Tag  |  loss

How Long?

In Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks, “How long is forever?” The White Rabbit responds, “Sometimes, just one second.” It sure felt that way when my brother David suddenly died. The days leading to his memorial dragged on, intensifying the sense of loss and grief we felt. Every second seemed to last forever.

Another David echoed this sentiment, singing, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2). Four times in just two verses, he asks God, “How long?”—reminding us that, sometimes, the pains of life are made wore because it seems as if they will never end.

Into this heartache steps the presence and care of our heavenly Father. Like King David, we can honestly go to Him with our pain and loss, knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). The psalmist discovered this as well, allowing his lament to move from a minor key to a major key singing, “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” (Psalm 13:5).

In our seemingly endless moments of struggle, His unfailing love promises to carry us through.

Everywhere and Nowhere

A family friend who, like us, lost a teenager in a car accident wrote a tribute to her daughter, Lindsay, in the local paper. One of the most powerful images in her essay was this: After mentioning the many pictures and remembrances of Lindsay she had put around their house, she wrote, “She is everywhere, but nowhere.”

Although our daughters still smile back at us from their photos, the spirited personalities that lit up those smiles are nowhere to be found. They are everywhere—in our hearts, in our thoughts, in all those photos—but nowhere.

But Scripture tells us that, in Christ, Lindsay and Melissa are not really nowhere. They are in Jesus’ presence, “with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). They are with the One who, in one sense, is “nowhere but everywhere.” After all, we don’t see God in a physical form. We certainly don’t have smiling pictures of Him on our mantel. In fact, if you look around your house, you may think He is nowhere. But just the opposite is true. He is everywhere!

Wherever we go on this earth, God is there. He’s there to guide, strengthen, and comfort us. We cannot go where He is not. We don’t see Him, but He’s everywhere. In each trial we face, that’s incredibly good news.

Everlasting Hope

The week before Christmas, two months after my mom died, holiday shopping and decorating sat at the bottom of my priority list. I resisted my husband’s attempts to comfort me as I grieved the loss of our family’s faith-filled matriarch. I sulked as our son, Xavier, stretched and stapled strands of Christmas lights onto the inside walls of our home. Without a word, he plugged in the cord before he and his dad left for work.

As the colorful bulbs blinked, God gently drew me out of my darkness. No matter how painful the circumstances, my hope remained secure in the light of God’s truth, which always reveals His unchanging character.

Psalm 146 affirms what God reminded me on that difficult morning: My endless “hope is in the Lord,” my helper, my mighty and merciful God (v. 5). As Creator of all, He “remains faithful forever” (v. 6). He “upholds the cause of the oppressed,” protecting us and providing for us (v. 7). “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (v. 8). He “watches over” us, “sustains” us (v. 9), and will always be King (v. 10).

Sometimes, when Christmas rolls around, our days will overflow with joyful moments. Sometimes, we’ll face loss, experience hurt, or feel alone. But at all times, God promises to be our light in the darkness, offering us tangible help and everlasting hope.

Powerful Baby

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.

The Ministry of Mourning

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.  

 

The Ministry of Memory

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 Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:11).

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.

When Yes Means No

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.

Test Match

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, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions” (Ps. 35:17). Bible commentaries say that this was speaking of the long period in David’s life when he was pursued by Saul and slandered by the king’s courtiers—a time of trial that lasted for years.

Yet, in the end, David sang, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant” (v. 27). His testing drove him to deeper trust in God—a trust that we can also experience in our own long seasons of testing, hardship, or loss.  

A Widow’s Choice

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.

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