Grief, Faith, and Country Music
Last weekend we made a road-trip, and it was hard to find a radio station that played something other than country music. I told Chad he could deal with the Top 15 Countdown, but the very first song that played was, If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away by Justin Moore."Yeah, and losing them wouldn't be so hard to take, If heaven wasn't so far away" We were both in tears within seconds, with the kids bewildered, so I changed the station. Why do they have to make their songs so stinkin' sad???
Fast forward to this morning. I had a dentist appointment for 2 fillings. Not the ideal way to start the day, but I've had far too much experience in the dentist chair, so I took it in stride. I had 30 minutes to spare after dropping Anya off for school, so I went in for coffee. And thanks to my new iPhone, I had access to a Bible with the swipe of a button. I sat, anonymously, in a new coffee shop and had a devotional time. Which led to prayer. Which led to heart-ache as I felt the magnitude of pain going on around me. With my father, who is rapidly but painfully fading, and my mother, who is drained and can hardly stand under the pain of watching her beloved suffer. And our city of Nairobi, reeling under the terror attack earlier this week. And our colleagues, who were caught up in the attack and now are now trying to process the nearness of death and the depth of wickedness in this world. And that led to a few stray tears. But the dentist was waiting, so I pulled myself together, because I'm good at doing that. "Just keep swimming..."
I'm relaxed in the chair, head down, numbing cotton swab in my mouth, and I realize the dentist likes country music. And the song on the radio is A Father's Love by George Strait. "A father doesn't just love his children every now and then; it's a love without end, amen." And first I'm thinking that my father loves me. And then I'm thinking that our Father loves us, despite the chaos in this world. And then I'm crying. First it's little tears welling up in my closed eyes. I hoped they would reabsorb and no one would notice, but they spill over and run down my face. So the dentist is apologizing and the hygienist is offering to reschedule for 'sedation dentistry.' So I'm trying to think of how to reassure them that it has nothing to do with the 3-inch needle in my gums. What do I say? 'Don't worry...it's just that my father is dying and my city was attacked and my friends were held hostage and now their kids have to deal with memories and trauma, and yet they were luckier than many. And I want to be there with them, but I want to be here with my family, and it's like everything is falling apart around us...' Yeah, that would put them at ease! So now I'm sobbing, and the poor (male) dentist gives me a nervous pat on the shoulder and makes a hasty exit. I manage to reassure the hygienist that I was just caught off-guard by the song because my father's on hospice. No need to dump the whole load on the poor lady. She hands me tissues and also exits. So I sat alone in the chair, sobbing, with a raw heart and a numb face for 5 minutes or so until I could gather my wits back and he could finish the work.
So now my pride is a bit shaken, my teeth are fixed, my face is still numb, and I'm feeling overall fragile. Dad continues to fade surprisingly quickly, though we still could be in for weeks more of this roller-coaster. Mom is a trooper, but it's taking its toll on her. Our friends continue to suffer the after-effects of shock and stress. Nairobi is still reeling. We can't shake a degree of 'survivor's guilt' for having been absent for it. So I've asked myself about the Father's love: IS it a love without end? Even in the midst of horror? In a world with terrorists shooting kids and bombing churches; in a world with slave labor mines, and human trafficking, and genocide, and drug addiction and child abuse and crushing poverty?
Yes. It is love, and it is without end, and it does not depend on my understanding. I can't explain evil in this world--theologians have been battling those questions since sin began, and I'm not arrogant enough to think I've figured it out. But Romans 8 gives me comfort. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (v 18) and For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (vv 20-22) and Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (v 26).
So join me (and the Spirit) in groaning for the redemption of this world and all its creation. Rather than blaming God for the evil acts of fallen man, join me in begging for their redemption. For, 'O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.' (Psalm 130:7) And watch out for that country music. It'll get you when you least expect it. Like in a dentist's chair!