I started along a broken and bumpy road on January 28. Frankly, I knew this road was on the horizon but never wanted to travel there. It came with a phone call. The voice was calm but the words came like an avalanche, throwing me into a state of shock and despair. My oldest daughter was dead. Her struggle with drug addiction, that had robbed her of so much, had taken her life. The news took my breath away.
There is not enough space here to share everything. But this will be an attempt to share a few things that have been prominent, things I have become aware of, lessons I am learning about myself, about life and loss.
Not Words, but Presence
It has been interesting to talk with friends and family and to hear how we express ourselves when death comes. Words fail. Some try to force words, attempting to manufacture something that will fix the mess or aid the one hurting. Sometimes there are religious platitudes. These words are well intended I know. They rarely help. What is helpful is simply being present. The strength and embrace of another individual, made in the image of God, reflecting His power and love. Talking is fine and I’ve done much of that too. But the strongest support has come from presence. I’m a pastor and so I’ve been on the other side of death. I realize more than ever that being willing to just be with others in their pain is enough. God can use this greatly.
Love is Active and Varied
What our family experienced from dozens, perhaps hundreds of people, was nothing short of remarkable. I lost track of the number of texts, calls, emails, Facebook messages and hugs…big, wonderful hugs joined with tears. There was food,from unexpected places. Cards filled with heartfelt words of kindness. We received beautiful flowers and plants that will continue to remind us of this outpouring of human compassion. Jesus explained that the “greatest commandment” is to love God completely and to love others selflessly. I’ve seen that kind of love in action. Honestly, it is that sort of others-centered love that is missing from many parts of the American experience, even in churches. If Christians hope to see our world transformed it will begin with an active, purposeful love. It is the gospel in action and it is has power. I’m not saying the gospel itself is not vitally important. However, authentic love provides the foundation for the gospel to be received. Moreover, it is through loving one another that we demonstrate that we truly are followers of Jesus. At least, that’s what He said.
God Works in the Mess
Space on this page limits my ability to fully explain how we have witnessed God at work. Pieces fell into place so that we could travel unhindered to be with family at just the right time. Resources came together from a variety of people to provide for unexpected expenses. Hundreds of people came to the visitation and many stayed 2 hours until the memorial service started. Many who stayed would not likely be compelled to attend a regular church service. They heard the hope-filled message of forgiveness and grace found in Christ. Dozens more who could not attend have watched the service on video. I was enabled by God to stand and preach, from a place of strength and love, to share my heart as well as the gospel. Only eternity will tell of the impact of these events. It was clear to me that God was indeed guiding every aspect of these events.
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Addiction is All Around Us
I’ve seen the ugly face of drug and alcohol addiction. Many of us have. Its sad and often painfully obvious. We can not be silent about these things. Bringing them into the light and under the influence of the gospel is where healing and transformation will take place. Christians must be willing to embrace those who are struggling with addiction with compassion and not condemnation. However, we must also recognize that addiction is all around us and within each and every one of us. Addiction is the desire of our hearts to cling to, rely on, flee to, find satisfaction in anything other than God. Sadly many of us have addictions that are not viewed as ugly and are even encouraged. Addiction can take the form of approval seeking, perfectionism, people pleasing, peace making, achievement and the list goes on. When we embrace these things as a means to satisfaction, affirmation and ultimate joy, they are just like drugs. We are a broken people, all of us. Some are unaware, while others are fighting to keep these things in the dark. It is in the light of God’s grace, within safe and loving community, that we will find freedom from all of our addictions. [You can find good and helpful insights about this here.]
Grief is Odd and Unpredictable
In the back of my mind I realize that grief is a process that takes time. I will not get past this in two weeks. However, I want it to be over and done, neat and tidy. That’s not how it works. Even though we all know about it, death takes us by surprise when it comes to our door. There is no “right way” to navigate this road. My experience is unique to me. But I am not alone. There is great comfort and strength in having others supporting me on this journey. I don’t know exactly where this road will lead me. But I am confident that God doesn’t waste anything. He is with me and He is for me. He is using this hard and painful experience to shape me.
If it were up to me, I would chose a different way. But I’m not God. I’m not in control. So I will trust Him to guide my steps as He continues to teach me.
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