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Helping Families Say Goodbye

Truth in Love 197

The Bible gives us confidence that we can, as believers, have joy even in the midst of suffering.

Mar 12, 2019

Dale Johnson: I’m excited to have with me one of our board members for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Pastor Brad Brandt. Brad is a pastor from Ohio. He pastors Wheelersburg Baptist Church, and he’s been there for 31 years serving faithfully in the same church. He has been married for 35 years. He’s been certified with ACBC since 1996 and he’s been a fellow since 2001. I’m so thankful for the pastors that the Lord has in our organization to keep us grounded in wisdom to local church ministry and to help us think through the process of shepherding. Brad’s going to talk with us today about a very important topic: how to have joy in sorrows, and in that sorrow how to help families think through the process of saying goodbye. The Bible gives us confidence that we can, as believers, have joy in that process. First, Brad, let me talk to you about why this subject is such an important subject and how you became interested in this particular topic.

Brad Brandt: As a pastor, we were dealing with this all the time. In 31 years, I think I’ve done close to 150 funerals. Death is certainly a common reality, as Hebrews 9:27 says, which means sorrow is a common reality even for the people of God. Closer to home, back in 2014, my mom went to be with the Lord after battling Parkinson’s for five years. The last three weeks of her life, she was in hospice care in the hospital and our family was with her basically for the last six days continually.

In that experience, I watched God do something really amazing. We went through, obviously, sorrow, but also experienced some incredible joy in the midst of it that surprised me at the time. The day after we buried my mom, I shared some thoughts with our church family in a Sunday evening service. A man came up afterwards and said, “You really need to write that down, because that’ll be of help to other people.” I did, and that’s what we’re talking about today in this podcast—some of those thoughts about how to experience joy in the sorrow when you lose a loved one. That’s how I became interested in this.

Dale Johnson: You’re right, this is a common issue that all of us deal with at some point or another. We all have to deal with the subject of death whether we think about our own mortality or we think about the mortality of those that we love. Certainly, when we walk through experiences with people that we love, knowing that their time on this earth is coming to a close, those are difficult days. Even as you share that experience, I’m thinking about some of my own. All of us have to walk through issues like that. How is it, when things are so difficult and we get so emotional about difficult situations, how is it that we can experience the joy in the midst of sorrow that accompany saying goodbye to a dying family member? How do we help others experience that same type of joy that we’re striving for ourselves?

Brad Brandt: Understanding what God’s Word says about joy, we know that joy is a supernatural gift. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” so joy is not automatic. It’s different from happiness. It’s a fruit of the Spirit and there are certain activities that seem to promote its reality. For instance, over in Ephesians 5:18, it says to “be filled with the Spirit.” Then there are a series of participles that follow that where it says, “addressing one another in psalms hymns spiritual songs, singing and making melody, giving thanks” in verse 19, “submitting to one another” in verse 21.

I was thinking about that in the context of when my mom passed away, that the experience of joy, which is a fruit of the Spirit, is accompanied by certain activities. I think of them in terms of joy-producing activities, and that’s something that we don’t think about. That’s why two families can go through the same experience of losing a loved one, one experiences joy, and the other doesn’t. They’re both Christ-loving families, but I think it has to do with these activities that one is exhibiting and the other isn’t.

Dale Johnson: As you just mentioned, joy is a supernatural gift, but the experience certainly is not automatic. We see people handle those moments very differently, even people who love Christ deeply and who profess Him strongly. There are certain activities that promote the reality of joy. What are some of those practical, joy-promoting activities?

Brad Brandt: I know that the list I’ve got, eight or nine things that were a part of this as I reflected on our experience, is sort of subjective. Here’s what they were for us. First of all, things like listening to God-exalting music together. Secondly, singing gospel songs together. “I heard an old, old story.” We sang around my mom’s bed, “Victory in Jesus, Oh victory in Jesus, my Savior forever. He sought me, and bought me.” When you’re thinking and actually singing gospel truth like that together, it has a profound effect on you. It helps bring into focus these feelings that are swirling around.

Reading God’s Word together. Psalm 23, Psalm 46, Psalm 121. I love Psalm 131, “My heart is not proud, O Lord. My eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But like a weaned child with its mother is my soul within me.” To think about being like a little weaned child with its mother with the Lord. Passages like that, reading them together and praying together.

Even things like looking at family pictures together. We are a picture taking family, so we had hundreds of pictures, and looking at pictures together created opportunities for us to experience joy. Laughing together, telling stories together, reliving memories together, watching a couple episodes of The Andy Griffith Show together. It’s kind of hard to not have a smile on your face when you see Ernest T. Bass. Doing that together as a family or with loved ones when you’re saying goodbye to a loved one.

Even something like taking breaks together. Psalm 139:16 reminds us that all of our days are ordained by God before one of them comes into existence. We can know that, as we leave that hospital room, God is taking care of this loved one and we can rest in that as we get away together to get some refreshment and then come back expressing thanks for God’s gifts together. Even as you’re listening to the sound of oxygen machines, nurses opening doors, IV machines, and all kinds of things, if we can focus on it, there are things to give thanks for right in the midst of that situation—this kindness of a nurse, this phone call from a friend—and as we do that together, the byproduct again is joy.

Also, the planning of a Christ-exalting memorial service together. One of my mom’s favorite passages was Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.” Affirming the gospel together ultimately brings joy in the sorrow. That’s just a sampling that, as we do certain activities together, the Spirit of God uses those to produce this joy that is in the midst of the sorrow.

Dale Johnson: As you were talking, I couldn’t help but smile at all the things that you mentioned that we can do together. Thinking about experiences that you’ve had that have been joyous through the past, looking at photos, those are great recommendations and things that we can certainly pursue to remind us of the joy, the goodness that God gives to us. He tells us He’s the Father of Lights, and these good gifts come from Him.

Let’s say someone we know, maybe someone listening to this podcast, they just got word that one of their loved ones has six weeks or maybe three months to live. Where do we go from here? What are some resources that we can recommend to them to help them walk through the process along the lines of some of the things you’ve been talking about?

Brad Brandt: One I’ll mention is maybe not so much for the person that just found out six weeks to live for a loved one, but for anyone right now listening. I would encourage you, first of all, to develop a biblical theology of suffering as it is a common lot for followers of Jesus. We will suffer. Study the Scriptures. A great passage is Hebrews 5:7-8, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears… He learned obedience from what he suffered.” Begin to think about how we suffer in a way that honors God. How do we view times of suffering? Hebrews 12:2-3, “Consider him so that you will not grow weary and lose heart,” speaking of Christ there. Develop a biblical, correct understanding of suffering. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy’s book, Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants has some really helpful things to say to us about the way we look at pain and suffering.

Secondly, a biblical theology of saying goodbye. To study the Scriptures and particularly look for the accounts where people are saying goodbye to loved ones and what’s going on in those accounts. How is God manifesting his faithfulness to them? Jacob with his sons, Naomi in the loss of her husband and sons, Acts 9 with Dorcas in her passing, and there are others in Scriptures.

It’s not profound, but thirdly, become familiar with passages that help us face death in a way that pleases God. There are some go-to passages that I lean on all the time as I minister to families going through this, as well as in my own family. Passages like Psalm 23, John 14, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, the whole epistle to the Hebrews. It’s rich with the facing of suffering, the loss of people that they love, and the supremacy of Christ is being demonstrated there. But it’s for a purpose to encourage those who are facing difficulty, even death, so that they can rejoice in God in that. Becoming familiar with those wonderful passages and filling your mind with them even as you’re preparing for this taking of your loved one.

Dale Johnson: Brad, I’m so thankful for all that you’ve shared with us today. It makes me so thankful for pastors who are out there faithfully, week after week, serving the local church and serving the body of Christ. I’m so thankful for the wisdom that the Lord has given you and your testimony of the faithfulness of the revelation of God and how He ministers to us in difficult times, allowing us to have joy in difficulty. Thank you for the time that you’ve spent with me and the things that you’ve shared. I know it’s going to be an encouragement to our people.

Brad Brandt: It’s a great privilege to have been with you today, Dale. Thank you.

Recommended Resources

Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants by Paul Brand

Scripture for Suffering: Psalm 23, John 14, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, book of Hebrews