The Wisdom of Mourning

The Wisdom of Mourning

Ecclesiastes 7:1–2 reads:
“A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (TNIV)

Every time I go to a funeral, I’m reminded that Solomon was right when he wrote those words. Every time I help my kids navigate a loss in a critical soccer game, I’m reminded that losers ponder their methods and rethink objectives, but winners just celebrate and toast the victory. Every time I make a mistake or suffer loss or struggle as a pastor, husband or father…I’m reminded that pain and hardship cause me to rethink stuff, but victory and ease cause me to coast through life. It just does.

C.S. Lewis put it like this in his book The Problem of Pain. He writes, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

And that reality is no less true today than it was 3,000 years ago when Solomon wrote it down or when C.S. Lewis echoed it in 1940. However, since the majority of my work is with high school students, most of them feel like death is a lifetime away (and I pray they are right). So they never give death or morning much thought. Not that their parents do either, but death and mourning are not popular subjects for teens.

However, the biblical book of James reminds the reader that our lives are like a blip on the map of eternity and even a long 90-year life will be over before we know it. He warns: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

To this end, I think one of my jobs as a youth pastor is to remind teens that today should be lived in light of forever. I have a responsibility to challenge my students to consider the life they are living and the destiny they desire. I have a responsibility to live that way myself.

Just last Sunday, I sat down with a young woman in our high school ministry who had asked to talk. She told me she was not happy with where she was at spiritually and that she wanted to make some changes. Rather than spend a lot of time focusing on how to help her do that…I spent the majority of our time reminding her that what she does today should be shaped by who she wants to be tomorrow.

When we know what we want said about us at our funeral…when we know what we want to be known for and to be all about…then and only then do we have a solid filter through which to make our decisions. Youth ministry is not about giving students tools to navigate the stress of today. It is instead about helping them set a compass that will help them navigate all their days in a way that honors God.

Recently…I was reminded of these truths by two GREAT pastors on opposite ends of our country:

1. Louie Giglio recently gave a sermon in Atlanta, Ga., that is beyond worth the time to listen to on this very subject. Seriously, it’s so good you should go download it now and give yourself an hour of life that will remind you what you want all of life to be about. Get some earbuds and drown out the rest of the world for a few. You’ll be so thankful you did.

Here it is under the title: From Here and Now to Now and Forever.

2. Britt Merrick is a pastor in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area whose 8-year-old daughter, Daisy, just tragically died from a three-plus year battle against cancer. In that context, he gave a sermon a few days before Daisy’s death that will rip your heart out. It will also, in no uncertain terms, remind you that while the day of morning is not chosen by any of us, it is still the crucible through which life screams its lessons and lives are forever transformed. This sermon is a video and might be the best 50 minutes you’ve spent in the last 50 days.

It is titled “When Sparrows Fall,” and was given at Reality Santa Barbara.

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Brian Berry
Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.

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