him when he returns. It is from this posture of hope amid the horrors of this world that we can face our mortality and come alongside others to minister to them and mourn with them in their darkest moments. 

By / May 27

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the finding from  Sexual Abuse Task Force report on the sexual abuse cover-up in the SBC Executive Committee. They also lament the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

ERLC Content

Culture

Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Dobbs Resource Page Prayer Guide | Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a major Mississippi abortion case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ERLC and other pro-life organizations filed an amicus brief in this case urging the Supreme Court to overturn the disatrous Roe v. Wade decision. Members of our team also joined pro-life advocates on the steps of the Supreme Court when oral arguments were heard last December. As we approach the Supreme Court’s final decision in June of this year, it’s important for Christians to pray for this landmark case and begin preparing our churches to serve vulnerable women and children in a potential post-Roe world. Download our free prayer guide at ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Dobbs Resource Page | Many Christians are aware that an important case about abortion is being decided at the Supreme Court this June. But for many, this case is confusing and wrapped in a lot of legal jargon. The ERLC wants to help with that, so we’ve created a resource page that will help you and your church understand what this case means, what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and how your church can prepare to serve vulnerable women and children in the aftermath. To learn more about the Dobbs case and how you can pray, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
By / Apr 22

A new poll finds that nearly 7 in 10 (68%) adults feel they are knowledgeable about suicide prevention. Younger adults (85%), parents (79%), Black adults (76%), and Hispanic adults (76%) are all significantly more likely than the mean to indicate they are knowledgeable about suicide prevention. In contrast, Baby Boomers (55%), non-parents (62%), suburban (65%), and rural adults (63%) are all less knowledgeable than the average. 

Only a third of adults report seeing, reading, or hearing about being able to dial the number to reach a trained counselor with the National Suicide Prevention Line. The Federal Communications Commission voted last November to require phone companies to route text messages sent to “988” to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress in the United States. 

The change is meant to help 988 become the three-digit number to use for mental health crises, much like 911 is the number for emergencies, reports Axios. While some areas may be currently able to connect to the Lifeline by dialing 988, this dialing code will be available to everyone across the United States starting on July 16, 2022.

Every day an average of 130 people in America die by suicide. Here are five facts you should know about suicide in the United States:

1. There were 47,511 suicides in 2019, the last year for which data is available. On average, one person commits suicide every 11 minutes.  An average of one elderly person every hour and 41.4 minutes and an average of one young person every two hours and 2.1 minutes killed themselves.

2. Suicide was the overall 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2019. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44. (Suicide is not among the 10 leading causes of death among children in the 0-9 year age group nor in adults in the age group 65 years and older.)

3. Many adults think about or attempt suicide. The good news, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is that more than 90% of people who attempt suicide and survive never go on to die by suicide. In 2019, 12.2 million thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan for suicide, and 1.2 million attempted to take their own life. 

3. Men are more likely to die by suicide than women, but women are more likely to attempt suicide. There are on average 3.7 male deaths by suicide for each female death by suicide. But there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt.

4. Men are more likely to use deadlier methods, such as firearms or suffocation (firearms are involved in 51% of suicides, while suffocation accounts for 23%). Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide by poisoning (18% of all suicides are by poisoning). 

5. Among ethnicities, American Indians and Alaska Natives tend to have the highest rate of suicides, followed by non-Hispanic Whites. Hispanics tend to have the lowest rate of suicides, while African Americans tend to have the second lowest rate.

If you know someone who is considering suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get your loved one to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room. Remove any access they may have to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including medications. Call 911 or the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

By / Apr 13

How we face death, whether in fear or in hope, is a reflection of how we have lived. Back in February, I was asked by an elderly church member to visit her neighbor who was dying. The neighbor was in her 70s, and hospice began visiting to help her in her final days. This was the end. I was told the woman was a believer in Jesus, but had not been to church in some time and didn’t have a pastor. Of course, I was happy to go visit her.

As I drove up to her little mobile home to see her, I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.”

Will we face death’s reality? 

Visiting with this woman was a very powerful experience for me. Her mobile home was small and crowded with items collected over a lifetime. I was welcomed in by a care nurse who was there to tend to her needs. He pointed me down the short hallway, and I could hear the television blaring with sounds from an old game show rerun. As I walked into the room, she was sitting up in bed halfway. Medical supplies, blankets, and other items took up the space around her. She heard I was coming from the neighbor who called me, so when I introduced myself, she was prepared.

In these situations, you don’t always know what to expect. Sometimes, people don’t want to see a pastor that they’ve never met before. They’re angry about dying. They know what the visit means. And their fear can turn into dismissal or lead them to lash out. The reaction can range from mild politeness to indifference to rudeness to anger. So, the short walk down the hall found me bracing myself for the possibilities of the exchange. 

When it comes to dying in the American context — one that seeks to hold on to this life with every drop of strength we have — we often reflect the first lines of the Dylan Thomas poem, 

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

We rightly see death as the final act of this physical life. As we fear it, we may try to put it out of our minds, loudly declaring all talk of it as unnecessarily morbid. Or, we fight it with everything we can muster, viewing the surrender to death’s inevitability as some kind of defeat. We are taught to uphold youth as the ideal, to do all we can to push away the effects of aging, and to see those who are close to dying as those who have little to contribute to our lives of production and self-fulfillment. The dying are to be cared for as an act of compassion from the living, but that final act of life giving way to death is often shunned by those of us who don’t want to face what is coming. This fear is described in Hebrews 2:14-15 as being manufactured by the devil, who holds the power of death and keeps all people in slavery to the fear of death. 

Met by God’s grace

So, I didn’t quite know what I would face as I walked down the dark hall to meet this woman who lay dying. Would she welcome my words and prayers? Would she be raging against the death closing in? I prayed that God would help me prepare her for her death and the journey to eternal life. 

In my visits with her over the next 10 days or so, I encountered a remarkable manifestation of God’s grace. After my first visit, I went out to my car and tweeted out some thoughts of reflection. I don’t normally do this after a time of ministry, but tears filled my eyes as I met with her, and I sensed the profound presence of God already there, helping prepare her for her final journey. I wanted to remember the holy:

I just sat with a dying woman. She was going down a list making calls to old friends to say goodbye. We talked about life, hurts, and her faith in Jesus and forgiveness. She said God is a fisherman and He caught her, and even though she tried to swim away, He reels her back in.

She was very peaceful. As we talked, she would cry at times. She isn’t a church member. A lady in our church knew her and asked if I could visit with her. We held hands and prayed. I read Scripture to her. As we talked about God’s love for her, tears fell from her eyes. Grace.

The doctors only give her a few days. They sent her home to die. She says she gets scared sometimes, but then she prays and the peace returns. As she is calling her friends all across the country to tell them that she’s dying, they cry, but she says, “Let’s share some memories together.”

Before I left, I hugged her. She thanked me for stopping by, but really, I was the one who was grateful. Her body is failing but her mind and spirit are clear. It was an honor to sit with her and hear her talk about her life. I told her I would see her soon on the other side.

It’s the most real thing there is, to sit with someone dying. Just to be with them, with their mind firing and laughter and tears and words and stories and to know that in just a short time the flicker of life will be gone. But, we hope in the God who raises the dead.

I went back to visit her a couple more times. She was so grateful. We talked and prayed, and she told me stories. She said she didn’t want to die, but, as I mentioned in my tweet, that Jesus was a fisherman and though she tried to wiggle off his hook, he caught her and was now reeling her in. She decided to pass that on to the pastor who would do her funeral that was already planned by her extended family back home in the Midwest. She never married and had no children, but she spoke of her nieces and nephews and the times they had together years ago. She continued to work down the list of people to call to say her goodbyes and remember the good times they’d had together. I sat there with her while she had one call and heard her congested laughter through the fluid building up in her lungs.

I told her that these days were a great gift to her and that she was dying well. She cried a lot, but would immediately say that her hope was in Jesus. We talked about how Jesus raises the dead and how she would live again. She believed that. With each visit, she was being prepared for burial and her spirit was growing in hope for the resurrection to come.

I visited her the last time the night before she died. Her physical light was dying, but an inner light was emerging. The list of friends to call was put away. All the calls had been made. She had trouble talking now as the fluid filled her lungs and she couldn’t cough it out. But, she thanked me with tears welling up in her eyes. She thanked me for being there with her, for talking with her and praying with her. She said again that Jesus caught her and was bringing her home. 

This woman who had not been to church in many years was experiencing God’s presence and hope in a profound way as she lay dying, even as Jesus overcame her fear. The full text of Hebrews 2:14-15 is, “Now since the children have flesh and blood, He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” I saw that happening before my eyes.

As they lay dying 

“As I Lay Dying” is a Southern gothic novel by William Faulkner that I haven’t read, but like most Southerners (especially if you are from Mississippi, as I am) do with Faulkner, I have pretended to know about it. The title comes from a line in Homer’s “Odyssey,” Book XI. Odysseus travels to the Underworld and meets Agamémnon, who tells how he was killed by the hands of his adulterous wife who would not close his eyes as he lay dying: “As I lay dying, the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades.”

Now, Agamemnon is angry about the betrayal of his wife. He’s descended into hell, but he also expresses anger over her not even closing his eyes in death. Not only did she kill him, but she didn’t even give him the courtesy of helping him die the right way. Faulkner’s use of this line for the title of the book — that I haven’t read — has served as a bit of a warning to me that when death comes (and it’s coming for us all), running from it doesn’t help. And not helping someone die well with mercy, grace, and care by ministering to them in Jesus’ name doesn’t really empower them to rage against the dying light as though they themselves had power over death. This approach of denial can often just distance them from the hope they really need.

But, as we now encounter Holy Week culminating in Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are reminded with force that Jesus, through dying, defeated the power of death and the grave. He rose from the empty tomb and gives new life to all who believe. We need neither run from death in fear nor fight it in our own strength. Instead, we can persevere in hope as long as God gives us breath and then prepare for the new life to come. That isn’t a morbid surrender to death in defeat, but rather, it is true hope in the one who values and sanctifies our lives. He is with us all the way to death, and then carries us beyond into eternity and the resurrection of the dead. 

I now realize that as I was helping my friend prepare to meet with Jesus upon death, she was helping me meet with him now. He was there with her as she lay dying, and by being with her in her suffering and figuratively helping her to close her eyes in death, my eyes were more fully opened to the power of the resurrection of Jesus for this life — and for the life to come.

By / Apr 11

We are emerging from the two deadliest years in our country’s history. Let that sink in. There’s a reason your Facebook feed has been filled with more memorial posts than usual, that your own calendar has beckoned you to attend more funerals than you have in years — if you were even able to be present. Many of us are more than ready to return to the before times, when death was some far-off reality, something we could deal with later. But — as the pandemic gives way to war claiming innocent lives in Ukraine — the Church has a unique opportunity to offer to the world words for what it is enduring. God’s people also have a chance to extend to the grieving a hope that lives even in the face of death. 

No longer running from death

From 2019 to 2020, the death rate in the United States jumped by nearly 19%, and preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates it jumped another 2% in 2021. If you survived the last two years, it’s likely you know someone who didn’t. 

For me, it was my mom. I feared losing her for most of the 20 years since she was first diagnosed with cancer when I was in the seventh grade. But when her death came in 2020, I was surprised by God’s kindness hidden even in the hospice-calling and the funeral-planning. The psalms tell us that the death of each of those who die in faith is “precious in the sight of the Lord” (Psa. 116:15) and that he “is near to the brokenhearted” (Psa. 34:18). I found this to be palpably true. 

God cares for the dying and the grieving, and he wants his people to do this well, too. After trying to ignore and outrun death for years, I was surprised to see that Scripture did neither of these things. God’s Word sat with me in the reality and weight of death, while patiently offering surprising hope in the face of it. It did not rush toward a tidy conclusion about my loved one being in “a better place,” nor did it stew in some dark sadness to which the world tells me I am entitled while grieving. 

That’s because — unlike the counterfeits that offer us temporary reprieve — the hope we have in Christ in the face of death is not one that ignores or waters down its depths. It does not need to. No one acted like Goliath was not that big or menacing in telling the story of David defeating him. And no one needs to pretend the enemy of death that our Savior ultimately conquers is so small a foe. 

To speed past either the anguish that accompanies death or the hope that is dawning on the horizon undermines the very gospel story we claim to believe. And it will not ring true to the realities in which we live.

We do not need to run from discussions of death or to hide what the Bible has to say about it. Rather, a more robust theology of death prepares us to walk well through life in a fallen world — and all the loss it entails. It gives us a category for so much of what we see and grieve in the world, from the natural disasters popping up on our newsfeeds to the wrinkles appearing on our own faces. 

Considering death in light of its inevitability is not masochism; it is wisdom. It teaches us to number our own days, to labor — not in vain — but with eternity in view. Just like it helps to develop a theology of suffering — at least a hazy idea of how God might still be good when all is going wrong — before we dive headlong into it, it serves us to foster a theology of death before we are desperate for one.

So many around us are grieving specific and general losses. For too long, many churches have failed to give us a language and context for such grief and loss, even though the Bible provides each of these in spades. Considering with our churches and in personal study how the Bible views and addresses death gives us courage to enter into the broken places with others. It also prevents us from lobbing clichés at the grief-stricken that don’t align with Scripture and, frankly, do more harm than good. 

Suffering with others

God’s people have a better story to tell in the face of death. Yet, too often, we don’t take the opportunity to tell it because we are uncomfortable with the mysteries inherent in our understanding of it. But I would argue that what the world is looking for, more than our certainty, is our willingness to co-suffer with those who are facing and grieving the reality of death. 

When we attempt to do that, however feebly, we embody to others a Savior who faced death for us and experiences it with us. To that end, here are four practical ways God’s people can begin to better walk with others through death, offering to one another a form of the hope we are desperate for in times like these.

  1. Sit in the ash heap. Trusting God in the midst of our pain and others’ means we don’t have to explain it away. We can hold the truths that he is good and that this hurts in tension. And we can take a page from Job’s friends on those first seven days and just be quiet. The ministry of quiet presence is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to someone in the midst of grief. 
  1. Return to the Word. In sharp contrast to Christian culture at times, the Bible has plenty to say about death and grief. It depicts both in ways that ring true to reality. If you’re in the thick of it or know someone who is, you can start by borrowing the language of lament found throughout the Psalms. Though we think of praise as defining the Psalms, there are more psalms of lament in the Bible than any other type, not to mention an entire book called Lamentations. Lament prayers say at least two things: “I am hurting. And you are a God who hears.”
  1. Remember the dead. The Bible also points us to a rhythm of remembrance that has sustained God’s people across history. It can do the same now as we turn to face death alongside those who can no longer ignore it. Consider regular opportunities to remember the dead and your own mortality, such as Ash Wednesday or even communion. Did someone at your church lose a friend or family member a year ago or five years ago? Rather than wondering “How are you?” try asking, “What was she like?” It’s a story they just might be longing to tell. 
  1. Revive our Hope. Walking through death with others is a gracious reminder that we, too, will one day walk through these waters. Contemplating death allows us to consider Jesus’ words anew: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Consider as we walk through this season of Lent leading up to Easter that the hope is somehow heightened by being willing to face what is hard. It is because we are a people who die that it is good news to sing, “My Redeemer lives.” 

When we grow a greater theology of death, we are also more equipped to offer to the world the kernels of hope it contains. I recently read a New York Magazine article in which an atheist confessed that pandemic losses made her wonder if she should try church again. 

“Mostly I wanted a way to mourn,” Sarah Jones writes, “not just my own loss but the galloping mass death enveloping the world.” 

Jones adds that she was raised to be “a strict conservative Christian” but that she abandoned the evangelicalism that was not, in her experience, “good with mystery, or with death.” Belief in an afterlife felt “too easy.” And yet, she found herself searching for something like it when death took her grandfather and then a friend. 

“I didn’t need answers, not immediately,” she wrote, “but I wanted to know it was possible to find them if I worked hard enough to look . . . I wanted to stretch out my arms to something, even if I couldn’t tell what it was.” 

The apostle Paul thought about death enough to develop a vision for being like Christ in it (Phil. 3:10). What opportunities, I wonder, are we missing if we don’t do the same?

By / Mar 25

For the last month, the attention of the world has rightly been focused on ​​the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. But the deadliest war on the planet is currently happening in Ethiopia. Global leaders have so far hesitated to call it a genocide, referring to it as a civil war, or the Tigray War. But the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrian governments make it clear the conflict is turning into a genocide. 

According to researchers at Ghent University in Belgium, as many as 500,000 people have died from war and famine in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia over the past 16 months. The estimate includes 50,000 to 100,000 victims of direct killings, 150,000 to 200,000 starvation deaths, and more than 100,000 additional deaths caused by a lack of health care. 

The United Nations has also said more than 500 rapes in Tigray have been reported to healthcare workers. Some Tigrayan victims of rape by Ethiopian forces and their allies recalled the rapists using phrases like “Tigrayans have no history,” “Tigrayans are beasts,” and that “we are raping you to cleanse your Tigrayan bloodline.” One Tigrayan woman described how Eritrean soldiers ordered her father to rape her, then shot and killed him when he refused. The soldiers raped her instead.

Some Eritrean prisoners of war have confirmed that they were ordered to kill all Tigrayans above the age of 10 and also to prevent people from burying victims. Teenagers were reportedly killed while family members of murdered victims were prevented from burying their loved ones.

The conflict’s history 

The conflict began 16 months ago in Tigray. This region is located in the northernmost part of Ethiopia, and is the fifth-most populous of the country’s 11 regional states. In November 2020, fighting broke out when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a left-wing ethnic nationalist, attacked the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) Northern Command headquarters in the city of Mekelle. The Ethiopian national government responded by declaring a state of emergency in the region and launching a military assault to retake several areas controlled by TPLF. 

A week later more than 600 civilians were massacred with knives and machetes by local militias, while the government continued air strikes in the region using Chinese-made drones. Michelle Bachelet, head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, says her staff have recorded hundreds of deaths from aerial attacks “apparently carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force.” Soon after the massacre, the military of Eritrea began occupying parts of Tigray to help impose a curfew in which hundreds were killed. 

Criticism of the conduct of government troops and their allies from neighboring Eritrea grew after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that “ethnic cleansing” had taken place in Tigray. What began as a political dispute, soon developed into a campaign of genocide against minority Tigrayans. “The challenge in Ethiopia is very significant, and it’s one that we are very focused on, particularly the situation in Tigray, where we are seeing very credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities that are ongoing,” Blinken told the foreign affairs committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Effects from the war in Ukraine

The Ethiopian government appears to be using the fact that the world’s attention has been diverted to engage in stronger genocidal measures. For example, government forces are preventing food aid and medicine from reaching Tigray, according to humanitarian groups. As Mehari Taddele Maru observes, “With 5.2 million out of 6 million people in desperate need of food aid, nearly 83 percent are food insecure, 40 percent are facing extreme lack of food and 900,000 live in a ‘famine-like’ situation. The death toll from this famine, used as a weapon of war, could exceed thousands.” 

While the war on Ukraine deserves our continued attention, we must not forget about the other countries where horrific acts of violence are occurring. “We are seeing clear evidence of [the war in Ukraine] draining resources and attention from other trouble spots in desperate need,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently told journalists.

Christians should continue to pray for peace in Ethiopia, for the protection of its citizens, for an end to government corruption, and for the Lord to provide food for the millions who are starving. We should also pray that fellow believers in Ethiopia and around the world would be allowed to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of these oppressed people with the hope of Christ.