An Unlikely Teacher (some thoughts on grief)

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “Who is your teacher right now?” We are always learning, always being taught by someone or something in our lives. Sometimes fear can be a teacher (not a great one), and sometimes we are being taught by courage. Sometimes it is a friend or an experience. In the last few months, mine has been grief.

Grief showed up like an unwelcome houseguest back in August. My Grandpa was taken to the hospital and we learned that his heart was functioning at a very low level. We thought he might have days or weeks left to live. In true Grandpa fashion, he lived for almost two very full months after that.

I treated grief as a guest who I had not invited. After all, she is never invited and showed up far before she was even expected. And she comes with so much baggage! I ignored her presence and hoped she would leave, until someone asked me, “What does grief have to teach you?” Anything can teach us something.

Grief taught me many things, some new and some that were simply good reminders. She taught me that people grieve in many different ways and we have to leave space for that. We have to give grace to people who are walking through hard situations. She taught me that life is pretty short and we can’t waste a moment of it. There simply isn’t time to waste on trivial things.

When I preached at my church a few weeks ago, I ended up talking about this concept of legacy. There is nothing like someone passing away to make us reevaluate how we live our lives. One of my coworkers recently said, “There is something about death that makes us think about life.”

In my Grandpa’s last weeks of life, he knew exactly what it was all about: Jesus and family. There is nothing profound about this; we all probably know that at the end of it all very few things actually matter. We are so aware that when we pass from this life to the next the amount of clothes we own or the numbers in our bank account literally do not matter. But they seem important to us today – so we suddenly are consumed with things that will not last but will bring a temporary satisfaction. We approach life with an immediate gratification perspective in a million ways.

“We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.” – Anne Lamott

There is something about death that simplifies life. It brings into focus what actually matters and helps us determine who we really want to be. Going to a funeral reminds you that after you’re gone, people will talk about you. And right now you can influence what kind of things they will say. My Grandpa was a really good surgeon. But nobody talked about that at his funeral – they talked about how he spent his time clearing the neighborhood with his snowblower every year. They talked about how involved he was in his Bible study and we talked about how he was a wonderful, loving Grandpa.

Legacy is what lives on beyond you. What will be said? What will people remember? Unless your life points people to Jesus, there isn’t a lot they will talk about years after you are gone. If your legacy is about you, it dies with you. If your legacy is about Jesus, it lives forever.

So maybe you’re in a really happy season of life and you’re thinking, “Wow, Kal, this is a downer!” But hopefully even in the midst of good times we can remember what actually matters; we can focus on the kind of life we really want to live.

Grief helps us drown out the noise and distractions of life and remember what we really need to be focusing on. While I did not want her around, grief did teach me quite a few valuable lessons. And because she doesn’t ever actually leave (she likes to stop by randomly every once in a while), she can continue to teach me things about how to live well even in the midst of the hard things. Grief is hard but holy; Jesus experienced and understands it. He doesn’t leave us alone in it. It is beautiful work, hard and holy.

So friend, today I guess I’d ask you a few questions:
Who is teaching you right now?
What are you grieving and are you actually acknowledging it?
What will be your legacy? What will people say about you when you’re gone?

It is nothing groundbreaking, but I think we’d all live pretty differently if we had this perspective all the time. We might treat each other with a little more gentleness, say I love you more often, and be more generous with all things in our lives. 

I’m all about the resurrection – I believe that pain comes and then the newness. Or as Glennon Doyle says, “First the pain, then the rising.” The gospel tells us that all hard things lead to holy things. All Good Fridays lead to Easters. We just have to learn from our teachers.


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I write to process, and sometimes send those thoughts out into the void. Passionate about Jesus and people and bringing those two together. Living in and loving Denver. Working with college students, who are the coolest. Seeking Jesus and JOY in everything.

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