By Susannah Cragwick
When you are mourning the loss of a loved one, I will sit with you in silence if that is what your soul needs. If it brings your heart joy and your soul contentment to tell me about your loved one’s faith and how their faith has shaped you, I will gladly and full-heartedly listen, for I know that the faith of our loved ones can have a huge impact on who we become. If you want to share with me your visualizations of your loved one in Heaven, how you picture them in peace and their pain is gone, the peace in my heart will resonate with the peace in yours and I will treasure all that you choose to share with me.
What I want you to know is this: I will not ask you if your loved one was saved or if they had given their life to Christ. All my life, these questions have been repeated over and over and there has always been something about them that has disturbed me. Although it seems that the intention behind these questions is supposedly to comfort and reassure, I have never been fully convinced. As I reflect on my church upbringing, I realize that the topic of eternity has always been given these definite, non-negotiable, cut-and-dried answers.
Through multiple conversations, countless sermons, and even incredibly cliché dramas, I have seen people constantly labeled as “this person gets to go to Heaven, but this other person is going to Hell.” In the way that I now choose to define my own Christian faith, I am no longer able to accept this arrogant treatment of humanity where people are boxed in and categorized according to their supposed worthiness or unworthiness of God’s love.
Treasuring the life that your loved one lived, hearing stories of how they impacted humanity, and getting even a small glimpse into the legacy they passed onto future generations, is my priority. I promise you that I will not place their soul into mental file folders of “in Heaven or not.” I don’t even know what God’s will is in my own life. Therefore, I believe that I possess zero authority to label the fate of someone else’s eternal soul.
“Were they saved?” “Did they accept the Lord before they passed?” What people may not realize when they ask these questions is that they could actually be increasing pain. The person in mourning not only needs to navigate the intense pain of losing a loved one, but also any anxiety and fear of judgment generated by having their loved one’s religious beliefs brought into question. If my loved one was Christian, I can easily give an answer that satisfies those who prescribe to the magic salvation prayer formula to eternity, the limited view (in my opinion) that only Christians belong in Heaven.
When I confirm that my loved ones completed what they perceive as the correct criteria for obtaining God’s salvation, they will likely continue to comfort me and may also view my loved one’s life and overall moral compass through a lens of heightened respect. I do not have to fear their judgment of my loved one’s faith or my ability to share my own because my loved one had the “right” religion. However, saying that my loved one was not Christian or, worse yet, that they had rejected the church yields disconcerting looks and expressions of dissatisfaction.
My mind cannot help but wander into the realm of overwhelming questions when faced with the reality that their attempts at sympathy now seem halfhearted. This person was to me a role model of humanitarian love, charity, and peace – are they visualizing this blessed soul as damned? This loved one so dear to my heart, are they picturing God rejecting them from his presence, declaring them unworthy of his love? It is too much for anyone to carry. The knowledge of a person’s religious beliefs alone should never influence how much respect they receive or how their moral compass is viewed; but so often, I feel like that is not the case.
In mourning the loss of a loved one, there is an indescribable pain. To even function in the deepest part of the grieving process takes every ounce of our mental and emotional strength. If I could, I would, but I cannot fully lift that burden from you. I want you to understand that no one has ever had the right to place the weight of your loved one’s eternal soul upon your shoulders. So, if you don’t feel like answering certain questions or you need to remove yourself from an environment that causes you pain, I will support you in that.
Regardless of what anyone might ask or say to you, do not let your mind fall into the guilt-causing narrative that you did not witness to your loved one enough. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your faith or your ability to communicate Christ’s love. You did not fail him or your loved one if, for the sake of true connection, you chose to look beyond traditional methods of proselytizing. Christ connects with people in so many different ways beyond what we can imagine.
Completely honoring our loved ones in every conversation and not seeking to change them has never been evidence that we are ashamed of Christ. Let go of any guilt or shame that you were never meant to carry and know that you have never been anything less than a complete reflection of Christ’s indescribable, limitless love to those around you now and those now in eternity.
We will remember your loved ones together and cherish their life. I will hold close to my heart the truth of God’s unfathomable love that even in, especially in eternity transcends the parameters of all human definitions. I will be with you throughout the grieving process, helping you navigate any fears that may arise. Any questions I ask will only be so that, through you, I can get to know your loved one more.
Yet these questions of “Were they saved?” or “Did they give their life to Christ?” are not important. You will never have to worry about giving the right answers to please my views of God, faith, and eternity. The truth is that I have no definite answers. So, talk with me if you want to, if you need to. Dwell in silence and I will remain with you. If you need space, I will facilitate that and be but a phone call away. You are safe here. And your loved ones, both those with you now and those who have passed away, are and always will be unquestionably, eternally loved.