Today would have been my brother’s 30th birthday.
A year after Will’s death, my mom and I traveled to Sewanee to attend a day conference on Centering Prayer. We learned that Centering Prayer is a meditation-like prayer time in which you let go of conscious thoughts and focus on a word or a phrase that tunes you into God.
It seemed much more like listening to God than praying. I tend to forget that part of prayer is listening. Quiet. Waiting. I had not wanted to sit still with God since Will died. I had not even wanted to talk to Him. Even so, that day, among the maple trees, I asked God for a word. One word that might somehow save me. An anchor. A lifeboat.
The word that came was Joy. I chafed. Joy? Really, God? How about peace or love or Jesus? Do you really expect me to be joyful? My brother is dead, you could have saved him, and you didn’t. Joy is not going to happen here. You are asking far too much of me.
No other word came, though.
So I began. I was reluctant, cynical, and still angry. But I tried. It was evident that somehow God wanted me to know joy again. And it has come. In the form of a marriage. Two children. Kisses and hugs and snuggles. Big vacations to Disney World; small trips to the aquarium or the library or the zoo. The sweet hymns of Orthodoxy. Meeting at Will’s grave and letting off balloons for him. My mother playing piano while my daughter sings. My father grabbing my son in a bear hug. Friends who listen, encourage, and make me laugh. The cynicism and anger are still there, but mostly kept at bay by the busyness that is our lives now.
Yes, I’ve moved on. I’m living my life. But there’s an ache that never quite goes away, an empty place in the world that has never gotten filled. The other side of that shadow is the way my brother lived his life: with joy.
Will constantly made us laugh. He always had that big smile on his face. He made the most boring tasks fun. He did everything with gusto. He was a joyous force, our star that ever keeps shining. Happy birthday, Will!
Weeping may endure through the night, but joy comes in the morning. – Psalm 30:5
To my dear friend, what a great tribute to an amazing brother, son and friend. I didn’t kow Will for very long and I only got to meet him a few times, but I believe you captured him perfectly in the word Joy. And there is peace in knowing that God knows what we need even when we think he is wrong. Be blessed my friend and know you are in my prayers today and throught hte year.
Thank you, Susan! You have been and always will be a supportive, encouraging friend!
Karissa, this brought tears to my eyes. Memory eternal!
I don’t know this history, so could you explain what caused the untimely death of your brother?
I once was talking to a supervisor at a company I worked for. He told me how when he was a young boy, he really admired his father, who was a very generous and kind man. Then his father suddenly died.
When he was at the funeral, someone, wanting to offer comfort, told him that God took his father away to be with Him. Instead of being comforted by this, it made him angry. “Why,” he thought, “would God take a such a good man out of this evil world, where he is so much needed?” With that, he turned his back on God, and left religion behind.
But I think the fact that he shared this with me in private, knowing that I was a Christian, indicated that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his decision.
I believe that just as a child wants the approval of its father in this fleshly life, so there is a secret longing in each soul to have the approval of its heavenly Father. In a way, rebellion is also an attempt to gain the approval or the attention of God…in a twisted way, as if to say, “See? See what I have done, isn’t it great? You must recognize it now!”
We see this behavior in children also, who if they do not get attention by doing their duties, will do something rebellious in order to get that attention. Even negative feedback is better than none at all!
I think the pain you mention as still having, is something you should get healing for, from Christ. It is a dark cloud in your sky, which causes misunderstanding of God’s character, and which will lead to mistrust, and unwillingness to give whole-hearted service.
It is the work of Satan to darken our understanding of God, so as to make us afraid or angry at Him. The cross is the greatest argument in God’s favor, that He is not a destroyer, and that His ways are only love.
But the cross is sacrifice, and certainly Christ himself could have said, “How could God allow this to happen to me, His only Son?!” But no such murmur ever left his lips, nor was entertained in His heart. This is what He wants us to have also, a clear and undisturbed conviction of His love and the goodness of His ways.
What you are really saying, by being discontent with your brother’s early death, is that you loved him more than God! This is of course, impossible. Did you die for your brother? Did you give up your eternal life for him? No! But Christ did. Then away with such thoughts.
Directly, or indirectly, sin is the cause of all death and dying in this world. Then let our anger be turned upon sin, not upon God. In this we will be safe.
13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
Will was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2000. I agree with some of the things you said, but I don’t approach this in such a cut-and-dry way. I don’t know if you’ve ever lost anyone close to you, but honestly I think there’s a pain that will never go away. I do think that healing has taken place, but there will always be a sadness. I think that is a testimony for my love for Will, not my lack of love for God.
Do you remember Christ in Gethsemane? When he asked His Father to “take this cup from me?” That was such a human moment. If Jesus was 100% human, of course there was a sense of dread and sadness about his death on the cross. That helps me, to know that Jesus experienced the range of human emotion that I feel.
It also helps me to think that God (the Father) watched His son die. He knows what we’re going through. He knows that pain.
Lastly, I think that God is big enough to handle my anger and doubt and frustration. In the OT, Jacob wrestled with God, and then demanded a blessing from Him, and God changed his name to Israel. Like Jacob, I’m going to wrestle with God sometimes in my life, but I hope that the outcome is a blessing and something positive.
Kris, I think you are right. I can see the same in my sister and it helps me reach out to hear when she is struggling at times with lossing her husband so early in their life together. And as for our anger, doubt, and frustration, God wants us to bring it to him and allow him to be the one to help us through those times. Well put. 🙂
Pardon me for wrestling a bit more on this issue. Yes, I know the pain of personal loss. Two years ago my three young children were wrenched from me and taken so far away that I hardly can see them. You are right, the pain does not go away on the human side.
But in these instances, we are being placed in a situation similar to Job, who had not only his flocks, herds, and family taken away in one blow, but also his own health. What came from his mouth? Anger? Doubt? Frustration? No. That is what his wife wanted him to vent. Instead it was pure submission.
Jacob spent the whole night wrestling to no avail. It was really wasted time. Then at dawn when the angel touched his thigh, and it suddenly was withered, he understood that this was a Divine being. He understood that his trust in God had not been entire. The wrestling showed that he still trusted partly in his own flesh. The withered thigh revealed to him that his supposed strength was actually nothing. With that he cast himself entirely upon the Angel. It was not a presumptuous demand, but a looking to Christ as his only hope. Finally, his actions showed that he had been fully healed from the sin that had marred his life: trying by his own efforts to get the blessing.
I agree with you that Christ was fully human and when He faced the cross and had to drink of the cup of separation from His Father, His humanity shrunk back. But He always added, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” What finally convinced Him to go forward?
Luke 22:43 – And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
“Angel” means messenger, and there are, of course, two kinds of angels sent from heaven. One kind are the type that never fell into sin. The other type of messengers are the kind that have been redeemed from earth, as for example Moses and Elijah who appeared with Christ on the mount. Undoubtedly in this time of the crisis of the world, Christ would have been comforted by a redeemed one, who knew what it was to bear flesh and face temptation and darkness.
And what did this angel do to strengthen Him?
Isaiah 53:10,11 …when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed…He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied…
He needed something else to focus on besides His humanity. Love “seeks not its own.” So the angel showed Him what would be the results of His sacrifice, how there would be a whole nation of redeemed souls as a result of His sufferings. This vision gave Him the strength to carry on:
Luke 22:44 – And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
I think in a lesser degree, we can also see ourselves in this struggle. The Lord knows which influences to set at work, in order to bring about the end of sin and bringing in of everlasting righteousness. By cooperation with Him, we can be instruments to help bring about that end.
We may not be able to understand why certain things take place, but if we will lift our eyes higher and see the glory of the cause that He is working out, it will strengthen us to go on…not for our sake, but for the sake of others.
Job did not understand why those things happened to him, but he knew that his part was to hang on to faith and submission to God.
Not only are the unfallen beings watching this struggle on earth, but others around us are watching also, to see how we react to these trials. Do they see a divine power, a more-than-human sustenance, that keeps us from being crushed? Do they see us rejoicing in infirmities, trials, distresses? Or do they see us murmuring, complaining, and sorrowing like those who have no hope?
Do you know the story of John Wesley, when he was crossing the ocean to America with some Moravian missionaries? They got into a storm and the boat was in danger of sinking. The Moravians and their families were in a worship service at the time, and just kept on singing. John Wesley asked, “Aren’t your women and children afraid?” The Moravian replied, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”
This incident led John Wesley to see that he did not have this kind of peace with God, and he sought it and eventually found it. That incident was a turning point in his ministry, and the Lord was able to do an immense amount of good for people through the Methodist revival. But it all started with the witness of a supernatural trust under intense pressure through very weak human agents.
I often believe that I have been such a diaoppsintment. But, know that when God sees me he sees Jesus. But, here is what I often think about. If God sees Jesus who died for all of our sins, what does Jesus see when he looks down on earth. I try so very hard to be a good person and when I try really hard, I fail. But, when I run to Jesus to say I am sorry, he holds out his arms takes me into a tight hug and tells me it is okay. Go try again but, let me help you. Each day is better than the day before.