During a former memorial season, my column carried readers back to a country cemetery where I reminisced about family members who were no longer with us. My title that week was “When It Hurts to Remember;” a fitting title, I believe, because remembering the passing of people who have been dear to us can sometimes cause the pain we felt at their loss to return.
The shortest verse in the Bible describes our Lord’s broken heart as He stood at the grave of His friend, Lazarus: “Jesus wept,” wrote John (11:35). But, though memories may sometimes open fountains of tears, they can also mend broken hearts and allow us to relive moments of joy with those we remember.
My wise wife has memory places arranged throughout our home that help us revisit our roots and in memory relive happy moments with loved ones at different stages of their lives and ours. Visit our living room and you’ll see pictures of our grandparents and parents in youth among those of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Climb our stairs and in the hall between bedrooms get in on the action of busy lives in a panorama of growing up, vacationing and enjoying life. At the end of the hall, look back through generations.
Do these photos ever invoke a touch of sadness over those we remember but who have left for heaven?
But we’re glad they once lived among us and that we now know where they are. These are the positives of faith that make memories more than sad movies.
When Jesus neared the end of His time with His disciples, He met with them in an upper room to share a final meal and let them know what was ahead. “Let not your heart be troubled,” He said (John 14). Then, assuring them that better things awaited them, added: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
These words of comfort have entered hospital rooms, been whispered on battlefields and spoken in cemeteries to grieving families over the background sounds of bugles and bagpipes while grateful and grieving people have gathered for words of hope while honoring and remembering those who have given their lives in the cause of freedom.
Dale Johnson was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. When he was considering a return to battle, he seemed confident he’d make it home. “This bird shoots back,” he told me. But Dale didn’t make it back, going instead to his heavenly home. For his memorial service, I wrote a poem titled “My Pilot,” that ends as follows:
“I have a Pilot in the sky,
And I shall meet Him by and by;
I’ll walk beside Him on that shore,
And stay with Him forevermore.”
Taking time to remember can hurt. We’re not made of wood or stone and like our Lord may find tears flowing out of memories. But remembering a life of faith well lived, culminating in the assurance of heaven, will create its own memorial; one that dries all tears and rests in confident expectation that the best is yet to come.
Roger Campbell was an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. “Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree,” a book containing over one hundred of his best columns, is now available at your local or online bookseller.