The first time I saw him, I cried. He looked like a perfect newborn asleep in his crib. But we knew he would never wake up. Not until he was in the arms of Jesus.
He clung to life for several months. Then his mother told us of his death in a heart-wrenching email. She wrote of “that deep, deep pain that groans inside you.” Then she said, “How deeply God carved His work of love into our hearts through that little life! What a powerful life it was!”
Powerful? How could she say that?
This family’s precious little boy showed them—and us—that we must depend on God for everything. Especially when things go horribly wrong! The hard yet comforting truth is that God meets us in our pain. He knows the grief of losing a Son.
In our deepest pain, we turn to the songs of David because he writes out of his own grief. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” he asked (Ps. 13:2). “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death” (v. 3). Yet David could give his biggest questions to God. “But I trust your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5).
Only God can bring ultimate significance to our most tragic events.
In 2002, a few months after my sister Martha and her husband, Jim, died in an accident, a friend invited me to a “Growing Through Grief” workshop at our church. I reluctantly agreed to attend the first session but had no intention of going back. To my surprise, I discovered a caring community of people trying to come to grips with a significant loss in their lives by seeking the help of God and others. It drew me back week after week as I worked toward acceptance and peace through the process of sharing our grief together.
Like the sudden loss of a loved one or friend, the death of Stephen, a dynamic witness for Jesus, brought shock and sorrow to those in the early church (Acts 7:57–60). In the face of persecution, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (8:2). These men of faith did two things together: They buried Stephen, an act of finality and loss. And they mourned deeply for him, a shared expression of their sorrow.
As followers of Jesus, we need not mourn our losses alone. In sincerity and love we can reach out to others who are hurting, and in humility we can accept the concern of those who stand beside us.
As we grieve together, we can grow in understanding and in the peace that is ours through Jesus Christ, who knows our deepest sorrow.
Our experiences of loss and disappointment may leave us feeling angry, guilty, and confused. Whether our choices have closed some doors that will never reopen or, through no fault of our own, tragedy has invaded our lives, the result is often what Oswald Chambers called “the unfathomable sadness of ‘the might have been.’” We may try to suppress the painful memory, but discover we can’t.
Chambers reminds us that the Lord is still active in our lives. “Never be afraid when God brings back the past,” he said. “Let memory have its way. It is a minister of God with its rebuke and chastisement and sorrow. God will turn the ‘might have been’ into a wonderful culture (place of growth) for the future.”
In Old Testament days when God sent the people of Israel into exile in Babylon, He told them to serve Him in that foreign land and grow in faith until He brought them back to their home. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the
Instead of ignoring or being trapped by events of the past, God urged them to focus on Him and look ahead. The Lord’s forgiveness can transform the memory of our sorrow into confidence in His everlasting love.
I thanked God for the privilege of serving as my mom’s live-in caregiver during her battle against leukemia. When medicines began to hurt more than help, she decided to stop treatment. “I don’t want to suffer anymore,” she said. “I want to enjoy my last days with family. God knows I’m ready to go home.”
I pleaded with our loving heavenly Father—the Great Physician—confident He could work miracles. But to say yes to my mom’s prayers, He would have to say no to mine. Sobbing, I surrendered, “Your will be done, Lord.”
Soon after, Jesus welcomed my mama into a pain-free eternity.
In this fallen world, we’ll experience suffering until Jesus returns (Rom. 8:22–25). Our sinful nature, limited vision, and fear of pain can distort our ability to pray. Thankfully, “the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (v. 27). He reminds us that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him (v. 28), even when His yes to someone else means a heartbreaking no for us.
When we accept our small part in His greater purpose, we can echo my mom’s watchword: “God is good, and that’s all there is to it. Whatever He decides, I’m at peace.” With confidence in the Lord’s goodness, we can trust Him to answer every prayer according to His will and for His glory.
A test match in the game of cricket can be grueling. Competitors play from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with lunch and tea breaks, but the games can last up to 5 days. It’s a test of endurance as well as skill.
The tests we face in life are sometimes intensified for a similar reason. They feel unending. The long search for a job, an unbroken season of loneliness, or a lengthy battle with cancer is made even more difficult by the fact that you wonder if it will ever end.
Perhaps that is why the psalmist cried out, “How long,
Yet, in the end, David sang, “The
When a good friend suddenly lost her husband to a heart attack, we grieved with her. As a counselor, she had comforted many others. Now, after 40 years of marriage, she faced the unwelcome prospect of returning to an empty house at the end of each day.
In the midst of her grief, our friend leaned on the One who “is close to the brokenhearted.” As God walked with her through her pain, she told us she would choose to “wear the label widow proudly,” because she felt it was the label God had given her.
All grief is personal, and others may grieve differently than she does. Her response doesn’t diminish her grief or make her home less empty. Yet it reminds us that even in the midst of our worst sorrows, our sovereign and loving God can be trusted.
Our heavenly Father suffered a profound separation of His own. As Jesus hung on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet He endured the pain and separation of crucifixion for our sins out of love for us!
He understands! And because “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), we find the comfort we need. He is near.
When a road-construction foreman was killed in an accident, the love of this man for his family, co-workers, and community resulted in an overwhelming sense of loss. His country church couldn’t accommodate all the mourners, so planners moved the service to a much larger building. Friends and family packed the auditorium! The message was clear: Tim touched many lives in a way uniquely his. So many would miss his kindness, sense of humor, and enthusiasm for life.
As I returned from the funeral, I thought about the life of King Jehoram. What a contrast! His brief reign of terror is traced in 2 Chronicles 21. To solidify his power, Jehoram killed his own brothers and other leaders (v. 4). Then he led Judah into idol worship. The record tells us, “He passed away, to no one’s regret” (v. 20). Jehoram thought that brute force would ensure his legacy. It did. He is forever commemorated in Scripture as an evil man and a self-centered leader.
Although Jesus also was a king, He came to Earth to be a servant. As He went about doing good, He endured the hatred of those who grasped for power. In the process, this Servant-King gave His life away.
Today, Jesus lives along with His legacy. That legacy includes those who understand that life isn’t just about themselves. It’s about Jesus—the One who longs to wrap His strong, forgiving arms around anyone who turns to Him.
Ted Robertson’s home in Colorado was one of more than 500 destroyed by the Black Forest Fire in June 2013. When he was allowed to return and sift through the ash and rubble, he was hoping to find a precious family heirloom made by his wife—a tiny ceramic figurine of baby Jesus about the size of a postage stamp. As he searched the charred remains of their home, he kept wondering, “Is the baby Jesus still here?”
The painting A Trail of Light by Colorado Springs artist Bob Simpich shows a grove of aspen trees with golden leaves lit by the autumn sun. The topmost leaves are brilliantly illuminated while the ground beneath the trees is a mixture of sunlight and shadows. The painter said of this contrast, “I can’t resist the light filtered through to the forest floor. It weaves a special magic.”