Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death Session 2 Beloved in the Shadow of Death

 

Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death Session 2

Beloved in the Shadow of Death

 

Last time in our teaching concern walking in the valley of the shadow of death we’ve considered spiritual death.  The Bible reveals that after physical death if you do not know God if you have not acknowledged your need for God, believed that Jesus meets that need, committed yourself to follow Jesus, and asked God to accept your faith, that there is a second death, a spiritual death awaiting you.  The statement was made that spiritual death is separation from God.  God’s grace gift of eternal life is yours right now through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).  To cope with the loss of a loved one you will be wise to avail yourself to a right relationship with God, you will need faith that He will carry you through.  You can do that right now.  Seek Him in the good day.  Come to Him not out of desperation but out of a desire to know Him.

 Jeremiah 29:13-14 (MSG)

"When you come looking for me, you'll find me.  "Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else,  I'll make sure you won't be disappointed." God's Decree.

 Physical death is a reality (Hebrews 9:27).  In speaking about the death of loved ones Dr. Mike Pratt said to me “Every relationship comes to an end.”  In this teaching, we will consider what to do when it’s a loved one walking in the valley of the shadow of death.  There is sudden death and there is a slow death, when either befalls a loved one it is tragic, it breaks your heart and it creates suffering. How do you cope with it?

 Sudden death comes with no warning.  The world changes in an instant, it changes for the worse.  You are devastated.  You’re driving down the highway of life and get hit by a semi-truck, the firefighters are using the jaws of life to free you from the wreckage, the paramedics are standing by to help with your mangled body, that’s is emotionally what has happened to you.  You can’t prepare for this but having solid advice beforehand will allow the Holy Spirit to bring it to your attention in the midst of the madness.

 When we hear the news our reaction is disbelief.  We want to reject what we’ve heard as untrue.  Someone you loved is in an instant taken away from you.  The pain is like having something vitally important to everything in your life ripped out of you.  We can’t believe this has happened, it feels like a nightmare.  We want to know what happened, who is responsible, we want to see the one we love.  There is nothing we can do to change the situation.  There is nothing we can do to stop the pain.  There is nothing anyone can do for us because all we want is our beloved back.  The storm of emotions can be overwhelming.  The reaction to this storm is unique to you. 

 In such a time we can’t hear advice, most likely can’t receive the comfort that others want to give.  It is strategically important that you realize the state you are in.  There is no way you can prepare for or somehow stem the tsunami of emotion.  Before such an event occurs it may be wise to consider some things you need to do to survive the ordeal.

 There is emotional shock, you can’t think straight, everything seems pointless, stress causes you to act differently, you feel exhausted (Psalm 31: 9-10).  You may want to fight, you may want to flee, you may want to do both, you may get physically sick, you may feel dead inside, you may not be able to feel a thing.  You are incapacitated (Psalm 38:6-10).  You cannot function properly.  Normal has left the premises.  You need help.  Realizing this debilitation will help you say “Yes” when appropriate help is offered.   

 You don’t realize it amidst your suffering but you need the help of others not as deeply affected by your loss (Psalm 18:6).  There are questions officials will need to be answered, decisions that need to be made, there are people you want to inform, arrangements that need to be made:  Let others help you.  You don’t have to take care of business.  You don’t have to be the strong one.  Let that close friend take care of you.  Call in the cavalry.  This is one reason you want to have practices the spiritual discipline of fellowship, you need close relationships.

 Try to be graceful because there will be well-meaning people that though their intentions are good, are not a comfort.  They say stupid things because they don’t know what to say (Luke 23:34).  Just thank them and move away from them, forgetting what they said.  They’re clueless.  

 You need others to talk at (Psalm 32:3-4).  You need a safe place where you can say exactly what you are feeling.  You need someone with whom you can be absolutely honest.  You need someone to reminisce with.  You need someone to witness your pain. You need this person before the tragedy strikes, this is why fellowship is so important.  Develop those friendships now. 

 Safely and responsibly vent your pain (Psalm 55:22).  Do so in front of a witness, that close friend, someone not as deeply cut by the loss.  Draw close to those who are also hurting with you, family, and friends who hold your loved one in their hearts also.  Presence is powerful.  Strike a balance between isolation and time with people who know you, who may be hurting just as badly as you.  Don’t stay by yourself.  You need the presence of another.  If there are children involved spend time with them, answer their questions honestly, it’s OK to let them see you don’t have all the answers, that you are hurting just like they are, it’s OK to let them see your pain and grief.

 As that friend, now is the time to rally to their side.  Help them by doing things for them.  Most importantly be present and be sensitive.  Be ready to receive their emotional storm and still be an anchor for them.  Listen; there is no need for you to help them snap out of it, no need for you to help them think clearly, just listen.  You see something that needs to be done, you tell them “if it’s ok with you I will….”  In this way, we carry out the Apostle’s instruction to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). 

 In your pain call out to God (Psalm 50:15).  Present your broken heart to Him (Psalm 147:3).  Don’t let the folk theology that God is in control of everything, that everything that happens is God’s will, all is in God’s plan, drive you from God.  Draw near (James 4:8).  Tell God how you feel.  You may find it helpful to write down your prayers.  Even in this terrible time, God can still comfort you (2 Corinthians 1:4).

 Sudden death—it is a horrible experience.  Normal has ceased to exist.  Hopes and dreams go up in smoke.  An entire world has been turned upside down.  There is no way you can prepare yourself for this event, but if it does happen you will need help, and you will need to safely and responsibly vent your pain.  You will need the presence of others to help you get through this nightmare.  If your faith allows, call out to God for help.  The poet writes: “…call for help when you're in trouble—I'll help you, and you'll honor me" (Psalms 50:15 (MSG).

 The anticipated death of a loved one is no less difficult to deal with.  May I suggest that even when someone has been in the process of dying when they do die, the emotions can be very much like sudden death.  Let’s consider what to do before our loved one departs.

 The doctor breaks the bad news, there’s nothing that can be done.  The best course of action is hospice.  Hospice is a special kind of mercy that allows your loved one to die at home.  The purpose of hospice is to make this death as painless as possible.  But no matter how good the care is, painless it will not be. 

 Isn’t there anything that can be done?

How long do we have? 

Oh God please do a miracle.

 It is a terrifying experience to walk with a loved one as they enter and move through the valley of the shadow of death.  There is always a sense of hope, that maybe the diagnosis is wrong, maybe there will be a sudden medical breakthrough, maybe God will intervene, maybe, maybe, the maybe’s are a kind of protective device our minds keep putting into our thoughts.  It’s a kind of denial that prevents you from doing some difficult things, things you don’t want to do, things that are painful.  There is a sense of hope, but also a sense of dread and the accompanying anxiety.

One of the most cowardly things I have seen is when someone says “I didn’t sign for this” and leaves.  They run from the situation.  It is a hideous form of selfishness.  It is a gutless, spineless way of dealing with your pain, totally disregarding the needs of another, especially the needs of the one you said you loved.  Don’t go there, don’t be that person.

 No matter how great your trust in God is there will be anxiety and stress as you see your loved one slipping away.  You see an end coming and you want to hide from it.  There is a great sense of helplessness, of being unable to change the situation, with it can come anger or despair, often both.  Let me suggest to you that this time is a gift.  In this gift of time, there are things of the heart that need to be done.

 What to do during this gift of time?  

 Be present.  Don’t pull away. Your presence is a comfort. No agenda, no advice, no answers, no false hope, just be there open to the situation.  Touch communicates love.  This is not easy, it is very painful for you because of fear of what is to come, yet it is truly a beautiful gift of love.   

 Reminisce, talk about the shared times, that walk you’ve made through life together.  Honor the memories, laugh when appropriate, cry when necessary.  It’s ok to do both, it’s real, it’s honest.  There might be something in the past that you want to ask to be forgiven for.  You don’t have to go into details about the event, just settle the account.  Of course, if your loved one brings something up convey forgiveness to them also.  Regrets may surface, say something like “We did the best we could,” this is not the time for guilt trips.  Remembering together is a way of saying thank you for being with me in all those times.

 The gift of time allows you to enjoy their living.  Do as much as you can to make more memories as their strength will allow.  The sunsets, the walks, the things together you like doing, do it.  Take that vacation that together you’ve planned on taking.  Your loved one is not dead yet, help them to live fully to the end.   Say the words “I love you” “I cherish you” with your actions.  Make more memories. 

Your loved one will decline.  There is so much anguish to see this beautiful person, who was full of vitality, who has always been there for you, such an important part of your life, slip away.  Now is the time to become the caregiver, the nurturer, the giver.  The reality of the situation breaks your heart even more, yes it is possible for your broken heart to break even more, lean on the Lord (Psalm 34:18).  It’s time to spend even more time with them.  I am told that even when a person cannot respond they can hear.  If I would have known that this is the case, the day Carol died I would not have wandered back and forth up to my room in dread of what was coming. I would have sat beside her and talked to her, at least I think now that’s what I would have done.  It’s time to say goodbye, telling them that you will carry on, that you will take care of business, that you will always have them in your heart, thanking them for all their love.  Tell them you will see them in the morning.  For believers have great hope:

 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (MSG)

 And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don't want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

15 And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master's word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they'll be ahead of us. 16 The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God's trumpet blast! He'll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they'll go first. 17 Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. 18 Oh, we'll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.

 During this gift of time, your stuff will come up.  You need to get out of the pressure cooker so that you can be at your best for them.  You need to refill your emotional tanks. Take care of yourself.  You are being emotionally torn apart and you need to avail yourself of self-care and the support of others.  You need someone to talk to. You need persons who can stand with you and witness your pain, whom you can allow to do things for you.  You will need breaks, be self-nurturing, not self-medicating (Job 6:10).  

 “There are some wounds that only heaven can heal.” (Chuck F Betters).  Even in this terrible time, God’s grace has not departed.  He has not forsaken you or your loved one.  As Christ-followers we have the promise of life eternal (John 11:25), of being absent in body but present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), of a resurrection from the grave on the last day (John 6:39).  Even though this is a sad goodbye, it’s not a final goodbye (1 Thessalonians 4:17). 

 We’ve taken some time to consider things we don’t ever want to consider, the sudden and the anticipated death of a loved one.  The purpose of this teaching is to forewarn, to be able to recall some bits of help through a devastating time.  If you’ve gone through it, going through the valley of the shadow of death with a loved one now,  walk that valley with God, you will need His help to get to the other side of the valley, and He will give it. 

 Next time we'll consider what to do when it’s our turn to walk the valley.  Until then:

May you find the Lord gracious, comforting, an ever-present source of help in times of trouble. 


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