“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:27-28 [ESV]
Easter of 2017 is the last day I have vivid cohesive memories with Sarah prior to the week of her death. All the in between days were normal days that blur together in my mind’s eye, but I can clearly remember what that Easter Sunday felt like.
I remember holding the camera as I took her picture that morning, the one now enlarged and hanging in our living room. I remember her not being satisfied with the way her curls were turning and her rearranging them as I got her to scoot over so we could get the beautiful lavender Iris in the photo with her. I remember sitting at the table and laughing at lunch and spending the day together.
The next vivid memories I have are the day before she died and, of course, the day of her death. In my mind, Easter memories are immediately followed by the memories from the week of her death. I assume that is the reason the passing of Easter each year has initiated my feeling as though I have entered a steep slide hurling me involuntarily toward Sarah’s death.
I was hopeful that perhaps this year would be different. Sadly, in some ways it is still much the same as the previous two years, though not quite as raw. Over the past two weeks, shared memories or photos from prior to Sarah’s death have continued to bring the joy of seeing her but also the sharper sting of the unavoidable reliving of the days leading up to her death. I repeatedly find myself tearfully wincing and instantly thinking how blissfully clueless we were as we had no idea what agony was headed our way.
Some who have not experienced such loss might chide me to simply not think about it, but those who have experienced such loss recognize the foolishness of such suggestions. The void of our loved one’s absence, particularly the absence of one’s child, is so cavernous it is impossible to avoid or forget. I am constantly aware of her absence and forever desperate to see her, to touch her, to hug her and hold her, to tell her how much I love her, to see her smile and hear her laugh. She is intimately known and loved by me and forever will be. It is that unending love that drives my endless longing to be with her.
I have been convicted since Sarah left that prior to her leaving I failed to love Jesus in the same way.
Though I had surrendered my life to Him many years before and was certainly desiring and striving to live for and honor Him, I realize now the fervor of my love for Him fell short of my love for my children. I was not desperate to see Him face to face. I had much I still wanted to see and do here. Honestly, if given the option I think I would have opted to delay His return so I could see the earthly future I imagined for my family become reality. In truth I was not “eagerly waiting for Him,” but was asking him to wait a few years so I could see and experience all the things I wanted to see and experience here.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose.” Romans 8:28 [NASB]
The day Sarah was killed we prayed Romans 8:28 as a family, believing God would indeed work miraculously to bring good from the great agony of her physical death and resulting absence. Though Sarah’s physical death was and is not good, He has brought immeasurable good from it. The greatest “goods” to emerge in my life from that inferno is the forging of sure and certain hope in my heart, and my sincere and eager longing for Christ’s return.
In the depths of the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death, He has faithfully poured out His new mercies. In His lovingkindness and compassion He has ministered to my shattered heart day by day. When I felt time and time again as though I would surely drown in the pit of despair, He faithfully upheld me by His righteous right hand.
He has sustained me day by day and in the process He set and fortified His unshakable Hope in my heart. Experiencing His intimate and unwavering love and care for my family and me in the midst of suffering radically deepened my love for Him and my desperation for His coming. Because of His great love for us, I am “eagerly waiting for him.”
“We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 [NASB]
In retrospect I realize before Sarah left my hope was not fully fixed on His coming. Some of my hope was resting on my perceptions or expectations of my family’s future. The things I was desiring were good things: seeing my children grow up, get married and have their own families. But they should not have been and can not be the source or place of my hope. He alone is able to securely hold our hope, all of His promises being sure and certain.
While we may look forward to special times here on earth, our hope must remain completely fixed on Him and His eternal promises. Our fixed focus on our glorious eternal future allows us to see beyond the temporal storms of this life, enabling us to confidently weather them all, even the most severe.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13 [NASB]
I am not thankful for Sarah’s death. I selfishly wish she was still here. But I am exceedingly thankful for God’s continuing redemptive use of the resulting suffering to refine and purify me.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 [NIV]
If you are suffering, I pray that you will be encouraged that the God of the universe intimately loves you and is able, willing and desiring to redemptively use the suffering in your life for good.
Through the flames of suffering our hearts can be refined, purified and sanctified, producing within us perseverance, character and hope rooted and fixed in eternity. Melting away temporal, worldly hopes like dross, leaving only the one true hope that will never disappoint. By which we are strengthened and equipped to wait with perseverance, and compelled to cry out in eager anticipation with all the saints before and yet to come, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
“we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Hebrews 6:18-19 [NIV]
“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he [already] sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Romans 8:24-25 [NASB]