Both the dying and the grieving…

Before William Wallace is gruesomely put to death in Braveheart, there is a scene with Princess Isabelle and King Edward I in which the French princess leans closely beside the once tyrannical king and whispers, “You see? Death comes to us all.”

Death, whether you are tyrannical king, French princess, or an ordinary citizen, does indeed come to us all. For some it comes as swiftly as a gust of wind in a storm. For others it creeps in like a cold, winter night.

I am not sure which is better: to not see it coming or to see it coming from miles away. I have been caught off-guard by the death of people I love, and like that cold, winter night, I have watched death creep itself into the lives of others. For the ones who are doing the dying, perhaps they would tell us it is better to not see it coming than to suffer endless amounts of pain. For the ones doing the grieving, perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. I’d much rather know the person I loved did not suffer than to watch them suffer with every breath.

Today, I heard a story of a little boy who called into the Christian radio station he listened to often. His father was a farmer and had a cow that had somehow had broken its back. The little boy had decided to put the poor cow out of her misery so his dad would not have to do it. He told the radio host that after asking God why the cow had had to die, God answered by reminding the boy that even His son had died. The boy went on to remind the host and listeners that even when we lose a pet or someone we love, God understands because He lost His son.

Even in death, God understands our pain. He understands both as a Father who watched His son die and as a Savior who died. He knows both sides of the coin. So who better to turn to in our time of dying or grieving than the One who understands it better than anyone?

As I am writing this I am watching someone I deeply love die. Watching her slowly drift off into death, I can’t help but think about all she is about to experience. For my finite mind and imagination, my most vivid thoughts of heaven cannot compare to the real thing. I am somewhat envious of her…she will soon she the face of Jesus. What more beautiful sight is there? And yet…I am sad at losing her, especially in the way she is leaving this world. And in my sadness, I have cried out to the only One who understands and can give true comfort. He is the same face that she will soon see with perfect vision, run to with knees that do not ache, and praise with a voice strong and vibrant.

Whether it comes swiftly or creeps in, for the believer death is another opportunity for us to run to God who understands both the dying and the grieving.



Steadfastness, Suffering and Boiled Peanuts

“How are you doing this week? Today? In this moment?” This was a text message sent to me a few days ago by a friend and teammate.

I really thought about all three of those questions in turn for a while. What’s funny is when I received the message I was in the middle of a terrible moment but when I finally found time to respond to the message I was in a good moment. It all changes so quickly. Life is a roller coaster of emotions in general but it seems the highs and lows are higher and deeper right now.

A few days after I received this message I was talking to my son about peanuts. Well, not really about peanuts but about his lack of patience in waiting for the peanuts I was boiling to be ready for his consumption. We I talked about how we can often allow things in our lives (emotions, games, TV, wants, etc) to control how we behave when instead we should be letting God control those things. Back to the peanuts and his patience level in that moment…I told him that instead of letting his lack of patience over boiled peanuts control his behavior and mood, he should allow God to influence him to wait patiently for the peanuts to finish cooking. It was a short interaction but lead me to share it at lunch with the family. It was a truth I have forgotten so many times and desperately needed to be reminded. So it was more for me than them.

I drew a big circle in the center of a piece of paper with little circles around it and arrows from the big circle to the little ones. In the middle I wrote God and we all came up with things to put in the little circles, which ranged from school to games/TV to family. We talked about not letting the little circles become the big circle in the center.

When those other things move into the center spot, we will ride the rollercoaster of emotions. We let people/circumstances/feelings/jobs/etc influence our behavior and words. We allow an extended quarantine date to derail us. The search for toilet paper angers us. Not seeing people we love and having no idea when we will be able to not just see them but hug them depresses us.

But when God remains in the center, every week, every day and in every moment, He influences how we respond to all the things in the little circles. And in moments of suffering and trial, steadfastness can be produced. But we often times do not see sufferings and trials as something in which to be thankful. We don’t see it as opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to refine us.

I don’t want to waste my suffering. I don’t want to look back and realize I didn’t allow the Holy Spirit to chisel away at my heart, sculpting it to look more like the heart of Jesus Christ. In the words of Elizabeth Elliot, our suffering is never for nothing. But I would add to that our suffering is never for nothing unless we fail to see it as an opportunity for God to refine and mold us. I don’t want to miss the opportunity.

I realized when answering my friend’s questions and in all the circle drawing and peanut talk that I was riding the rollercoaster of my emotions, allowing whatever came in the day to move me from highs to lows in an instant. Instead of allowing God to influence how I have been interacting with my very diminished world, I have allowed the dynamics of the every day (the news, bickering, schoolwork, wanting to see the sea and soak up the sun, the sadness in all of it) to influence all the other areas of my life. An example of this that perhaps others can relate to comes in the form of stress from schoolwork. Schoolwork will send my stress level up as soon I see a text message from another parent. I allow that stress to make me speak ungraciously and unkindly. It will turn into anger. Anger leads to frustration and tears. It’s not a pretty scene. And I once again find myself on the rollercoaster.

My father once told me there is something to be said about being even. Our family was in the middle of a very difficult time when this conversation happened. What he meant is there is something to be said about not allowing our emotions to rule us. Over the last 5 or 6 years I have reflected often on that conversation, asking myself, “Am I even or am I allowing emotions to rule?”

We are told in Scripture on multiple occasions that steadfastness comes from trials. But we have to let it change us. James tells us to “let steadfastness have its full effect”. The word “let” indicates we have to do something or at least allow something to happen. We can choose to allow our suffering to produce negativity, sorrow, depression, anger…or we can allow it to produce faith, steadfastness, character and hope.

I am not saying to not feel all the feelings, and there are a lot of feelings to feel. But we don’t have to ride to rollercoaster of those feelings, staying on until we are dizzy and passing out. Instead, we can let steadfastness and our trust in our all-knowing, ever-present, in control God to guide us through the feelings.

Steadfast, depending on the version of the Bible you are reading, is translated as perseverance or endurance. It can mean long-suffering, a patient enduring, being established or fixed. When I read the definitions, I can become overwhelmed. How in the world does one remain steadfast – patiently enduring, being firmly established in Christ – during suffering?

Luckily for those who follow Christ, we are not without an example of steadfastness. God the Father is steadfast in His love towards us.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
For his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
Whom he has redeemed from trouble
And gathered in from the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south. Psalm 107:1-3

God the Son, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,” is steadfast. We can persevere and remain steadfast because Christ perseveres and remains steadfast for us and towards us. We, with Christ as our example and accomplisher, do not put our hope and joy in the temporal but the eternal. We do not have to ride the rollercoaster. We can feel all the feelings but be steadfast by not allowing those feelings and outside voices to rule us. Instead we let the omnipotent, all-powerful, steadfast loving God influence and rule how we respond to the feelings and outside voices, remembering who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do.

So how are you this week? Today? In this moment? Are you riding the emotional rollercoaster, allowing what’s happening to influence how to interact with those around you and yourself? Or are you letting steadfastness have its full effect, knowing your suffering is never for nothing?

When you pass through the waters

To say the last several months have been difficult is almost an understatement. They have been a rollercoaster, complete with twists, turns, and steep drops. If you were to capture all the emotions and feelings that have gone on in our home since the Fall on canvas, you’d end up with a Picasso-like painting, a scramble of shapes and colours and contours.

I admit that it has been hard to remain positive and see the good in all of it…to understand how all of these things, some more than others, bring glory to God. But maybe it’s not the things themselves, but rather my response to them that should be glorifying to God. Instead of having a frustrated, sad, angry, and tired response when we take two steps forward and five steps back (which does not glorify God) what if I respond patiently, prayerfully, lovingly, with self-control and gentleness? I’m pretty sure that would glorify God.

Throughout these last few months, a text that keeps coming up is Isaiah 43:1-3. God is speaking to Israel, but this is one of those times when what He is saying holds true for all believers.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and through the rivers,

they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through the fire you shall

not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, you’re Savior.”

These verses reminded me that I should expect suffering and hardship and trials and difficulty and sadness in this life. Just because I follow Jesus doesn’t mean I am immune to these things…neither are you. We all experience these things because we live in a broken world. That’s part of the curse. In the verse above God doesn’t say “IF you walk” or “IF you pass through”, but “WHEN you walk” and “WHEN you pass through”. But our focus should not be on the “hardships” that He lists…and I don’t think that’s God’s focus in these verses. Before He gives a list of “hardships”, God says ,”Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” And after every “hardship” is named, hope is given…”I will be with you”, “they shall not overwhelm you”, “you shall not be burned”, “the flame shall not consume you”.

WHY? Because He is the LORD our God, the Holy One, our Savior. And if He says He will be with me, then I can trust that He will be with me because He says He will. And as I walk through these difficult days, prayerfully keeping my eyes focusing on Him*, the difficult days will not overwhelm or consume me. Instead, with the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I can respond with the fruit of the Spirit, glorifying God.

*This doesn’t happen every time something difficult comes along. Often times my eyes are on the suffering and difficulty. What can I say? I am a work in progress and am thankful I live under grace.