Many books and persons have spoken to the fact that they have had a difficult time praying after they had a devastating loss of a loved one. I must confess this has not been my experience thus far, but it is worth talking about.
My constant prayer is simply a thank you to the Lord, not for what happened to Christy, but for the blessing she was to me and my family and so many others. Most mornings when I wake up these days, I just thank the Lord for Christy even existing at all. Life really is a mystery and who knows what my life would have been like without my sweet pea Christy. I probably would have been a different person, and I certainly wouldn’t have been as good a person or have had as much joy.
Honestly, one’s view of prayer and its function, perhaps especially in a time of grief, is a reflection of one’s theology of God and the way he runs the universe. It is interesting to study the primitive story full of pathos in 2 Samuel 12. You know the story of David and Bathsheba all too well. My interest is in how David responds to his situation when he has a child near death, and then the child dies. Here is what the story says:
19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”
20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
David in this story accepts the finality of the death of his child. He accepts that there are certain kinds of entreating of the Lord that are now pointless since the child has died. There is no point in begging if the child is not coming back any more. David accepts the reality of the death, and begins to move on. This is not because of the fact that he is a cold-hearted you know what. It is because he reached the stage of acceptance of the reality of the situation rather quickly, and he realized that fasting and weeping and hoping and entreating were not going to accomplish anything positive for the child.
Now I have no problems with people who feel that it helps to not merely lament but even complain to God about their loss. The psalms are loaded with laments, or as we might call them, the blues. Indeed, the largest single type of psalm in the collection of 150 is the lament! Some people even get angry with God, and get up in God’s face, and there is Biblical precedent for this as well.
I can only say that has not happened to me yet, and I doubt that it will. And the reason why I doubt it will is because in the depth of my soul I understand that 1) I do not have a right to have more years added to Christy’s life. Her life was a pure gift and a joy, and I am so thankful for the richness of it. I have no sense of entitlement; 2) I don’t believe God did this to my baby, though he will and is using it and working it together for good, so I have no right to berate God for what he did or didn’t do in this instance. I understand that the universe has been set up in a more complex way than that and God is not the author of all that happens in the universe. I hope I learned something from the book of Job about how little we understand the universe and God’s ways, and for the record, Job did not have a right to be angry with God; 3) anger will not help me heal at this point, unless you are referring to anger about disease, decay and death. I take Jesus’ attitude toward that as exhibited in John 11— the deep emotion Jesus feels according to the Greek is not just compassion but also deep anger, anger at the ravages of death and perhaps also anger at the lack of faith in Him exhibited at that point.
In fact, despite the best efforts of a good funeral home, it hardly looked like her at all to me. No smile, no vivaciousness, no sweet little voice, no humor, just the silence of the funeral pall which pales in comparison to abundant life. Despite our best efforts, death cannot be dressed up as if it were sleeping or life. It isn’t either of those things. Thank God I believe that God’s YES to life, to Christy’s life, is louder than death’s NO! Thank God I believe in life back from death, not just beyond death. Death is not even going to get the last word about Christy’s physical form. Resurrection will.
So when I pray these days, I pray prayers of thanksgiving, and I ask God to help me continue to put one foot in front of the next, and I ask him that the abiding sadness will subside gradually, and not get in the way of doing what God wants me to do next, and what Christy would have wanted me to keep doing— keep living, keep writing, keep preaching, keep teaching, and above all keep loving. Christy was a world class lover… in my case I hope that it is true that ‘the child is the mother to the man’ in this. One final story.
It was Sunday morning in Coleridge North Carolina in 1982 or 83. I was preaching away in the sanctuary of this moderate sized country church on 1 John 4, God is love. Christy however, housed in the building next door, had escaped the nursery, run down the sidewalk next to the church, come in the back door of the sanctuary and came flying down the aisle and up into the pulpit and then she leaped up into my arms and gave me a big hug. The Holy Spirit must have had a pretty good hold on me that day, and I knew you couldn’t top a child’s love, so I simply said “And here’s the perfect illustration of love” AMEN.
The sermon was over. The sermon illustration was more powerful than my preaching, and I realized I couldn’t top it. No amount of words or prayers could ever top the experience of being loved by my little Christy girl. Sometimes you feel unworthy of such unconditional love, but then you remember that’s how God loves us as well— unconditionally, and often in spite of our behavior.
I will never forget that Sunday morning in Coleridge, and it simply prompts another prayer of thanks. I know I was loved, I am loved, and I will be loved, and this life going forward is too short to waste time having a pity party. No, as David said “she will not return to me, I will go to her.” It’s time to pick myself and get on with loving again, as David did according to the end of 2 Samuel 12.