The Education of Bereavement
“As an eagle stirreth up her nest …. So the LORD alone did lead him,” (Deuteronomy 32:11 and 12)
“What a startling thought- that the breaking up of the nest is an act of God’s benevolence! I always looked upon it as a calamity. We are all familiar with the experience of the breaking-up of home. We remember the glad circle round the old fire, and how it grew thinner and thinner. One went to the colonies; one went out to be a governess; one departed with a stranger to a house of her own; more than one passed into the silent land. I always thought it a subject for tears. But here is an old writer who makes it a subject for praise, blesses God for it, declares it to be the first step of my education! I can understand God’s love in many things. I can understand why I should praise Him for His gifts to body and soul. But I lose my breath in surprise when I am asked to make the first stanza of my hymn the adoration of His mercy in loosing the ties of home! Nay, my soul, it is to strengthen these ties that my Father breaks up the nest. It is not to get rid of home He would teach thee to fly. It is that thou mayst learn by travel that thy home is wider than thy nest. He would have thee learn that in they Father’s house are many mansions, of which thy nest is only one. He would tell thee of a brotherhood in Christ which includes, yet transcends, thy household fires. He would tell thee of a family altar which makes thee brother to the outcast, sister to the friendless, father to the homeless, mother to the sick, son to the feeble, daughter to the aged- in kinship to all. Dost thou remember how the child Jesus in the temple lost His parents for a time. It was to Him the first breaking of the nest; it made Him think in His solitude of the wider house of His Father. So is it with thy temple, O my soul. They parents, they brothers, thy sisters, leave thee behind; and in the vacant place there arises a new altar- humanity. Thy Father has given thee wings in the night, wings in the breaking of thy ties. Thou hast soared by they sorrow; thou hast loved by they loss; thou hast widened by thy weeping; thou hast grown by thy grief; thou hast broadened in being broken; thou hast enlarged thy sympathy by emptying out they treasures. The storm that shook thy nest taught thee to fly.”
(George Matheson, Leaves for Quiet Hours p. 147-149)
This honestly has helped me. It encouraged me in my own time with ‘the education of bereavement’. Each of us has our own lessons to learn. Mine came in two seasons. My heart echoes the sorrow George Matheson must have felt at recalling old times. ‘We remember the glad circle round the old fire, and how it grew thinner and thinner.’ This was my nest once. And one by one- they left. I am the youngest of five children, and I’ve watched as three of my older siblings have gotten married or, at some point or another, moved away. It can be a hard lesson to learn when your family is especially close to one another. This was my first lesson in the education of bereavement. What once felt like a solid family unit, became scattered into isolated groups. It felt lonely at times. Like, you've been left behind in the shuffle and excitement that life brings, and then forgotten. But, as George Matheson has said, it can also teach you to fly. Oddly enough, I’ve never known something to strengthen the remaining few relationships at home, as when one member leaves. It is the sweet after tone of a bitter bite. I found that, it also helped teach me to be confident in exactly who I was as a person. As an individual. You no longer hide behind the shadows of your brother or sisters- but step outside the comfortable conformity of many feathers in one small place. Maybe not everyone needs to learn this lesson, but when I was younger, I would often strive to be liked and accepted by other people; by my siblings, and especially by my peers, and even older sibling’s friends. I would sometimes emulate what they did in many small ways, because they were cool and interesting and a lot of fun. Not that I was ever not liked by others or somehow rejected, mind you, but it was my own personality tendency to “conform”. I still have to be careful of this even to this day. But though this education of bereavement, through this lesson, I learned to be who I was; who God had made me to be. And I learned to be confident in it. I was learning to fly.
The second lesson came much harder for me. It was when my family went through very trying times several years later. If I could ever say that my family was on the brink of completely falling apart, it was then. I dare not share the details of that time in our life. It isn’t necessary. But the verse in Psalms 27:10 became very real for me. “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.” I never understood the meaning David must have had to this verse, until then. My nest was stirred. And more than once I felt as if I would be falling to my death. But through this, Jesus taught me how to fly. He picked me up and through the shifting of my nest, my home, taught me lessons that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Change can be a hard thing. And the stirring of the nest can be too. But God is faithful. And He uses what would feel like our most sorrowful bereavements to strengthen and to grow our faith. They became reasons for praise.
Later, in this same chapter, we see David giving praise. He says- “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Psalms 27:13 and 14)
David would have fainted, unless He had believed to see the goodness of the LORD. Sometimes you have to believe, before you will be able to see it. He believed in order to see. Sometimes the stirring of our nests feels anything but that of the “goodness of the LORD”. But this is where we hold fast to our faith in Christ Jesus our Lord and trust Him to work all things together for good. And He will. Just as He promised.
“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)