3-Week Series: Double Blessing


Summary: Based on the book of Lamentations, this sermon deals with how to handle grief

Good Grief?

Pastor Jeff Williams


In the Twinkling of an Eye

I heard the sirens as I ate my lunch. The racket seemed to be coming from north of town and I almost drove out there but I had a full afternoon schedule. I sat down at my desk and my secretary told me I had a phone call from the church.

Maxine and I had been filling in running the student ministry after our youth pastor left. It was not unusual for the secretary to call me. I looked at the clock. I knew I had an appointment soon but I picked up the phone. The next ten seconds changed my life.

Our church secretary was not known for her charm or her tact. (She’s not as gracious as Angie!) She said, in a tone completely void of any feeling, “Did you hear the little Barnett girl got killed just a minute ago?”

My head spun. I thought I was going to throw up. I had never before experienced the emotions that overwhelmed me. I hung up the phone and just sat there, completely numb.

But I didn’t cry.

The phone suddenly started ringing off the hook with students calling to see if I knew what was going on. I didn’t know what to do and I felt like I was swimming in jell-o. Finally, after a phone call to a mentor, I canceled all my appointments and went home.

But I didn’t cry.

I paced back and forth, talking out loud.

“This can not be true. This is a mistake. There’s a mix up. Wasn’t she just sitting on the back of my car last night talking about school? God, she’s only 16. This is not happening!”

I called Maxine and she came home immediately.

But I didn’t cry.

Later, that afternoon, I sat in Leanne’s living room at the feet of her mother. Her mother’s blank look masked a depth of grief that I can hardly fathom. The house filled up with people and food. Some sat silently. Some talked non-stop.

That night, I called together a group of students and we sat shiva. This is a Jewish custom where you sit together and tell stories about the person. In a small bed room, about twenty-five teenagers crammed in and cried together. I comforted and hugged a lot.

But I didn’t cry.

Two days later, I was at the funeral home with the family. The visitation started at noon and at 10:00 PM we had to turn people away. I escorted every student in our group up to the casket. I said the same thing to each of them. I had them look at her and then look at the collage of pictures next to the casket. I asked them, “What’s missing?” The obviously answer was “Leanne.” Many of the pictures were of her laughing. Hour after hour I hugged and prayed.

But I didn’t cry.

There was a time for private viewing and a group of her friends gathered around the casket. These were her best friends. Out of the blue, one of them yelled, “Wake up!” Soon all them started yelling. Then they collapsed into a sobbing heap of sorrow. It still ranks today as one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

But I didn’t cry.

The former youth minister came back to do the funeral. Before the service I was asked to pray. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find words. I had been to seminary. I knew what to say, right? Wrong! I just remember mumbling that God was good. I don’t know whether I was trying to help the family or convince myself.

The funeral was full of funny stories about Leanne and we laughed a lot. It was full of hope. She was a beautiful lover of Jesus. She was enormously gifted in leadership. She was more friend than student. She was special.

That’s what made me so angry! She was special! How many students had she led to Christ? What kind of impact would she have had on this dark and dying world? Why her God? She was just running late for work and forgot her seat-belt. God You saw the car coming over the hill. You saw Leanne pulling out, looking the other way. You could have stopped this. But You didn’t. Why?!

These were the accusing thoughts that haunted my heart and mind.

But I still didn’t cry.

After the funeral, Maxine and I walked back to my office. There were so many flowers that the arrangements had been put all over the church. I stopped to look at one that had pictures of Leanne. Right then, something happened that I find hard to explain even after ten years.

I started to cry.

Not a few tears but heaving sobs that came from somewhere deep inside that I didn’t even know existed. I couldn’t control it and I blushed in embarrassment as Maxine just held me.

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