Most of us would admit that when our emotions get the best of us, we say things we don’t mean. Other times, we say exactly what we mean but we don’t choose our words carefully and end up implying something that just isn’t true. This offense seems particularly common when a person dies, something I know to be true from personal experience.
Grief is mentally and physically exhausting. We should all be quick to extend grace to someone in mourning, especially when they say something unkind or untrue. Grief can create a gaping hole in our verbal filters. It can also skew our sense of reality, causing us to say and do things that we otherwise would not. As believers, we should consider the impression our words will leave on those who don’t know the Lord, or on those who are new in their faith and are growing in their understanding of God.
If you’ve ever attended a visitation and taken the time to scan the memorial gifts, you’ve likely seen someone’s sincere thoughts etched on a plaque, an afghan, or garden stone. These words express the depth of loss and the immense love felt towards the deceased. These poetic sentiments sound good, and we might even carry the words with us for the rest of the day. But we need to remember that even our sentiments of grief must be tested against the Word of God. When we speak under the weight of emotion, we must not imply things about God and His character that aren’t true. The following are 10 phrases that every Christian should think through before speaking aloud after someone has died.
1. Heaven Is a Better Place Now That They’re in It
When we say that Heaven is a better place because our loved one is in it, we have good intentions.
What we mean is that our loved one was extremely special and that any place would be made better by their presence.
While that statement might have been true here on earth, it simply won’t be true in Heaven. When we say this, we’re implying that Heaven isn’t perfect and that even though we’ll be in the presence of our Lord and Savior, it will be even better because of the presence of our loved ones.
The implications of this statement not only increase the significance of your loved one but also decrease the significance of God by implying that being in His presence isn’t enough.
God, in His infinite wisdom, has refrained from sharing specifics about Heaven with us. But what we can be certain of is that Heaven will be perfect. Heaven will be perfect because God is flawless, as is His dwelling place. God has allowed His children to abide in Him and to reside with Him in Heaven. Nothing, not even the presence of our loved ones, could make that better.
There will be no disappointments in Heaven and no room for improvements.
2. If My Tears Could Build a Stairway, I Would Climb to Heaven and Bring You Home
The thought behind this is truly lovely; it implies that you loved someone so much and miss them so tremendously that if you collected all the tears you’ve cried, you could use them to build a stairway to Heaven. That’s a lot of tears!
This statement also implies that you would do anything to see your loved one again. This sounds like the most loving proclamation we could possibly make about someone. But in this statement, we’re also proclaiming how extremely selfish and self-serving we are.
If our loved one is in Heaven, in the presence of God, the most unloving thing we could possibly do is remove them from Paradise and bring them back to our broken earth. I guarantee that if using your tears to build a stairway to Heaven was possible, your loved one wouldn’t want to come back with you. That wouldn’t be a reflection of how they feel about you, but rather a reflection of how they feel about God.
3. They’ve Earned Their Wings
This is another statement meant to communicate how special our loved one was; that they were so spiritual here on earth, they will certainly be honored in Heaven. While this sounds nice, and certainly paints a saintly picture of the deceased, nowhere in scripture does it say that we earn wings. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.”
Even if we were given wings in Heaven, they would not be something we earned — they would be a gift. One might argue that saying someone has earned their wings is simply a figure of speech. Even so, we should strive to represent God accurately and think about the conclusions that might be drawn by an unbeliever. Instead of saying our loved one has earned their wings, perhaps we should say our loved one is now laying their treasures at Jesus’ feet.
4. We’ve Gained a Guardian Angel
What do we know about angels? In Hebrews 1:14 the Bible calls angels “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” That sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to think about their loved one becoming an angel and being a personal messenger of God? Who wouldn’t want to picture their loved one following them around, guarding them on behalf of the Lord? All of that sounds amazing and certainly expresses the love and adoration we have for our loved ones. Additionally, this thought helps us feel close to our loved one as we live out the rest of our days.
The good news is that the Bible does mention angels helping humans, like when an angel of the Lord helped Peter escape prison in Acts 12. Psalm 34 says the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him. Psalm 91 declares, “God will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways”.
So while there are arguments to be made for guardian angels, the truth is that nowhere in scripture does it claim we become guardian angels after we die. Calling the deceased a guardian angel is a statement we need to put to rest.
5. This Gives Us Something to Look Forward to
Because children of God have the assurance of seeing one another again, we can certainly look forward to the great reunion in Heaven. But we need to be careful not to put our loved ones on the pedestal that only God deserves to be on. If you’re only looking forward to Heaven because you’ll see your loved ones again, you should question your understanding of God and of the home He has prepared for you.
This is another statement that can be quite damaging to non-believers or those young in their faith. On one hand, they hear us speaking of our awe for God the Father and of the glory that awaits us in Heaven. But then, upon the death of a loved one, we take the focus of Heaven away from our Lord and instead turn it to our loved one. We should be so anxious to bow at the foot of the throne that the death and damnation of everyone we love would not diminish our anticipation for Heaven.
6. I’ve Lost the Best Part of Me
Most of us have someone in our lives that challenges us and pushes us to be better. We love these people for who they are and for who they’ve shaped us to be. When we lose that person, it’s easy to think that we’ve lost the best part of ourselves. This statement is intended to communicate the deep bond we had with this person and that we, as individuals, simply won’t be as good at this life without them. What a testament to the character of your loved one!
While this statement is harmless in and of itself, it wouldn’t hurt us to remember a very important truth found in Psalm 16:2: “I say to the LORD ‘You are my Lord. Apart from you, I have no good thing.’” If you are a child of God, it is Christ in you that makes you good. In other words, Christ and Christ alone is the best part of you. Praise God that we can never lose Him!
7. Gone Too Soon
This is a common sentiment when a child, teen, or young adult dies. Whether the death is caused by an illness or an accident, it’s terribly difficult to say goodbye to someone who hasn’t lived a long life. These situations are hard to understand, and they remind us how broken and frail our earthly bodies are.
The most common statement made during these times is that the person has gone too soon, but we must stop and think about what we’re really implying with such a statement.
What we must remember is that God has numbered our days. Job 14:5 says, “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Psalm 139:16 reads, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
When we declare that someone has died too soon, we are either ignoring the fact that God numbers our days, or we are suggesting that God has made a mistake. Thankfully we know that God, His timing, and His will are perfect and that there is no such thing as an “untimely” death.
8. If Love Alone Could Have Spared You, You Would Have Lived Forever
When someone we love dies, we desperately want those around us to understand the depth of our love. We want everyone to know, without a doubt, that our love was as strong as humanly possible. What better way to express that love than to say that, if possible, your love would not only have spared their lives but would have kept them alive forever?
The problem with this statement is that we love with a human love, which is no match for the love of our Heavenly Father. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is the quintessence of love, and yet God has still limited our days here on earth. He doesn’t spare us from death. 1 John 3:1 declares, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Children of God will live forever in Heaven, and it is because of God’s perfect love, not ours.
9. Those We Love Don’t Go Away; They Walk Beside Us Every Day
This is a statement that could really be confusing for an unbeliever, or for a new believer who is still working to understand the Bible. Speaking from experience, I know that when we lose a loved one we want to feel close to them; letting go is painful. We long for one more conversation, one more walk.
We find comfort in statements like, “those we love don’t go away; they walk beside us every day.” The problem is, there is no Biblical reference to back this up.
I think what we mean by this is that our loved ones changed us. They helped mold and shape us into who we are. They, in a sense, are a part of us. There are pieces of them embedded in our life, so they walk with us every day; we take those pieces with us everywhere we go.
The danger with this statement is that it implies that the spirits of the dead walk among us. This could bring either fear or false comfort to the unbeliever or new believer, which is why we should choose our words carefully and think about what we’re implying.
10. God’s Garden Needs Flowers
I trust in God’s sovereignty, and because I know His plans are perfect, I would not be put off by the idea of being a flower in God’s garden if that’s what the Bible taught; but it is not. This is a pleasant idea, though. Who wouldn’t want to picture God on this throne looking out on a beautiful field of flowers with our loved ones? To an unbeliever, however, this could easily make God out to be a master game designer with us as pawns, waiting to be plucked up and replanted in His garden. This is not how we want to portray our Lord.
Perhaps this statement is meant as a metaphor; that we, as God’s children standing before His throne, are like an endless field of fragrant flowers. This creates a lovely image, but we don’t need a metaphor for an already perfect image. We should picture our loved ones bowing before the throne of God with every tongue, tribe, and nation.
We should picture them in Paradise doing what they were created to do: glorifying God and enjoying Him forever!
Beth Ann Baus is a wife and homeschooling mom of two boys. She is a writer and blogger who pulls from her own experiences of abuse, anxiety, depression, and Tourettic OCD. Beth is an advocate for women struggling with sexual sin and strives to encourage young wives and mothers by pointing them to the grace offered only by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. You can read more about her at www.bethannbaus.com.