The twelve year old boy sat by himself in the funeral home lobby staring at his shoes. It wasn’t that his shoes were that interesting but rather he simply hoped people would quit noticing him. He looked as though he could not stand one more well meaning aunt or cousin patting his shoulder and telling him everything would be alright.
Finally the area near the casket cleared out and the boy found the courage to walk over and take a look at the person lying there. He grabbed the edge of the casket, his knuckles white as the lilies in the arrangement nearby. His face was red and eyes puffy but no tears would come. And so he just stood there, frozen, staring at the man I knew was his father.
“This child needs help,” I thought. But try as I might I couldn’t think of anything to say with any more depth than what the others had said to him. My eyes closed as I offered up a breath of prayer for the tortured boy before me. “Lord, I don’t know how to help him.”
As I opened my eyes, to my amazement I didn’t see the same boy standing there. He was about the same size and apparently the same age. But his clothes were different. I scanned the child, trying to understand how he had switched places so quickly with the other boy.
Then I looked down at his feet and caught my breath. Those penny loafers with the wheat head penny stuffed in the front flap. They looked familiar; too familiar. The boy turned toward me and it hit me. It was me. In my mind I had drifted back to a place I had so desperately tried to forget.
My father died of a massive heart attack when I was exactly the age of the boy I had been observing. For years the whole thing had seemed so pointless. Sure, I had heard all the usual exhortations. “God works all things together for good …” In the words of a modern day philosopher, “Yada, yada, yada.” Try as I might I had never been able to see any wonderful purpose in a twelve year boy watching his father die five hundred miles from home in a motel room.
I rubbed my eyes as the tears that could not form for that other boy did in my own. Somehow, God was using the pain of my past to link me with that young man trying to find a way to say goodbye to his father.
A scripture passage clawed its way out of the prison where I had thrown all the platitudes thrown at me over the years. Yes, there it was. We can comfort others with the same comfort God has shown us. A voice whispered to me, “Just go tell that boy you know how he feels because you are the only one here that truly does.”
Without hesitation I stood and walked over to the boy at the casket. “Son, you don’t know me but I just wanted to tell you something.”
The young face looked up pat me hardened by the same feelings I had experienced years before. “What is it mister?”
“I lost my dead almost exactly the way you did when I was your age. Everybody tried to make me feel better. Some even told me to act like a man when I was just a boy.”
Feeling free to join in his private moment I placed my hands on the casket beside his.
“Any way, I just wanted to tell you its ok to cry if you need to. It’s ok to be mad. It’s ok to tell God how you feel about it. Just give it all to Him and one day it will be ok. Really.”
When I finished I walked away and sat down.
Somehow it only seemed right to leave the child alone with his earthly father and his heavenly Father. A few minutes later he reached up and stoked his dad’s hair. He turned toward me with big warm tears flowing down cheeks.
As he walked past me he smiled and patted my shoulder and walked away. There was no verbal “thank you” and no more words spoken. There was no need for any. As that young man left memories of my earthly father flooded my mind. Somehow I had not only offered a bit of peace to that boy but I had experienced it for myself.
I stood to leave the funeral home and smiled. There really is purpose in what often seems pointless. How else could I have helped that boy if I had not been able to say “I know how you feel” and really mean it?
Take a look around you tomorrow. Do you see someone mired in what seems to be a pointless moment of life? Perhaps God has done something in your past that will bring purpose to both someone else and yourself.