“The truth is – for every one of us – that there is no way to avoid the trauma of loss if we love even a little. This is what makes the task of learning to handle grief so important.” – John Claypool
Not long ago, I lost a beloved teacher and friend, a man not much older than myself who died without warning. The shock and sadness have not yet worn off, and I know I will feel the loss of him for a long, long time. What do we do with such tragedies? Sooner or later, they impact us all, whether we lose a family member, friend, coworker, or patient. Because we have loved that person, we grieve for him or her, and we cry out against the unfairness of the situation. It shouldn’t be this way. He was so young. Why did God let this happen?
Preacher John Claypool endured a similar crisis of faith when his eight year old daughter was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Throughout her illness, and her death two years later, he came to a new understanding of faith, which he wrote about in Tracks of a Fellow Struggler. He concluded that he could see three possible paths out of grief. The first is what he calls the road of unquestioning resignation. Many people told him that he must not try to understand, must not question God. He came to believe that honest faith demanded questions, that a true relationship with God meant continuing to seek answers even when there were no satisfactory ones to be found. The second path he called the road of intellectual understanding. This was the belief that complete comprehension of the situation must be attained, or everything must be declared absurd. He found this road as unsatisfactory as the first, because while there were aspects of his life that made no sense to him, he also saw “countless other experiences that were full of love and purpose and meaning.” The other option, the one he finally embraced, was the road of gratitude. He found that as he looked back on the ten years he had with his daughter, it was self-defeating to dwell on the time he did not get or all the ways he wished it had been better. Instead, he made the difficult choice to be thankful that she had been part of his life at all. He also decided to trust God that his happiness did not have to die with her, that the God “who has given us the good gifts of the past can be depended on to continue to give meaning to our lives.” This did not mean the loss of his daughter was not still terribly painful, or that his grief journey was easy. But the choices he made led him to a deeper relationship with the God who created him, and out of his tragedy came writings that have helped countless people in their own grief. I am trusting God as well to bring beauty from ashes in my life, to work good out of tragedy, even if I can’t immediately see it. I know from experience that God is very good at that.
God our Sustainer, give us your grace in our brokenness. Help us to deal honestly with you in the depths of our sadness and anger, and grant that in time we may come out on the other side to a place of gratitude. Thank you for the gifts you give us every day, and teach us not to take them for granted, for we do not know how long we will get to keep them. Amen.
-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent