Last June, my Dad died. I’ve written about my grief a few times — here and here and here if you’re interested. And what the heck. Here, too, since I’m feeling generous. Grief is a long, drawn out process, and one that makes it tempting to ask why. To struggle with God as to how He took those we love, when He took them, and that He took them.
All must die. Death is a fact of life. But though we know this in a logical sense, the loss of loved ones always arrives as an unwelcome thief that shocks us with its presence. Dad’s death was doubly shocking, as he was young and his death was due to a vehicular accident that we were told he was recovering well from, in spite of delayed medical attention.
I struggle with when he died and that he died. But I struggle most with how he died. I don’t want to divulge details, but it was grisly. Dad suffered not so much long as hard. The severity of the suffering was inexorable. Gruesome. Harsh. Seemingly merciless. As a result, those who stood by and watched suffered deeply, albeit differently.
What is more difficult? To die a horrible death, or to watch a loved one die a horrible death?
January 15th would have been his 66th birthday. As expected, I was thrown into another wave of grief and (honestly) anger about the way things went down. I very much preferred to be God in this situation, and yet it was all clearly out of my control, which made me feel … well, out of control. Because I was.
So I woke up on his birthday and as usual, settled my bompy on the potty and opened Evening by Evening, by Charles Spurgeon. Reading Spurgeon instead of my phone while I’m taking care of business is part of my 2018 Reading Challenge, and I read for however long the business takes. (I charge extra for TMI, just so you know.) So since I’m not just reading one entry a day, the top of the page was off and read March 22nd. But what followed the date was perfect for January 15th.
Take a minute to read the unique view “The Prince of Preachers” had about deaths that vex us so:
Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am. (John 17:24)
Death! Why do you snatch away the excellent ones of the earth, in whom is all our delight? Oh, stop your work and spare the righteousness! Death takes the dearest of our friends. The most generous, the most prayerful, the most holy, the most devoted must die. And why? Jesus prayed, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” This prayer bears them on eagles’ wings to heaven. Every time a believer mounts from this earth to Paradise, it is an answer to Christ’s prayer. An old saint remarked, “Many times Jesus and His people pull against one another in prayer. You bend your knee in prayer and say, ‘Father, I will that Thy saints be with me where I am;’ Christ says, ‘Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.’” Thus the disciple is opposing the purpose of his Lord. The soul cannot be in both places — the beloved one cannot be with Christ and with you, too. Now, which prayer will be answered? I am sure, though it causes great agony, you would say, “Jesus, not my will, but Thine be done.” You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize that Christ is praying in the opposite direction. Lord, You shall have our loved ones. By faith, we let go.
I’d never thought about it that way, because who knows their Bible well enough to know John 17: 24 reminds us that Jesus prefers the souls He has saved be with Him? Not me, apparently. I do know Psalm 116:15 which says Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. But I easily forget, and I thank Spurgeon for reminding me that while I’m praying one thing, Jesus is praying another.
So when we pray for extended earthly life, whose prayer will be answered? Ours or the Lord’s?
I believe sometimes, ours are. I can look back and say I’m grateful that God gave Dad his last couple of months. It was an opportunity to get his relationship with his sons in line, and he took that opportunity seriously, as did his sons. It was also an opportunity to get his relationship with God where it needed to be.
God could have taken him the day he wrecked his truck, which would have made his earthly exit even more sudden and seemingly premature because of relational clean ups that needed to take place. But He didn’t. He graciously allowed the time needed for father and sons and Father and son to reconcile.
As for how he died … my peace about that has not fully blossomed. It’s still a little seed without even a tiny sprig showing through the earth. I know that had Dad’s suffering not been fierce, his pride could have very well led him to not seek reconciliation. So I understand the purposes that are perhaps behind the suffering. But just how hard must a God of love discipline His children in order to produce repentance? I don’t claim to know. But in this instance, my heart wants to believe that the discipline was too hard, because that’s the way I feel. I don’t want to believe that Dad was so hard-hearted, it took cringeworthy suffering to convince him to turn around. I want to believe alternative, warmer, fuzzier things.
Not only do I find it difficult to come to terms with the hardness of my own heart, but the hardness of other people’s hearts.
Regardless of my feelings and druthers, God is God and I am simply His creation, just as Dad was and is. So I submit (somewhat joyfully at this time) to His will, His sovereignty, and His care for my Dad. Looking back six months now, I know that when Dad and all three of us kids passed through the waters, He was with us. When we passed through the rivers, they did not overflow us. When we walked through the fire, we were not burned. And the flames did not scorch us. (Is. 43:2)
Additionally, I trust God’s rod and staff comforted Dad in his last days, and I am convinced that when he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he feared no evil, for God was with him. (Ps. 23)
And so, by faith, I let him go.