The fax ring awakens me at 4:55 a.m. Nothing transmits, but I get up anyway. Bright, coloured lights flash through our dining room window and the dogs are barking. It’s the police…
And so our lives turned a corner, that Thanksgiving weekend, October 6, 2012. The officer had come to inform us that our 18-year-old son, Paul, while walking home that night, had been struck and killed by a hit and run driver.
Of all the trials over the 52 years of my life until that time, none could have been called a tragedy. Always there had been some way to make the best of a bad situation; to see the sunny side; to look for God’s strength and guidance in the midst of what seemed like a tragedy at the time. The problems had been life problems.
But the death of a beloved young son unarguably and irrefutably qualifies as tragedy. I know this by the discomfort and speechlessness I find in so many when I mention our loss. I know this too, by the many who have confessed that the loss of a child is their worst fear. What I didn’t know is that the tears would go on and on for years.
You’d think that enduring tragic loss and grief would exempt you from the biblical command to be content. Contentment is usually assumed to pertain to material things, after all. But a recap of Jeremiah Burroughs’ definition widens the scope:
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
So how do you find contentment in tragedy?
I would have to answer that it’s not any great strength or virtue on our part that has given us the ability to submit to God’s will in the midst of devastating loss. The finality, the irreversibility of death, in a sense, leaves bereft parents no choice but to submit.
Yet, you’ll note that the definition specifies “freely” submitting and also “delighting” in whatever condition God puts us in.
Contentment is not mere resignation. The helplessness of resignation could far too easily become bitterness.
No, it was a foundation of Truth — what God shows us in the Bible about Himself — that we’ve clung to in the darkest of times. Nothing but that can prepare you for the emotional shock of an early morning visit from the police. You can prepare your heart for whatever the future may bring by building Truth into it.
Years ago, I heard a man interviewed after the death of his wife and the near-death and severe maiming of his daughter in a house-fire. When asked how he was able to come to peace in the face of such loss, he said something that has shaped my thinking in a powerful way:
“I didn’t ask God, ‘Why me?’ With the suffering that is inevitable in this sin-spoiled world, the real question is, ‘Why not me?’ For years I’d learned and preached of the sovereignty of God [God’s rule and reign over everything and everyone in this world]. That is what prepared me to trust God in the midst of it all.”
Like that minister, it is the foundation of Truth that we’ve clung to in the darkest of times.
- He is in complete control of everything. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Ps. 139:16)
- He has a meaning and purpose for everything that occurs. Bad things that happen are not out of His control. People may intend to harm me, but God intends it for good. (Gen. 50:16)
- It’s a good purpose, even if I don’t see it in this lifetime. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Rom. 8:28)
- God is always, only good. “His loving-kindness endures forever.” (Ps. 136) “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
- I can trust God with everything in life. He’s already proven His great love for me by letting His Son take the punishment for my sins on that cruel cross. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)
I can’t delight in the death of my precious son. I doubt God the Father delighted in the death of His. Yet He knew the end from the beginning.
So I do delight in the rock-solid assurance that what is now dark and tangled and left hanging in our lives, will someday, when God reveals the Tapestry He has been weaving of Life on Planet Earth, be bright and perfect.
Contentment is the trust that because of God’s loving-kindness,
the Tapestry will be exquisite.