Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 KJV
RECENTLY, a friend of mine’s brother died. My friend’s brother lived a full, robust life with a deep commitment to Christ. He was in his 70s when he passed. I didn’t know him. But to support my friend I decided I would attend his funeral. The funeral was held at the deceased’s family’s church. It was a small church on the east side of Oklahoma City with a primarily African American congregation.
The memorial was held on a Saturday. Earlier in the week, I had come to an understanding. A situation that was important to me would not end the way I wanted it to, and I was powerless to change the outcome.
I had wrestled with this realization long into the morning hours of that Saturday, and I carried it with me into that small church on the east side of Oklahoma City, where a man who had lived a full life was being laid to rest in front of his loved ones.
I walked into the church and chose a pew in the back to view the memorial. Strangers sat to my left and to my right. I shifted in my black suit, trying to find a comfortable position. But thoughts weighed heavy and made even resting on a church pew physically demanding.
Thoughts, words, feelings, and regrets chewed through my brain as the congregation sung “I’m A Solider in the Army.” They gnawed at me as prayers were read, remarks were made, and a choir harmoniously belted out “He’ll Welcome Me.” Then an elder walked to the podium at the front of the church, one risen slightly above a casket. He began to speak the “Words of Comfort.”
The words spoke of those times in our lives when we fight for something that doesn’t come to pass. They spoke of those times when we want something so deeply we can become consumed by achieving the outcome.
“Many of us sometimes,” said the elder, “we begin our road and our life in a way that is not godly. We begin to do things like we want to do them, how we want to do them, how we think it should be.
“We want to have it our way. We want to do it the way we want to do it. Just how we want to do it.” Tears began welling up in my eyes as the organ began playing, shouts of “Hallelujah!” rose from the congregation, and the elder began to sing his words, “You have to learn to lean and depend on Him.”
The words spoke of our human desire to be the director in the production we call life. They spoke of our want to control things that are far out of our control. The words chastised us for leading when we should be listening, for performing when we should be praying, for fighting when we should be faithful.
The “Words of Comfort” ended with a passage, Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
This was followed by the “Parting Glance.” Funeral directors ceremoniously pushed the casket from the front of the church to its rear. Then, I was ushered outside into the Oklahoma City afternoon.
I walked to my car. I removed my suit jacket and tossed it on the back seat. I sat down in the front seat of my sedan, unknotted a silver tie, started the engine, and I wept.
I cried like I had not cried in years. I cried deep sobbing tears, the kind that rolls down to your belly, trampolines through your lungs, and is expelled as heaves. The tears waterfalled down my face. My wet, bloodshot eyes were visible in the rearview mirror. I cried as I navigated north toward my home, through a brief detour caused by a highway closure and my current preoccupation. I cried even after I thought I was done. The tears falling moments after I assumed they had passed. I cried through intersections and stoplights and left turns and right turns. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
I was grieving.
When my mother passed nearly a decade ago, her funeral was a little less than a week after her death. I spent that week focused. I had a eulogy to write. I had to help my stepfather and stepbrother make decisions about arrangements.
On the day of her funeral, I could begin to feel a sickness welling up in me. But I pushed it aside. I gave the eulogy and spent time listening to condolences and entertaining friends and family members who loved her very deeply, some of which I had never met.
When the funeral ended, we went back to my stepfather and mother’s condominium. I wanted to spend time with the close family: my brother and sisters, and their spouses and children. I wanted to watch the Super Bowl, which aired that evening, and in which my beloved Denver Broncos were playing the Seattle Seahawks. But the moment the door was open to their apartment, I headed straight for the toilet.
I spent the rest of the evening curled up in her bed, the one my stepfather refused to use because he couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping in it without her, fighting sweat and trips to the adjacent bathroom. I missed the Super Bowl. The Broncos were throttled by the Seahawks. That really didn’t matter. Yes, I was sick. But I was also, finally, allowing myself to grieve.
On the eastside of Oklahoma City, after listening to the “Words of Comfort” at a predominately black church and at a memorial for a man I’d never met, I was also, finally, allowing myself to grieve.
I was not grieving for one situation, or for one missed opportunity, or for one difficult goodbye, I was grieving for them all. I was grieving for all of the taillights that have faded into the distance, all of the chances I have failed to seize, and all of regrets that occupy the back of my cranium. I was grieving for the man who I could become but have not. I was grieving for the hurt I have caused myself and the hurt I have caused others.
I was grieving because of rejection. I was grieving because of failure. I was grieving because of fault. I was grieving for the person who has listened endlessly to the voice in his head that tells him he is not enough, the one that has allowed that voice to pull him through life on a leash.
I was grieving for the man who continues to try and control things he cannot control. I was grieving for the man who refuses to walk in faith, in true, unblinking, unyielding, obedient faith. I was grieving for the man who wants it his way. I was grieving for the man who has so often attempted to lead instead of listen, perform instead of pray, bring a fight instead of faith. I was grieving for the man staring back at me in the rearview mirror with tear-stained and bloodshot brown eyes. I was grieving for his imperfection. I was grieving for a man who too often finds himself pushing instead of leaning, who depends on himself instead of Him.
I too was grieving because of His grace. I am here, in this body, in this place, and I am not worthy of any of it. How can I measure up to such a thing? I can’t. That’s the answer.
When I got home, I turned off the “Do Not Disturb” feature on my phone that I had had in place for the memorial. I realized that I had received two new text messages during the service. One was from an old high school friend. He and his family were in town for the day, and he wanted to know if I could grab an early dinner with them before they headed out of town. The second was from a couple asking if I could come over for a game night that evening.
I think God knew on that Saturday night that I didn’t need to be alone.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.