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I’m know I’m going to cry when she’s gone.
I can feel it waiting there, simmering and taunting the edges, about to boil over. A day is coming — and it might be soon — when I turn on my computer and learn that she’s gone.
And I just know the tears are going to fall.
What I don’t know is what I’m supposed to say to my family when they ask me what’s wrong.
How will I explain that I’m grieving for someone I’ve never met? For a family who doesn’t even know I exist?
I first read about Kara Tippetts’ story through her guest post on Ann Voskamp’s site, when Kara wrote a moving letter to Brittany Maynard, encouraging her to choose life. I didn’t want to get all tangled up in the hurts and the joys, but I was hooked, and she reeled me in. Later, iBelieve.com featured an excerpt from Kara’s book, The Hardest Peace.
Though I’ve only shared in her story through a screen, the ache in my gut is genuine. My chest literally hurts when I think about Kara’s circumstances. She has fought valiantly against cancer with tremendous grace and beauty. My stomach knots and twists when I think about the husband and four young kids she will leave behind.
The agony in my spirit over their pending loss begs the question: Why do I care?
Members of one body
At first, I thought my grief and sorrow were linked to the fact that Kara and I are both believers. Because of Christ, she is my sister. We may only meet in glory, but she’s part of my family, and I’m part of hers. Though we’ve never spoken to each other, we are bonded as heirs together, “members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6b).
I grieve for my sister in Christ.
When I broke a bone a couple of years ago, it affected my whole body. Just a small fracture on a tiny little bone caused a major life shift for over two months. This reality applies when it comes to the body of Christ as well. In 1 Corinthians 12, when the Apostle Paul writes about believers as members of one body, he says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). Through Kara’s cancer, one member of the body is suffering — yet all who are part of that same body suffer together. When she shares news on Facebook or her blog about a restful night, or reduced pain, we all rejoice together, as Paul writes in Romans 12:15 — “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
So, for Christians, it makes sense when we grieve for other believers, whether we’ve met them in person or not. But what about unbelievers? What about non-Christians who read the news headlines and get teary-eyed when they hear about lives lost to terrorism, car accidents, plane crashes, murders? There is a whole gamut of tragedy in the world, and believers and unbelievers alike feel the weight of these sorrows.
Made in His image
When Christians grieve for unbelievers, they’re not grieving for a part of their own body. It’s the same when an unbeliever grieves. Yet those instances of grief are just as raw and real. The whole world wept over the events that transpired in Ferguson, Missouri with the shooting of Michael Brown; in Paris, France with the bombing at Charlie Hebdo; in Asia with the disappearance and recovery of a crashed aircraft. To ignore these tragedies or brush over them without emotion is a sign of a hardened heart. Whether Christian or not, we grieve and mourn deeply over this news.
So my grief over Kara’s illness can’t only be because she’s my sister in Christ. It has to be more than that.
As I gave it some thought, it struck me:
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It’s because we are made in the image of God.
We were made in the image of God, created by a triune deity who lives in perfect relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I’ll never forget the day that my eyes were opened to the truth of Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness ….” Why does it say “us”? Because it wasn’t only the Father who created mankind — it was Father, Son and Holy Spirit, together.
We were made to be in relationship.
Once I got that figured out, the question regarding why I care about people I’ve never met makes more sense.
In all of my fallen brokenness, by His grace, I still bear a resemblance to the triune God.
Isn’t that crazy to think about?
That also means that to a limited degree, I share many of His attributes. The God of love makes my heart to beat in love. We were made by Love, for love.
He is the reason I can have compassion. The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort left His fingerprints all over us (2 Cor. 1:3).
When I grieve for someone who doesn’t know me, even then I can trace the roots back to my Creator, who grieves over those who have yet to bow the knee and know Him. He knows their story far better than I know Kara’s, and He mourns over them.
We care, we love, we mourn because of His imprint on our beings.
So if my family asks me why I’m grieving for someone I’ve never met, I’ll have an answer: Because I’m made in the image of God.
Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African and together they have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung.