It is days like these that a person walks through when an unexpected illness or diagnosis occur. Or when that accident happens and your dreams are shattered in a moment. Not only have I walked through the darkness of suffering and facing death, but many friends and acquaintances are going through these things now or will someday. As I have previously written, grief and trauma have varying affects on each of us. No person's journey is exactly the same, but there are similarities. There were days or months of shock. I sat frozen and unable to move. My mind raced with the worst of thoughts and fears that seemed as realities. Worry turned to anxiety, anxiety turned to depression, depression tried to drag me to the darkness of despair. It's goal was to lead me to death. At one point the gravity of this pull was so intense that I almost put myself into a hospital. I was losing hope. How could this happen? I had been a faithful servant of the Lord, serving in ministry for nearly 23 years. As I prayed with a friend about this pain that was gripping me. He asked me, "Todd, are you in despair?" I hadn't even considered the word despair in my vocabulary. How had this happened? What should I do to get relief? Is there any hope?!
I am writing tonight because I believe I have friends and others who are experiencing this darkness in some form or may experience it in the near future. When you come to this point, know this, "there is hope and his name is Jesus!"
You may think to yourself, "Ya, I already know this. That's such a Sunday school answer."
But there's more here to consider.
I've had time to reflect on my journey now, being 15 months since my wife passed. Hindsight gives some perspective and we can begin to see at least some things more clearly. Though we will not know all of God's wisdom and plans through suffering until we are in His Kingdom fully.
My eyes moved from Jesus to my circumstances. I was consumed with grief and all of the fears of suffering and death were before me. I couldn't think of anything else. When your mind is so fixed on fear it begins to affect your body, your relationships and your ability to function day to day. It's as if you are chaining and imprisoning yourself. My eyes needed to be refocused.
However, my eyes were really on Jesus + vocation/ministry + wife + family + comfort...
I've been viewing the world through Western Christian, American eyes. These are the expectations of our cultural norm. Why shouldn't I deserve these things? Yet my world was shaken and it seems I had to hit this low for Jesus to teach me.
Prior to this whole ordeal I had been reflecting upon and praying a section of scripture for a few years.
Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Read and think about those words for a few moments. I was probably at my maximum weariness and was weighed down with worries, fears, anxiety, depression, despair. We're human and subject to these things. But when I read these words, I felt the deep weight of them personally. I longed for rest! I wanted relief from these burdens. I was not enough in myself to handle any of it. I know Jesus says he is gentle and humble of heart, but to be honest this suffering didn't seem so gentle. These burdens didn't seem so easy or light either. But the phrase that I kept coming back to was, "...learn from Me,".
Okay, Jesus. What am I to learn from you through all of these losses?
I was so concerned about all that I was losing, that I didn't keep my eyes on Jesus. The losses and suffering in some way was helping me to detach from all that I was attached to in my expectations and perceived entitlements. It was, "My ministry, My job, My wife, My family..." Wasn't it?
They all belong to God. After all, we live in a world darkened by sin and our disobedience separates us from God - who is the Creator, Provider, Sustainer and Savior of His people. " We have nothing without Him.
"In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:4-5
If we want to see clearly enough to get out of the darkness, then we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Light. As a friend reminded me in the middle of this swamp of despondence, "Faith is greater than fear." And as I held on to those words, I turned my eyes upon Jesus again. And He was there all along, right beside me. Then moment by moment, day by day, renewing my mind with His word, with worship, with gratitude, I began to see the light of day again. Each day God grants us gifts of light and beauty. He reveals them through the Truth of His word. If we ignore them, they fade into the past unseen, unappreciated. If we take hold of these moments, they are treasures that we can enjoy right now and they become memories to hold in the future. God gives these for our pleasure even in the midst of trials, hardships and suffering of all kinds. There is beauty in the midst of suffering. Joy can be ours, as well as peace!
And as I let go of what I thought I had, but didn't really, I began to feel a lightness. Moment by moment, day by day, I could take a next step. With Jesus beside me guiding the way, there was joy in the moment. Laina (my wife) was intentional about this receiving and choosing joy in each moment. I learned a lot from her. And honeslty I'm a bit jealous of her, because she fully sees Christ and His glory even more now. I'm seeking God is this earthly shell. But she is truly free! My mind now is more fixed on "things above" and I am holding more lightly to things that don't really matter. And in the process of suffering, facing darkness and death, I am learning from Jesus to be free too! Moment by moment, day by day, take the next step. Keep my eyes on Jesus! As He speaks, I listen and obey. A new light is dawning! A new freedom lies ahead! Keep moving forward friends! He is our Living Hope! He Lights the way, stay close!
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6 He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
This is one of the verses that has been on my heart and mind the last several years. It may be due to the suffering and loss of my wife, that my heart has been turned even more so towards my daughters. It seems unless we face some trial, our vision and purpose usually moves towards our vocation and professional careers. Even those in ministry can be focused on tasks instead of on the Lord or those whom He has called us to care for - our family.
When talking with my daughters about the loss of their mom, I asked them a question: What good has come from losing mommy to cancer? Childlike faith always amazes me. My eldest daughter stated as a matter-of-fact, "Well Daddy, Mommy is in heaven. And... we have you home a whole lot more!" She said with adoring eyes batting at me. They miss their mommy terribly, as do I. But now their desire is to have my attention and my presence. And that's exactly what I need from my Heavenly Father too. This verse is personal to me.
However, there may be a broader application for our nation and the world. I know of at least 5 families who have faced suffering and death of young wives/mothers over the last few years. They all are godly families who serve the Lord and whom are faithful to each other and to God. I keep asking the question, why? Why are such amazing families being broken by cancer and other diseases and having to face death? In each case the fathers are left with two little girls, as is the case in my household. Is this a sign post from God?
Hebrews 12 speaks about the discipline of the Lord. He disciplines his sons and daughters, testing them, refining them and strengthening them to face suffering and death. This is certainly a difficult love to bear, but it is wisdom and grace upon God's children. If we are His children we will endure these days of discipline and we will heed the warnings of the Lord.
However, for those outside of the family and kingdom of God, it will not be discipline that they endure, but instead wrath. Wrath is not a popular word, but God's Holiness and Justice require such action. His great love for all of humanity compelled Him to offer His own Son, Jesus on the cross as a sacrifice to atone for all of our sin! The wrath of God fell on Jesus! As children and disciples of Jesus we proclaim this message to all nations - because God's great love for humanity pours through us to others (if we are indeed God's children). For those who do not chose to receive this message and heed the warnings, then wrath shall come. But first, the Lord's people shall be disciplined, refined, tested and purified. Is this what is happening now?
From my experience the last several years, the Lord has used suffering to do all of these things within me. I certainly have not arrived, but there is progress. And my desire is not just for my own purifying but that the Holiness of God will grow in the lives of my children, family and friends. And that means letting them go through suffering, as I have gone through suffering, the disciples and many other believers in the cloud of witnesses have gone through suffering, and yes, as Jesus has gone through suffering and death - yet he is the first born from the dead. It is in Him that we put our trust for the restoration of our souls through his blood, but also the hope of the resurrection. I will see Laina again someday. Until then we need to walk with each other through suffering, we need to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ! And as I stated in a short message, "suffering is a pulpit." I believe that is from one of Eugene Peterson's writings. I'm still trying to track down that quote. When we suffer, God is setting a pulpit before us. We may not speak any words or even to large crowds, but people are watching.
I know this is a hard word tonight. No one likes suffering. No likes discipline. And wrath we don't even want to submit to such a thought. But who's version of justice is true? Us mere men and women or God's?
Father in Heaven, Holy is Your Name! We admit we have gone astray trying to build our own kingdoms and living our lives apart from you and of our loved ones. We heed Your warnings and discipline Lord! Forgive us by the shed blood of Jesus! Turn our hearts back to you and return the hearts of fathers and mothers back to their children, and the hearts of the children back to their fathers and mothers. In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.
Your brother in Christ,
There is certainly more to say regarding this topic. I encourage readers to look through the book of Malachi.
Here you will find updates, thoughts, discussion and prayers for my life and ministry...