“I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”
Isaiah 43:1-2, 4
These are strange times, and we all feel a sense of loss and grief – as if we’ve lost something that cannot be returned. The COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us of so much we consider near and dear, and yet, it has also provided us an opportunity to witness to our faith as few “normal” times can do. I hope my personal story helps.
As a teenager coming of age in America during the turbulent Sixties, with the upheavals of civil rights demonstrations and anti-war protests broadcast on the evening news, I sensed that society was changing faster and in ways much different than anyone could safely predict. We were raised in the fear of imminent nuclear holocaust, with Civil Defense drills that regularly sent us scurrying for cover under our school desks. The 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle was soon followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobbie. In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, too. The war in Vietnam evoked generational divisions that made polite dinnertime conversation difficult, if not downright impossible.
The adults in my world at the time often spoke in hushed, despairing terms about the apparent end of all they cherished as good and true and certain. By contrast, representatives of the youth culture, and some of my closest friends, saw the same events as harbingers of a new world being born from the ashes of the old. For them, it was either 1984 or Brave New World. That was a frightening time!
And yet I do not remember despairing.
I attribute this mainly to active participation in church life, and especially to the consistent Bible study I received in Sunday school. While many of my friends felt the need to go “in search of themselves,” either through hallucinogenic drugs or by “dropping out” of mainstream society and joining communes, I felt no such compulsion and experienced no identity crisis.
Why? Because I had been assured from birth and through Christian baptism that I was a precious child of God. The world I lived in “made sense” because it was the purposeful creation of a sovereign, loving God in whose image humankind is fashioned. I had no need to search for life’s meaning because I had been instructed from infancy by the opening question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” (i.e., “What is the purpose of human life?”). The answer: “Man’s chief end (the purpose of life) is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” That conviction anchored my life and shaped my understating of Christian discipleship.
At an early age I benefited from being exposed to sound preaching in my home church. The pastor who made the greatest impact on my faith, and who would later direct my thoughts regarding preparation for Christian ministry, was strongly influenced by the great English Reformed Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). I remember a reference my pastor made to a sermon Spurgeon had preached on Esther. Spurgeon stressed that each of us will be chosen, as was the Hebrew queen, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Each of us has a God-given purpose in life, and that purpose will be revealed by the sovereign God whose wisdom and love upholds and rules all things.
Could this be “such a time” for God to use you?
You may protest: “Lord, I’m not worthy” Or, “Lord, I don’t think I can because I’m grieving the loss of (pick one): a) my freedom; b) my sanity; c) my job/income; d) a spouse, child, sibling, close friend or other loved one.”
And your grief is real! Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. You’re not just “acting silly” or “making it up” if you’re experiencing grief in this difficult time. Whatever it is you’re going through is real, and not imaginary. As a Christian counselor once wisely shared with me, “Half the battle is just accepting the grief and letting yourself grieve.”
Grief affects us in real ways, and it is pretty much all-encompassing. It affects us emotionally, socially, spiritually, physically, and mentally. Grief can be all-encompassing; and if you are in the midst of grief and despair right now, please reach out to me or one of the other pastors at CCLW. We’re here to help!
And yet, as dark and as deep as your feelings of loss may seem, my friend, please remember that they are not the end of the story. There is hope, and that hope is real. This is what the world needs to hear from us. The Bible reminds us in so many places that God is even more real than anything we may experience in life. Including grief. As the apostle Paul assures, “we do not grieve as others do who have no hope…since we believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).