The Shadow of Death

I rushed home as soon as I heard the news. My brain still woozy with jet-lag and reverse culture-shock, I stood with my siblings and cousin in front of my grandpa’s casket on a blustery day in February, a hole dug deep in the frozen ground as we said our final goodbyes. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, the end of a life lived long on this earth.

My grandpa was a quiet, hard-working German and I inherited his stubbornness. Every Wednesday night when I was back in Nebraska, my dad and I would head over to his house for supper. He made that weekly meal for us (and then for my dad, in the long stretches when I wasn’t around) all the way into his early 90s. There was always a coffee cup waiting at my place at the table because he knew once the meal was finished and our ice cream spoons licked clean, I would join him for a warm cup. It was our thing, and I treasure these memories even though they are still painful right now.

We know that we don’t grieve as those who have no hope, yet loss and death can shake us to the core. We can struggle to put on the expected smile and keep pouring out love to those around us, repeating the truths and platitudes that are expected. All the while, a shadow hangs heavy over our hearts.

Sometimes “the shadow of death” is the loss of a loved one far away, and we don’t have the chance for one last goodbye. But it can also hang over many other little and big losses: the death of a dream, the ache of a ministry that is no more, or yet another teammate saying goodbye. We stare headlong into a grave and doubt the heaviness will ever go away.

I wonder what the disciples went through during the in-between days, before the resurrection of Jesus became a reality. Those must have been moments of darkness, sadness, emptiness. And questions. Was everything Jesus had promised them true, when nothing made sense? Were they meant to keep going? Questions come in the face of death and loss.

Jesus gave space for grief. He didn’t rise from the dead within minutes but waited three days. In those days the disciples could mourn, and in the seasons full of loss and goodbyes, we can be sad too. We wait for hope to come, believing it will, but we don’t need to push aside the heartache or pretend everything is okay. Even as they questioned, I imagine the disciples must have looked back a lot, rehearsing in their minds everything Jesus had spoken to them. “He told us about this, right?”

In death, we must do the same. We remember God’s faithfulness, His promises to us when everything feels fuzzy. We remember the good times, the special moments and breakthroughs. We see God’s hand in all the details, in the story He has been weaving for us through each season.

Then, we look ahead with expectation. The shadow of death still hangs heavy while we wait for the resurrection he will bring. We wait for the hope of heaven, and let the light peek in.

How has God worked in your heart in the seasons of grief and loss? How can we sit with you if you need space for grief right now?


Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash


  1. Patty March 21, 2018

    This has come at a time where my team here in Panama has experience death twice this week. One of my co worker’s grandmother passed yesterday and with an act from God, doors open so he could return to be with family. However, his wife and children could not. The same man lost a dear friend who served in Africa last week. Today, three of our TCKs (MK) heard that a good friend was killed in a car accident. So our team grieves. We pray for comfort because we know the Hope that comes in knowing Jesus. We ask you pray for us as we walk through this valley of death.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann March 21, 2018

      Patty, this is so tough for you and your team. Praying for comfort and rest for you all.

    2. Rachel March 21, 2018

      Patty, I’m so sorry for so much loss for your team these days…it seems unending. Grieving with those who grieve, and praying for comfort for all.

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