“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV).
I used to have a hard time understanding why the writer would say something like this. Why would anyone benefit more from sadness, grief, and mourning than joyful fellowship? What does this mean?
I learned the answer to my questions over time, as I grew older. Funerals are not particularly fun events to attend. They aren’t exciting or happy; in fact, I usually end up in tears even if I’ve never met the person. They make my heart hurt for the family and friends because they’re now missing their loved one. They make me wonder why things like this happen to some people, to people who are wonderful people and others who seem too young. But it’s grown more apparent to me over the years that this is exactly why the Ecclesiastes writer says what he says (despite the fact that it’s an inspired message from God).
The living will lay it to heart.
Heart-wrenching times can be the most heart-changing. The still-living will have a chance to reflect on the purpose of life. Those with honest and open hearts will observe their lives and the state of their souls in that moment – second-guess the way they’ve been living, or decide just in what ways they could be better. They have an opportunity to learn Who is in control and just how short this life on earth is. It’s a somber occasion that could be life-changing to those who haven’t yet found life in Christ. A funeral could be the moment when someone realizes that they want what Christ offers because that person now sees how much time is lost by waiting. Realizing that only God can fill the void. Even just that one soul whose eyes were opened in a house of mourning will be rejoiced over (Luke 15:7).
I’ve never been to a funeral or memorial service in which God wasn’t mentioned, one in which some trace of faith wasn’t shown. I’m sure there are some in which He isn’t acknowledged, but He’s there nonetheless; He still sees, and He still knows the state of each person’s soul. During grief is when people want to talk to God the most – to understand the situation or at least find some inkling of comfort. It shows that God will be praised in all aspects of life. God will and should be praised even in the darkest times because He is the light (1 John 1:5). If God is on our side we won’t be surrounded by darkness.
I’ve come to appreciate funerals and use them as a chance to pray for yearning and hurting souls, pray for my own soul, that I’ll live a life worthy of my calling (Ephesians 4:1). I hurt for people and with people, I cry and comfort and love, and it’s because of God that I can do all of these things. It’s because of God that anyone can move forward after a loved one’s death. I’ve learned to pray the hardest and display the biggest faith because of my attendance at funerals. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to sit in my feelings for a while because I know I’m laying it to heart. The lowest points in life are often the most eye-opening moments – the ones in which I come to see God’s majesty more clearly than ever. I never want to discount the grief that those touched by a loss have during this time, but, more often than not, it takes an event this extreme to bring others to the realization that their lives are worth something to God, that they need to live a Christ-filled life.
God is there, and He is working. I pray that everyone’s eyes are opened, no matter the reason – because a life in Christ is worth the grief and worth the tears. They won’t last long, and time certainly won’t last long enough to miss the open door.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 (ESV)
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.