Giving an honest witness in a tough situation

(Lisa Madden) #1


I’d be interested what you might consider in my situation. My mother passed away very recently and I’m going to be speaking at her memorial soon. I’ve been praying the Lord would give me His heart to redeem this time. To put it in a nutshell, she claimed Christ but no one knows if she ever truly embraced Him and I am inclined to believe she never truly knew Him. She lived a painful life and inflicted a lot of pain on many others, especially those closest to her. Sadly, she attempted to “witness” while being very cruel to those who were attempting to serve her, many of who were not Christians. Jesus was full of truth AND grace. I love my Mom and I’ve forgiven her personally, but am also concerned that well meaning people attempting to honor her don’t nail shut the coffin her actions built of hope in the living gospel. My sister is asking me for scriptures and songs to share. Also my sister, myself and the officiate are praying about what messages to share. If this were your responsibility do any thoughts come to your mind?

(Carson Weitnauer) #2

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for sharing this with us. It is a precious gift to hear what you are experiencing. First and foremost, I am sorry that your Mom lived this way, and my best guess is that there is a bittersweetness to preparing for her funeral. It is very encouraging that you have found that Jesus is full of truth and grace and that He has given you a way to forgive her.

I feel one tension in your situation is between the fifth commandment, to honor our father and mother, and the Biblical commitment to speak the truth in love. In my circumstances, people sometimes seem to expect sentimentality at funerals.

I think what would be brave, but also beautiful, would be to share your own journey of clearly identifying the ways your mother was hurtful, both in how she was very cruel, but also how that co-existed with her witnessing about Jesus in the same breath. If you tell your own story of how you came to forgive her because of your personal relationship with Jesus, no one can take that from you. This allows you to speak forthrightly, but without being disrespectful, about what everyone at the funeral will know about your mother. At the same time, it gives you an opportunity to clearly contrast and distinguish your mom’s example with what we see in the gospel, and how the gospel leads us to recognize our own need for forgiveness, gives us the ability to forgive others, and enables us to love those who are most difficult to love. This could be a personal way to share the truth and grace of Jesus.

I hope this is helpful. It is hard to know how to answer since there are so many details of your situation that we do not know. We will be praying for you and those who will be at the funeral. I look forward to hearing from you.

(Allison Hamilton) #3

Hi Lisa,

I so appreciate you sharing your heart with us. Your desire to honor Jesus and make Him known is beautiful and compelling, especially in light of the difficult challenge you and your sister are facing in planning your mother’s funeral. I honestly don’t know the specifics of how to navigate this, but I pray that God will give you wisdom and clear guidance in every detail, and that you will find overwhelming peace and comfort in the knowledge that He is with you.

(SeanO) #4

@spring, sorry to hear of this loss. May the Lord grant you wisdom to speak to the hearts of those who come.

I think the following article offered very good advice that would be helpful in your situation.

I think the following excerpt is very applicable:

In many cases, even someone who has made a total wreck of his or her life has had those times where God has used that person in some way or another in order to bless other people. Finding those things as an aspect of gratitude to God. “Thank you for the fact that you gave us this person. Thank you that you used this person in the following ways.” is completely appropriate to do at a funeral. Now having said that, be honest and don’t make up attributes about this person who has died. If you do, all that you’re going to communicate to the people who are hearing you is not comfort. You’re just going to communicate the fact that you’re a liar. And they’re not going to believe anything else that you’ve said.

So if you have somebody who was a very miserly person, you don’t want to get up and say “What a generous person this is.” If this is somebody who harbored bitterness, you don’t want to get up and say “This is somebody who was so forgiving.” You want to be truthful in the things that you say. That doesn’t mean that you have to get up and say “You know, this was a really bitter woman,” or “This was a really unforgiving man.” You don’t need to say that. You leave those things in in silence. They don’t need to be said.

There are some cases where I think it’s appropriate to raise the sort of issue that everyone’s thinking of. I was at a funeral one time for someone who had been a really, really short-tempered guy. The Lord had used this guy in all sorts of ways, but everybody had had a run in with him, and every one of those run ins were really scorching. And so his son simply said, “Hey, my dad was not the easiest person to deal with. He was kind of a prickly guy.” And there was laughter, a kind of relieved laughter that took place in the room. Because the point of the eulogy was not to settle a score with his dad, it was to say “Hey, I know you all are thinking about some difficult times that you had with my dad, but let’s also remember the ways that God used him.” I think that’s entirely appropriate in that case.

(Jimmy Lee) #5

I was recently in a situation very similar to yours. I can only speak for myself as your situation, though similar, is unique, and ultimately the Lord will provide the correct answer for you.

I chose to follow this rule - “Always speak the truth, or, at least do not lie”. I spoke the truth of the good in the person, and left the rest of the truth sitting silently, available for post-ceremonial discussion should someone choose that path. I found this to be the most graceful way. No one raised the issue of the silent truth afterwards. I think the reality is that we all hope for grace in the final words spoken over us. I came to see the beauty of the deceased’s purpose in following this path because it focused me on the good within them, and led me to understand more compassionately how their more undesirable behavior had developed. Again, this was my path. I merely provide this information for your consideration.

(Jennifer Judson) #6


I pray in the midst of this God will bless you all and bring you peace and confidence in whatever message you share.

We had a similar situation with my grandfather. He was a very gruff man. His war experiences in WWI changed him completely. Before the war he was the joke editor of his yearbook and considered a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. After the was he was always grim and unfeeling. In spite of this he promised God if he survived the war he’d be in church every Sunday. But the foxhole promise did not seem to cover Mon.-Sat. My mom said he was not a disciplinarian because you didn’t even think of crossing him. Though he was rough on this family, he was a very moral man and always this gentleman with others.

So one side saw the church-going gentleman, and the other side saw the gruff meanness. His funeral was going to be full of church members who saw the one side and family who saw the other. I knew if his eulogy was all about what a wonderful god-fearing man he had been that my uncles would probably get up and leave. I discussed this dilemma with our preacher who was doing the eulogy. Amazingly it was brilliant. He spoke about his heroism in the war (most decorated soldier from Indiana) at 17 years old and how this imprinted on the man he would become–for better and worse. The pastor showed a real balance of the two sides of his character and how God can use us all. So he managed to both show him in a real light and point to the light that can save us.

This was important to me because 3 of his children and offspring are unchurched and non-believers. I wanted them to know that in even in church a flawed person is welcome. So I truly understand your dilemma.

Often how we love is a reflection of the way we were loved growing up. Perhaps there were things that malformed your mother’s understanding of love and capacity to see things through another person’s eyes. I think sharing her complexities in love, though she was not always loving, would be both honest and powerful.

Ultimately, it’s not about how small her heart may have seemed but the infinite size of our God and his loving us even when we were yet sinners. We are all diamonds in the rough with many facets that we need to yield to God before we become that wonderful stone that shines and shimmers as it catches the light.

God be with you and your family.

(Lisa Madden) #7

I really appreciate this all. My own thoughts have been similar and yet I’m still searching. Any thoughts re: types of scriptures or songs or how to not imply that the scriptures or songs are an attempt to reflect her life?

(Melvin Greene) #8

I’m very sorry to hear of your loss and the rather awkward position you’re in, in having to give the eulogy, @spring. I too will be praying for peace and comfort for you and your sister.

As far as knowing what to say, that is a tough one to advise. I guess one thing I would say to you is that your mom could have had a saving relationship with Jesus, even though she was not a pleasant person to be around. I obviously don’t know her history, but she could have been a much worse person before accepting Jesus. C.S. Lewis wrote a little on that. He said that Jesus meets all of us at different places in our lives. Some of us come from very rough beginnings, and will only make it so far on our journeys to being like Christ. So, some of us have a lot farther to go than others. That’s why you get Christians who are still not very nice, while others are very Christ-like. I think of my father-in-law. He was a very cruel and abusive man when I first married my wife. He would make her cry several times when she called him; saying very hateful things to her. He eventually came to accepting Christ as savior. There was a noticeable change in his behavior. However, he is still a bit “rough around the edges.” So, maybe your mom was like that. And maybe, that’s a way to tell the truth, but still be loving and respectful.

(Keldon Scott) #9

I love connect. The way everyone has reached out to your genuine and love-filled query is so inspiring. I echo the condolences offered.

I think many of the comments can be summed up by this: chase after the glory your mom was made for as you present your heart-filled love for her and the forgiveness that each of us all need for our inadequacies that may very well exceed those of your mom.

(Lisa Madden) #10

I’m extremely thankful for each reply and your prayers! Isn’t it amazing that total strangers can share the burdens of your heart genuinely? I’ll be grateful to hear any more wisdom the Lord gives you all but I just want to tell you thank you! Your love and care is priceless.

At this point I’ve been thinking of sharing some ways she cared for others that I’m grateful for, then acknowledging that many there may have been hurt by her at some point, and let them know if they’ve ever served her when it wasn’t easy, or forgiven her, thank you. I’d like to talk a little about the groaning of creation I saw in her that we can all relate to. Finally I’d like to share that from her current eternal vantage point now, that I have no doubt she’d have only one message—to urge them to seek God while they live…

These are rough thoughts and I welcome honest feedback.

(Jennifer Judson) #11

While re-reading these posts two songs came to mind for the simple wholeness of their message. Amazing Grace and Just As I Am.

What is so evident in your posts is that you are seeking God’s wisdom and heart. I am confident that God will lead you to the right selections.

(Carson Weitnauer) #12

Hi Lisa, it sounds like you are prayerfully and soberly reflecting on this situation - and headed in a wise direction. I’m praying for you and those who knew your mom this morning. As you feel comfortable and have time, please let us know how it goes.

(Lisa Madden) #13

How would you succinctly communicate the truth that man’s sin, in this case the sin of someone who lived a life full of evil while claiming His name, that this sin of man does not reflect on, shame or nullify the truth of the gospel? How do you succinctly but objectively reveal that the integrity of any life lived is not equivalent to the integrity of God’s message claimed? Am I making sense? Is there a way to put it in a nutshell very clearly?

I know many have mentioned praying for me. I need and treasure every prayer. Please especially pray that God will reveal Himself and reconcile many to Himself through the memorial this weekend.

(Carson Weitnauer) #14

Hi Lisa,

That is a great and tough question.From what I have heard from you, sadly, your mother’s witness and cruelty were side by side. How do we distinguish the difference? In this light, James 3:9-12 comes to mind:

With it [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

In the New Bible Commentary on these verses we read:

In James’s day the king or emperor would set up his statue in the cities of his realm. If anyone insulted or cursed the statue, they were treated as if they had cursed the emperor to his face, for the statue was the image of the emperor. Therefore the insulting of a person, made in God’s image, is like insulting God himself. This duality, two different and contradictory words coming out of the same mouth, is a type of hypocrisy.

Please let me know if this is in the right direction? I would be glad to be of further help to you.

(Lisa Madden) #15

I’ve had a lot of people share and it touches me. Thank you to everyone who has tried to help me. Here’s the essence of the issue. I don’t believe in works righteousness and fully understand no one entering heaven has lived a righteous life as Christ did, and none of us will earn grace. I also know Jesus said that you’ll know a Christian by their love and know a believer by their fruit. Eternal life is a weighty matter! And it all hinges on a relationship that in many ways, beyond the fruit, is hidden from our eyes. Eternal life isn’t a matter of what we say, but to “KNOW Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Jesus said not everyone who says to Him, “Lord…” will enter into heaven, and that those whose lives are characterized as workers of iniquity are often tares, not wheat. This is certainly not what anyone wants to hear at a funeral, nor does it need to be, but the urge to believe all will be in heaven is strong and many times the passions of our wishes and feelings are given way to in place of, and to the detriment of, the truth that can save men’s souls. James says the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable. I want to stand on that, first pure, then peaceable ground, because that’s where joy and peace and life abounds.

I certainly hope to not be needlessly taking up time in this forum when other’s needs are greater. I just long for wisdom and clarity. I too have a tender heart for my mom and though I have more pain than sweetness, I love her and miss her. I also love my sisters who are all over the board with me, grieving, loving and wounded, and want to be sensitive to them as they remember her fondly at this time. But even more, I long that those who don’t know the Lord’s goodness would see His face clearly and know He is a very real Friend and Refuge, completely able to save AND make new!

I know at the memorial this weekend I’m likely to have many “assure” me that she is in heaven. I’ve done all I can and so am at peace with having had the privilege of loving her and sharing all I could, and that now it’s fully in God’s capable hands–both all knowing and all loving. I’m not ok though with smiling and nodding in agreement when truth is at stake. Perhaps I’ll just acknowledge God knows and she’s in His hands now. I know Ravi has ways of saying truth very profoundly and succinctly, and didn’t know if someone might have an insight to help me communicate.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m wanting to hear His voice and the insights of the body of Christ. This is hard for us all as we die to our feelings and seek the good of all around us. In our culture we seem to insist on a happy ending, and when it comes to death, everyone is a “believer”. She may have been, and I very much hope she was, but that’s not my place to say at this point. I believe that where ever she is, from the standpoint of eternity, that she would also earnestly want people now to know the truth, and though it may not seem to be the most immediately comforting path, the truth is always the most loving and to those who surrender, the strongest solid comfort at the end of the day.

(Carson Weitnauer) #16

Hi Lisa, I consider it a gift that you are sharing with us, and to be able to pray for you and hopefully encourage you. I share all these thoughts with hesitation, knowing how much I don’t know about your particular circumstances!

I wonder if it would be helpful for you to think through the main people you hope to build trust and friendship with in the next week and at the memorial. For instance, your sisters and perhaps some of the close friends you will reconnect with this weekend. How could your words and attitude open up hearts to consider Jesus? Things may not change this weekend, but perhaps these dear friends and family members would become more open to investigating Jesus and looking into the gospel.

This might take some pressure off the memorial service itself and allow you to redirect more investment into the relationships that are most important to you.

Or, maybe there are some ways you can show appreciation but also gently share your own story to redirect the conversation? If the moment is right, to say something along the lines of, “I really appreciate you being here. Thank you for those comforting words. Could I share something with you?” “Yes, of course.” “My comfort through this time has been my relationship with Jesus. I know he loves me and I know he is with me. I don’t know if that was something my Mom had. We never know someone’s heart, but I think we both know that the way she lived didn’t give us much assurance that her heart had encountered Christ in a life-changing way. I know, we never know for sure where someone else is with God. But going through this, it has been a reminder that my focus needs to be on deepening my own relationship with Jesus. I don’t want people to be uncertain at my funeral if I knew God.”

(Lisa Madden) #17

Excellent! Thank you!