My greatest anxiety for weeks after my son's death was his salvation. It haunted me. But two dear editor friends within hours of each other quoted this same verse, and I accepted it as a sign from my Father that my mind is forever at rest on this matter: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Of course He will! When we lose a loved one, we must learn to say, "It is finished," and know that God will rightly judge. Too, some presume to know who is saved and who is lost. Because Chuck took his own life, there were some who told me that he would not be saved. My friend, only God knows what was on Chuck's mind and heart that night. How cruel of these well-meaning Christians! It reminds me of the day I visited my bed-ridden and dying sister-in-law and she was in tears. She told me about the three women who came to comfort her. They told her that if she had enough faith she could be cured and get up and walk. I was outraged. It took me the whole afternoon to convince Dorothy that God doesn't cure everybody. In fact, we all die! We talked about Paul and his thorn and God's grace: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This verse became very meaningful to me after both Dorothy's and Chuck's deaths. We wonder how we will manage after something enormous alters our life. Paul's life was transformed on the Road to Damascus. I think in some ways sorrow is our road to Damascus. It fells us and makes us blind and then our kind Father tells us He will give us the grace to bear it, even though we will carry the scar to our grave. I knew that I would never forget my first-born; the scar of remembrance would be there as scars from surgeries I've had. But I also knew that I would recover from the initial intense hurt, as I recovered from the surgeries. This thought really helped in the first months! I knew that God's grace could not remove the scar, but the scar could, as Robert Schuller so eloquently puts it, become a star for me, to guide me in a kinder and gentler direction toward my hurting brothers and sisters. Another thought: those of us who have been gifted with the knowledge and love of God need a greater foundation. As a writer said, "The ship in the high wind needs plenty of ballast. When we build high we must also build low--the lofty building needs a deep foundation." Sorrow builds the deep foundation as joy builds the high sails! God is shifting our ballast. He also promises an abundant provision of grace, for there are some circumstances in life that we cannot alter and that God does not see fit to alter. Inward strength to endure is a great manifestation of the acceptance of God's will and His grace. Outwardly we may be weary and heartbroken, but we can claim the promises of God and enjoy that inward peace that only God can give.
Adversities are God's sieve to help us discover what is most important in our lives. Joseph Hall tells us, "The most generous vine, if not pruned, runs out into many superfluous stems, and grows at last weak and fruitless: so doth the best man if he be not cut short in his desires, and pruned with afflictions." We don't choose affliction, but it may be the only way God can redirect our lives.
When a person is called to rest early in life, Isaiah 57:1 is of great solace: "Merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil." It is so difficult to accept the death of your child before he has had the opportunity to partake of life fully. I was told of a mother who prayed desperately that her son might recover from an automobile accident, refusing to accept the possibility that he might die. God answered her prayer, and the boy recovered. But his subsequent life was the tragedy. After years of causing his mother all kinds of grief, he was finally killed in a fight. Perhaps the mother should have simply prayed, "Thy will be done, Lord, and whatever is best I accept it, for I know You will give me the strength and grace to bear it."
In unspeakable grief it is difficult to believe that the sun will shine again, that we will again be touched by the beauty of the flowers and the rainbow after the rain, that music will once again bring quietness of spirit. Often in overwhelming sorrow the very things that should comfort us only serve to bring even more sadness because they remind us that we shared them with our loved one.
When tragedy strikes suddenly, sleep can be impossible. I prayed to be spared nightmares, for Chuck's scream etched deeply into my heart. My prayer was answered in a way that caused me to give thanks with an overflowing heart. At this point I want to share something with you that astonished me. The afternoon I received the letter from the publisher telling me he felt the Grief booklet would help many grieving people, I felt very tired, which was unusual. I never took naps then; I worked part-time and was very active. But that afternoon our precious God put me to sleep and gave me a gift.
In this wonderful day-dream I was in a room that was totally and purely white. It was as if I was compassed about with clouds but yet it was clearly a room. There were no windows or doors but I didn't feel enclosed or restricted in any way. I wasn't there long when Chuck walked through the cloud. He was so beautiful! I thought him to be about 33 (a figure I wondered about later, because he died just before his 20th birthday), tall which he was in life, and he had long reddish hair, and a beard and mustache, which he never sported in life. But what amazed me was his serenity. He smiled at me and then turned and went back through the cloud. No words were exchanged. I awoke immediately.
I felt overwhelmed! What a gift from our beloved God, I thought. The peace I felt at that moment must be the peace which Jesus spoke of to His disciples: "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you..." (John 14:27.) I finally shared the dream with a friend and I had to admit that I'm not sure if it was Chuck (who at the time I truly thought it was) or if it was Jesus Himself who I saw. The afternoon I experienced the dream I truly thought it was Chuck, but as time passed and Grief went into a world-wide ministry, I now believe it was Christ Himself who smiled and wordlessly whispered to me not to grieve anymore. He would take it from here. I had done what He wanted me to and the rest I was not even to think about. In his exposition on Mark in The Interpreter's Bible, Halford E. Luccock wrote, "A man's life may have a dull setting...but if it catches the reflection of the glory of God which is in the face of Jesus Christ, it becomes a burning and a shining light; is given as much meaning and dignity and joy that one of the supreme tragedies is to miss it." I know I caught the reflection of Jesus that afternoon! Precious Father, thank You for healing dreams that encourage us to have faith that all works together for good.
Before our tragedy I felt God didn't want to be bothered with the little, trite parts of our everyday lives, but I prayed mightily in the months after Chuck’s death for many little comforts as well as big ones, and each prayer was answered faithfully. We must not hesitate to bring our requests to Him, no matter how insignificant they may seem, for our loving Father knows that sorrow and its components can be crushing weights on fragile hearts. I take great comfort in the thought that my dear Father is waiting for me to come to Him to have my tears wiped away and to rest my weary head on His shoulder. My earthly father would do no less.
It is vitally important to read God's Word during times of stress. Verses read hastily and indifferently before take on new life and meaning. God gives renewed insight into familiar verses because a desolated spirit changes our perspective on life. Because of the circumstances of Chuck's life--his fear of living and his mode of dying--2 Timothy 1:7 became more meaningful for me: "God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Satan gives an unholy spirit. God gives us His Holy Spirit.
In almost unbearable heartache one night I decided to read the book of Genesis. Surely God was leading me, for I came across a verse that made me give thanks even in the midst of this horror. Hagar, a mother in grief, cried out, "Let me not see the death of the boy" (Genesis 21:16). O thank You, Father, that I did not see the death of my child!
There are so many verses and chapters in God's priceless Word that give us comfort and hope and joy in sufferings. I personally found my comfort in the Old Testament, and the Book of Job in particular. The Books of Isaiah and Psalms became my spiritual food during this time, too. There were also certain writers who poured balm on my broken spirit.
One of the worst parts of grief is not understanding what has happened and knowing that you may never know. God granted me great comfort from this passage: "The things we may so much desire to do may become a reality after God has proved us in the school of experience, and among our greatest blessings may be counted the thing we were not privileged to do, that would have barred the way from doing the very things best calculated to prepare us for a higher work. The plain, sober duties of real life were essential to prevent the fruitless striving to do things that we were not fitted to do. Our devised plans often fail that God's plans for us may be a complete success. Oh, it is in the future life we shall see the tangles and mysteries of life, that have so annoyed and disappointed our fond hope, explained. We will see that the prayers and hopes for certain things which have been withheld have been among our greatest blessings" (Anonymous).
God does not wish to destroy us when suffering comes. He wants to refine and sanctify us. When bowed in grief, we should turn to Him for support and love. Joseph was able to say to his brothers: "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Joseph was able to see the hand of God in many instances of unfair suffering in his life. During my own time of grieving, Joseph became a hero and I often reread his life and his graciousness in dealing with situations that most of us could not have handled. It helps if we remember in both good and bad times that God's purpose always is to redeem us. But He will not force salvation on us. If we do not refuse or hinder the workings of His Spirit, He can help us to accept His saving grace in the bad times, too.
I want to stress how important it is to take care in what we read and in the company we seek out during times of affliction. I became very discouraged when certain friends and relatives told me I would never get over the death of my son and the circumstances surrounding it. I finally learned to stay away from even my well-meaning relatives and friends who only made me feel worse. I think it is true that we never forget certain events, but that is far different from never getting over a tragedy. So it is necessary to read positive material and be around positive-thinking people. This is true even in normal times! (Continued in Part Three.)