How thinking about faith and family (sometimes) leads to tears

This is so that the next generation
    and children not yet born will know these things,
        and so they can rise up and tell their children
     to put their hope in God—
        never forgetting God’s deeds,
        but keeping God’s commandments—
     and so that they won’t become like their ancestors:
    a rebellious, stubborn generation,
        a generation whose heart wasn’t set firm
        and whose spirit wasn’t faithful to God.

Psalm 78:6-8

Today I wanted to go back to Sunday and unpack the comment I made about shedding a few tears in church.

We started out with coffee on the deck and then went to church. I don’t know if it was the topic of Mac’s message, or because my birthday already had me thinking about our “Big Picture” as a family, or because it has been a hard week for my mum, or maybe all “all of the above”, but I shed tears.

Of course it could also be that old guys cry more easily, so there’s that.

Counting my blessings

Pastor Mac is preaching a Lenten series on “Pilgrimage”, using a kind of credo from The Camino de Santiago as his outline. March 26, also (significantly) my birthday, the theme was “Feel the Spirit of Those Who Have Gone Before You.”

So, my birthday already had me in the mode of thinking about heritage, and family, and how I didn’t just appear on this earth and then walk these 67 years in isolation – but that I was born in a particular context, that back in 1956 I entered into a story that was already well established and faithful and ongoing. So immediately upon waking up Sunday morning all of that was just beneath the surface and already filling up my heart.

– Mum and dad 2022

And of course my birthday was very much about my dad and my mum; dad’s passing just before Christmas and mum’s subsequent decline in so many ways. Birthdays in a sense showcase the fact that we are all connected, and so deeply.

Then at the end of the message we were asked to take note of some names, people and places that come to mind in the context of “Feel the Spirit of Those Who Have Gone Before You.”

I started to write:

  • Fred and Connie (my paternal grandparents);
  • Arthur and Lillie (maternal);
  • Grace and David (my parents);
  • Bob and Nell (Rebekah’s);
  • all the saints at Folkestone Baptist Church,
    Trinity Presbyterian Church,
    First Presbyterian Church of Brandon,
    Wake Forest Presbyterian Church,
    Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church,
    the Presbytery of New Hope….

Wonderful but very hard:

And I could have gone on writing for a long, long time… I could now. But my eyes filled up and I started to leak – as they are again even as I write. And Rebekah asked me – in church – if I was all right? And I tried to speak but I couldn’t, so I just pointed at all the names. But one in particular. I tried to say it but I couldn’t because I would have lost that last fragile vestige of control over my emotions and made too much noise. So I just touched the name, “Grace.”

Because to “feel the spirit of those who have gone before” is both wonderful and also very hard….

But this is what faith is. This is what people just can’t possibly realize they are throwing away when they say “I believe but I don’t do church,” or “I can’t be bothered,” or “The church just isn’t for me any more,” or “It’s not relevant to my life any more,” or “I’m so busy and our kids are busy and maybe we’ll connect again later,” or “I’m sick of church politics,” or “It’s not like it use to be,” or “Everyone there is so judgmental…”

Yes, but the story!

Yes, all those things could quite possibly be true. But the story! The story of those who have gone before and the richness of their witness to the truth and the beauty and the light and the strength of community.


I cry when these things grab a hold of my spirit because the cumulative witness of the story of faith and the story of my family is just too much for my heart to hold. The beauty, the love, the overwhelming impact of so many relationships and so much truth and love.

Take that away and we are flat, one-dimensional people, impoverished. Maybe life would feel easier to manage? Maybe less demanding (because love knows no half measures)? Maybe more convenient? But at what cost?

Feel the spirit of those who have gone before.

That’s not something I would, or could, trade for anything.

– Derek Maul lives in NC, writes about faith, and feel things very deeply!

Just let’s be more careful in the future, and not schedule the conversation on my birthday again! or this close to the passing of a parent! Good grief I carry a whole lot of love and emotion in the deeply connected places of my life and my faith!

In love, and because of love – DEREK


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