The church was full: full of faces, food, color and noise. And yet, it somehow felt empty. To an outsider, it may have looked like a party . . . but the one person we were there to honor wasn’t able to celebrate with us.
As I stood to sing a worship song, I immediately broke down in tears. Seeing the casket in the center of the room, it instantly dawned on me: I would never see my friend’s beautiful smile again.
Suz passed away last week after suffering from a sudden and very unexpected stroke. When I heard the news, the only words I could muster were, “Why, God?” Here was a young woman in the prime of her life—a 29-year-old with an amazing intellect and dreams to transform the world. She had so much left to live for. Why did she have to die so young?
I never imagined I would be losing any of my friends or peers at this age. But this was my third friend under the age of 40 who has died in the past three years. I had just been dealing with the sudden death of my good friend Amy and didn’t expect that yet another friend would leave the world so soon.
I’ve grieved the loss of all four of my grandparents. I’ve had to bid farewell to church leaders, family friends, and teachers. Yet, when a young person dies, there’s a different kind of grief that opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions. Why would a good God allow this kind of suffering? How can a healthy young person be taken from us so soon? What about all the life events they never got to experience? If I’m being honest, it also brings me face-to-face with my own mortality. What would I be missing if God chose to call me home too?
It’s almost easier to justify when someone we love is involved in an accident or conflict. As tragic and heartbreaking as those situations may be, there is often a person or circumstance to direct our anger, fear, and frustration towards. But a healthy, young person dying out of the blue? The only one left to shake our fists at is the One who gave them life and then decided to take it away so soon.
Perhaps it’s not the issue of God’s goodness but our fear of suffering which so often drives us to think this way. We struggle to deal with death and suffering because we’re conditioned to focus on being happy . . . all the time. We live in an age where death, illness and suffering are taboo concepts we like to sweep under the carpet. So how do we handle this kind of grief?
The one thing I’ve come to realize is that there’s no magical formula for dealing with this kind of loss. But there are opportunities to use the situation to help shape our faith and care for those who are struggling. Here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way:
1. We can grieve with those who grieve
Don’t avoid talking about the deceased—celebrate their memory. When someone we care about is upset, it might be tempting to ignore the problem and try to focus on something else. But all that does is minimize the pain and encourage the idea that death and suffering are taboo topics that can’t be talked about.
It might be uncomfortable but don’t tiptoe around the pain. Step into that cavern of sadness and grieve with them. Romans 12:15 says to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. We’ve been created to be a community for a reason.
2. Don’t live in fear—anticipate the hope of resurrection
Suz’s father read an excerpt from her diary at her celebration service. In it, she had shared about her earthly struggles and how eagerly she awaited reunion with Christ. She poured her heart into praying for a revival so that many more people across the nation would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior as she did. In the words of the minister, she “believed, lived and shared the hope of the resurrection”, knowing that death is not just a departure from a transient world but an arrival to life everlasting.
We can be consumed by the fear of the unknown. We can worry about what others think. We can go about our days in constant pursuit of earthly success. Or we can live out the hope we have in Christ now, knowing that one day we will be reunited with our loved ones (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
3. Turn your narrow gaze from the worries of this world to the big picture of eternity
Every time one of my friends has died or taken their own life, it’s been a wake-up call for me to take stock of my own heart and ask whether I am actively living out my faith or getting caught up in the daily grind. When heaven and earth unite, will it really matter whether I managed to find a husband? Will it matter that I don’t own my own house? Does it matter that I’m not financially secure? Will I regret not buying that cute skirt or getting a good grade on an exam?
The only regret I think I would have when looking into the eyes of Jesus is not sharing the message of His love with others. As we’re encouraged in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I don’t know why God chose to call my friends home to Him at such a so young age. I don’t have any answers to give their families about the purpose of it all. I may never understand the bigger picture. But I’m learning to walk closer with God through all of my questions.
In working through my heartache and grief, I’ve come to experience the love of my heavenly Father on a far deeper level. There is so much sin, suffering, and brokenness in the world. But we live with the glorious hope that death will one day be swallowed up in victory:
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on learning to love God in the midst of life’s challenges. Click here to read about how another contributor learned to love God through a series of crises in her life.