Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Three Years

Three long years have passed
Since I last grasped
Your pudgy, soft hand in mine
For now, for the last time
Then, I had to let you go
O Son, how I wish it were not so
Even though you are just fine
In the loving care of Glory Divine.

Your earthly life was so short
That no else cared to report
That lost was Micah, my eldest son,
Just as life had begun

But how your mom and me
Miss you so unspeakably
The pain felt deep inside
No medication causes it to subside

Tell me, my son, can you throw a ball far?
I want to know, now, how you really are,
I don’t want to just pretend
But see your face, and my heart, mend
To laugh and read and run
To lay down each night
with the idea right
That our lives together had just begun
Some might call me a fool for my belief
That I will soon find relief
That our future is bright and grand
So wonderful, I can’t now understand
The joy in our future reunion
Will overpower every inkling
of present confusion
concerning peas, doctors and death,
It will be as if taking our first breath
Our hope is not in our past
But in the promises of Christ, we hold fast
To see you again when the trumpets sound
Oh, how joy at our reunion will abound
Even if we have to wait many years
Through many, many more tears

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Self-Absorbed in Grief

One of the central tenants of the Christian faith is the need for each one of us to repent; that is, to seek God’s forgiveness for our behavior. Jesus tells us, “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4. It may some harsh, but even those of us who have been deeply impacted by the death of a close loved one need to hear the call to repentance. 

Like many other grieving parents, I was guilty of being self-absorbed in my own grief. Throughout various periods since Micah died, I have focused so heavily on my own grief that I shut out most everything else from our attention. Everything else in life, whether God, marriage, family, work, or hobbies took a backseat to the pain that was driving my life. In his book, Hope for the Brokenhearted, theologian and fellow grieving father John Luke Terveen admits, “Pain had become the center of my existence, while God and his grace were all but excluded. The biggest obstacle that needed to be cleared away, preparing the way for the Lord to bring his grace and comfort, was my self-absorption.”

We cannot learn to trust in the promises of scripture if all we think about is our own pain. We cannot learn to learn wholly on God’s grace if are too busy trying to deal with our grief with our own strength. We, as grieving parents, need to recognize our need to move beyond ourselves and to turn our attention to the promises of God. Terveen writes, “It may seem a curious and inappropriate thing to say to someone feeling profound loss, but the call to repent—to turn to the Lord—is the important first step in experiencing a divine comfort that begins the healing process.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Using Past Blessings to Overcome Present Sufferings

What if we felt like we never “tasted” the goodness of God? What if all we know in life is complete suffering and abject depravity? How do we respond when all we can’t see any good in life?

In the movie, the Grey, the main character, John Ottway, played by Liam Neeson, has endured trial after trial. After we are told that his wife has left him, and that he has even tried to commit suicide, the plane he is traveling on in the arctic crashes into the tundra. Throughout the movie, all of the rest of those who had survived the plane crash die by various causes: starvation, drowning, hypothermia, or at the jaws of a pack of wild wolves. At the climax of the movie, Ottway sits alone in the wilderness, pleading for God to show him a sign---anything to prove that God is real, that God cares about him, and that God will save him from this predicament. Following a few moments of silence, Ottway states matter-of-factly, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

As the title of the movie suggests, Ottway could not see the brightness of the blessings of God anywhere. Everything about this particular movie is colored by a grey despondency. For so many of us, the accumulation of a seemingly unending line of personal sufferings, events without any readily apparent redeeming values, beats one’s attitude into despondency. As a result, we feel like we have no hope for help from Heaven, and that we must, like Ottway, “do it ourselves.”

In contrast to Ottway’s mentality in suffering is the example of King David. While King David experienced numerous and multiple different types of sufferings, he did not live in “the grey” of a Godless despondency. Even in his most difficult days, he trusted in a good and sovereign (all-powerful) God who He knew was using David’s sufferings for greater purposes.

In Psalm 63, David writes, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, As in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because you steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Psalm 63:1-3.

The difference between David and Ottway was not that David endured less significant trials. What kept David’s faith alive through difficult days was a reflection upon all that God had done for him in the past and to trust that God would similarly use the present sufferings for his ultimate good. David saw the past blessings provided to him as a demonstration that God loved him. This promise was, in itself, more precious to David than even his own earthly life. David’s reflections upon certain past blessings (his time “in the sanctuary”) keep him going through difficult days. For us, it can be the memory of past experiences, when we are walking along the mountaintops of life, in the sunshine with God, that could maintain our faith in a good and sovereign God even through the dark valleys of life. If we were to continually remind ourselves of these past experiences of God in our life, resulting in blessings to us both large and small, then we should be able to keep praises of God “continually on our mouths.” (Psalm 34:1). Then, when nothing seems to be going right in life, we can bring these blessings to mind, and use them as footholds of faith when we otherwise can’t see the benefits of suffering.

Both of Ottway and King David have, like many of us, experienced forms of suffering that, at the time, appeared to have no redeeming value. The key question for us is whether we will respond by succumbing to the “do it yourself” mentality of fighting through suffering without God (i.e., “in the grey,” ) or using past blessings from God as evidence that God is loving and powerful, and in so doing, living in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.