I think you all know me well enough to know that I became a Christian at the age of nine. It was my personal decision on my grandparents’ porch and I stayed true to that decision all of my life. I attended church, bible studies, and accountability groups from that tender age of my own accord and not at the urging or pleading of others. I simply loved God and wanted to serve Him in every area of my life in the best way I knew how.
I’ve received lot of criticism, however – at times from some reading here – because my life was “perfect” and untested or challenged. I was told it is easy to “skip around” telling of love and grace when you’ve never had any suffering in your life. I was told when I encountered “real” grief and trials that my eyes would be opened to that fact that my God was “smoke and mirrors” – a magic show that didn’t hold water when I truly needed support in the “real” world. But I continued to believe and put my whole trust in my God for the next 25 years - debating, encouraging, convincing and answering questions for those of you who scoffed and those who supported me.
Now, I feel so many are waiting, holding their breath, to see if the bottom fell out. Those who love the Lord want someone to show them proof that He is faithful and able to sustain us even in the worst of times. Those who question His existence want to know if this is the time they are finally convinced or if my experience is just another proof that wishing does not make a deity real.
So, how am I?
C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
I have learned more in the last twenty-three months than I have in my entire life time. No one has to tell me to keep my “mind on things above” (Col. 3:2), I can’t stop thinking about heaven and reading about the things my son is experiencing. No one has to remind me to “clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the poor”(1Tim 6:17-19); I’ve experienced how unimportant and fleeting this world is and I only want to spend my time on people! Even more importantly, I’ve challenged all I believe about God and come back with solid footing about who He is, the truth of His word and power of His Spirit. The work I did in the trenches was life altering and a blessing beyond compare.
I am certainly not saying that a person died so that I could come to this new growth and learning in my life. I will never know why Nick went to heaven at only eight years of age until I am standing there myself, but I am responsible for how I react to the experience. I am responsible to learn and grow and experience God in a whole new way that only can occur through suffering and sorrow.
This is not to say I do not miss my son. Anyone who says I shouldn’t is insane. God knows full well that we experience pain when we are separated one from another. He knows better than we do that He did not design us for that. We were supposed to live in paradise together for eternity. There was no need to build in a coping mechanism for separation. But since we are no longer in paradise, He has given us His Spirit to give us strength to endure the pain, purpose for our days, and comfort that we are expected to pass on to others.
I do not grieve for Nick, though. Nick is fine – he’s more than fine! He’s exactly where he’d want to be (and those of you who really know him know how true that is!)
From here to eternity…
Now the journey set before me, as scripture says, is to “love the Lord [my] God with all [my] heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Matt. 22:37) It’s certainly not a blind faith. It takes a lot discipline, will, struggle, study and, sometimes, painful experiences. But as our Pastor once reminded us, limestone (prevalent around my home) only becomes useful, beautiful and durable after it’s been crushed under tremendous pressure for a long time.
Matthew 22:37 reminds me to love Him with all my heart – which I take as a reminder to fall in love with Him; to begin a journey of romance. To learn who He is, spend time together, focus on the things that delight Him. To bring Him the unblemished roses of my acts of service complete with all their beauty and thorns - not because it will bring me any favors, merit, kudos, or points, - but simply because it pleases Him and brings Him joy. True love does things for the other person because it brings that person joy and not because the giver may get anything out of it.
To love Him with “my soul” is what I’ve only recently experienced. It’s to love Him deep down in the places where there are no words to describe this new level of understanding. It’s when we experience a trial, grief, sorrow or suffering so deep that it opens up an understanding about life that could never have been learned over a lifetime of study. I told you I began my crawl back to God through study and reason, but the last leg of the journey could only be completed through His work of sorrow and grief forged in the places of my soul that I never knew existed before.
Loving Him with “all my mind” is where so many of us begin, but then, unfortunately, end. It’s only a portion of the picture and if we stop there, our understanding never grows because it’s only partially made. But He does want me to love Him with my mind because He created it and expects me to use it. He wants me to seek out why the Gnostic gospels are a joke, but the New Testament gospels are trustworthy. He wants me to search for Him and be sure that He is and actually exists before I feign devotion and put on false piety. He expects me to research the validity of the Gospel account of the life of Christ using good history and sound science to ensure my footing is strong. I have answered these questions and many more for myself so I can let my mind be free to learn, debate and grow and love Him fully and concretely through it all.
Now to love Him with “all my strength” is the charge to keep going and to persevere. Whoever said Christianity is a crutch obviously never walked the path. It’s a daily, determined, continuous, devoted struggle punctuated by moments of grace and mercy when we are weak. It’s going one more step when you have no strength left if it means you have the opportunity to show someone else Christ’s love and comfort.
And so I close with this most perfect summary: