Returning to work today after the death of one of our family’s dearest friends, I gave myself a pep talk, trying to convince myself I could make it through this one day before the weekend. I flipped on the light switch to my windowless office, and the first thing my eyes saw was this drawing by my friend Wayne’s grandson. I smiled, as I do every time I look at the picture, but this time the smile was seasoned with sadness that Wayne would never again show up at my door with one of Jordan’s drawings in hand.
My sorrow has sometimes taken my breath away this week, and every time it does, I know that I can’t begin to imagine the grief of my friend’s wife, his son, his grandson, and his 87-year-old mother who lost her only child. The first time I spoke with my friend’s mother, she amazed me by thinking of my pain in the face of her profound loss. “Sweetheart,” she said, “I can hear the hurt in your voice. We both just have to remember that God doesn’t make mistakes.”
I shared this with a colleague today who asked how my friend’s family were doing. My colleague said, “You know, I hear a lot of people in my own faith say that, but I’m not so sure about that.” And we both paused to share stories of the things that shaped our respective views of God.
And I think for the first time this week I may have at least a partial understanding of why Jesus told his disciples that they needed to be like little children in their relationship with the Creator. As a person who values intellect and reason, I’ve always struggled with that story in Matthew’s Gospel. Does Jesus mean I’m supposed to be gullible and naïve? I ask myself. I can’t quite accept that I’m meant to put aside my intellect and accept the ways of God without question.
But as I’ve struggled this week to understand why my friend would be taken from a world where he was still in the middle of doing so much good, I’ve decided once again that it’s okay to question God—that if I believe in a God who is bigger than my understanding, then I’ll never have all the answers in this life. When I think about how little children face the unfathomable, I know that they often ask life’s big, unanswerable questions and accept it when there isn’t a clear answer. They ask their parents questions and then run off to play with complete joy, even though their parents have just given them a jumbled explanation, an uncertain answer.
And so I grieve. But I know that when I walked this morning, I still needed to enjoy the beauty of the stars. And when I go to the beach, as we so often went together, I need to put my toes into the sand and know that my friend is now a part of the incredible universe that surrounds me. He is in the waves that wash over my feet, the ocean breeze that touches my face, the horizon that seems eternal in the distance.
So I remember, yet again, the words of the playwright Thornton Wilder:
“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
And so, my friend, I commend you to the eternal. As long as I draw breath, I’ll give thanks that, for 20 years, you and I shared this earthly journey together. It makes my grief a little less to believe that we haven’t seen the last of each other.
Does God make mistakes? I think probably not. And I have love and hope and faith that my friend and his loved ones will all somehow reunite as part of the great I Am–even if, like a little child, I’m not quite sure how that will happen.
So tell me your stories of seeing God through a glass darkly.