The devastating path of child loss can be an indescribably lonely one. For many, if not most, bereaved parents that deep loneliness is compounded by varying degrees of abandonment. We have been no exception to that common experience.
If you are struggling through the compounding pain of abandonment in the midst of your grief, I am transparently sharing this part of my journey for you. I am so sorry you are experiencing the painful sting of watching those you thought would walk through your grief hand in hand with you, instead back away from you. It is my prayer that at the appropriate time the scripture I share here will encourage you just as it has encouraged me.
Shortly after we passed the two year mark of life without our precious Sarah, I began studying 1 John. I was almost immediately deeply conflicted by the challenging exhortation of selfless love repeatedly expressed throughout 1 John.
“The one who says he is in the Light and [yet] hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:9-11 [NASB]
“By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:10 [NASB]
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” 1 John 3:14 [NASB]
“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 1 John 3:16 [NASB]
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8 [NASB]
Hour after hour and day after day as I studied through 1 John, I wrestled with the Lord and my sorrows. Initially I believed, argued and attempted to justify that I was only apathetic toward those who had abandoned us in our grief, I didn’t “hate” them. The Lord who knows my heart would not allow my excuses, though. As piercing conviction broke through my resistance I was forced to admit that, though I did not hate them, I was absolutely not desiring to love them. In truth, I was not apathetic at all, I had been and still was deeply hurt by their unexpected abandonment.
Perhaps recognizing my lack of desire to love them was enlightening, but it in no way marked a victory. My flesh was waging war against the call to righteousness in 1 John. After all, they walked away from us, avoided us, and continue to avoid us, clearly they don’t love us, so surely we are exempt from the command to love them? Before those words were even fully formed or spoken in my mind the Holy Spirit within me was testifying to their falsehood, and yet I continued to wrestle.
In the midst of wrestling through 1 John, I began studying and preparing to teach a lesson on Peter’s denial of Christ. Over the course of that week I read and reread the accounts of the last supper, Peter’s denial, the crucifixion, the resurrection and Christ’s interaction with the disciples following the resurrection in Matthew, Mark, Luke and parts of John.
Sunday morning, before I was to teach the lesson on Peter’s denial, our pastor preached a sermon from John 13. As he read aloud the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, the Holy Spirt began powerfully speaking to my heart. My heart and mind were flooded with all I had been studying in 1 John and in each of the gospel accounts that week.
As Jesus humbled Himself and compassionately washed the feet of His disciples, He did it already knowing that each and every one of them was going to fall away and abandon Him (Mark 14:27). He knew Judas would betray Him (Mat 26:21). When He was “grieved to the point of death,” James, John and Peter would somehow fail to recognize the gravity of those moments and would sleep, even though Christ in His anguish had told them to keep watch and pray (Mark 14:34-38). Peter would deny even knowing Him as He looked on silently as The Lamb ready to be slaughtered (Luke 22:61). And yet, our precious Lord and Savior washed their feet and “He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
After Jesus washed their feet He gave them and us this command:
“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor [is] one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” John 13:14-17 [NASB]
He who was abandoned by His disciples and closest friends while His soul was “deeply grieved, to the point of death” intimately understands the anguish of our abandonment (Mat 26:38). He compassionately empathizes and weeps with us (John 11:33-35). He always lives to intercede for us (Heb 7:25). And it is He who has commanded us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
Just as He has loved us.
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
All of this swirled through my heart and mind as our pastor read these Words of Christ, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor [is] one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
In those sacred moments the Lord in His power through the leading of His Holy Spirit and the conviction of His Word created within me the desire to love those who had abandoned us. I am compelled by His love and filled with longing to be pleasing to Him. He who said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” is absolutely faithful. The blessedness of drawing nearer to Him through obedience far outweighs any cost of obedience.
Recognizing I am utterly dependent on Him for the power to walk in obedience, I am daily praying that He will “sustain me with a willing spirit” to be a surrendered and obedient vessel for His love to flow through (Psalm 51:12). I am praying for His love in me to readily flow not only to those who have loved us well, but also to those who have abandoned us, so that whenever and however He calls me to “wash their feet,” I will willingly do just as He did, humbly, joyfully and without hesitation.
Artwork: Sarah Harmening