A dear friend was working with me at SGM Headquarters this week. I was preparing a package containing a tiny casket we would be delivering for young parents who had lost their baby. His observation, his words, as I packed the sacred package, have not left my mind since they left his lips.
He spoke of the idea of sin bearers. People who were called to the death bed to take upon themselves the sins of the one leaving this earth. They would carry the sin and the penalty for all the sins of the dying soul. The biblical definition of a sin bearer is: A person or animal that acts in God’s sight in a substitutionary capacity, to whom are transferred the sins of others, together with the corresponding penalty for those sins. (biblegateway.com) We saw this often during the times of animal sacrifice. Before Jesus came to be the once and for all, ultimate, and ONLY worthy sin bearer, to take upon Himself the sins of the world.
It was what he said next that I can’t shake, because for me, one of the most powerful and freeing gifts is to be able to give words to the things that mull around in my depths…to give a name to the sacred wrestlings. Sometimes the names come from unlikely vessels in mundane moments. Most of life is lived in those moments, the worthy things anyway.
“Mrs. Gerken, you are the Grief Bearer. You take some of the pain onto yourself when you enter in with a family. You take their grief. Some of it goes with you.”
I stopped for a moment. It is exactly like that. Some of the pain from each heart enters mine, and we carry it together. Every life I’ve had the privilege of honoring goes with me…both the gifts, and the heaviness. It is a rare gift to be seen and understood by another. And, I will be honest. Few people see me these days…few grasp the heart of what I do, and the consuming craziness of this calling. There is a lonely melancholy to being unseen and misunderstood, but oh… the soothing balm, when someone sees. One beautifully broken soul to another…
I can be the Grief Bearer, bringing shreds of hope to the pits of despair, shining flickers of light in the darkness, only because I don’t have to carry the heavy weight alone. Because, in the carrying…I am carried. Covered by His grace. Filled with His love. Moving as His hands and feet. I won’t say I’m always adept at remembering to give it all over to Him. Some of it is worn on me, with me always. The deep lines in my face…the wrinkle in my forehead, the tired eyes, the dark circles from little sleep, the weary ache in my bones to match the ache of my heart, and a face permanently stained with tears…as if tattooed in a stream down my cheeks.
I wear the evidence with great honor, knowing that it is an unspeakable privilege to be used in this way. Poured out, grace oozing from this broken vessel…this vessel whom He loves. I can bear it, because of Him…and because…There are other things that stay with me, as well…
The grateful hug of a mother clinging to hope. The “thank you” that speaks volumes. The celebration of a life, however brief…but always worthy. The otherworldly experience of standing again and again in the place where heaven meets earth and peace that makes no earthly sense fills the room, overwhelming my senses…and quieting every inch of turmoil in the hearts that beat in that place, in that room. That room, where Jesus comes near…as much for the church goer, as He does for the drug addict.
Joy is sweeter after tasting sorrow. And, laughter escapes my lips as often as tears stain my cheeks. This too, is a gift that comes from bearing grief…my own…and the grief of others.
And, most of all…the gift of knowing Him. Of knowing about the love of my Jesus, the One who sees the most broken individual and says, “I choose that one.” The One Who hunts us down with His love. Each soul. Every soul. No one overlooked. No one unworthy. No one deemed hopeless. No one.
I will wear the name Grief Bearer with gratefulness, because He lives. And, because of His grace and love. And, so the next family doesn’t walk alone.