This week in our community has been painful. The deaths of loved ones including Londyn Tippett and Lauren Bajuk have caused unimaginable grief, turned worlds upside down, and left us grasping for any certainties that can give us stable footing. In moments like these, it’s hard to force words up on to a screen. I’m reminded in moments like these of great theological minds who undertook the task of so eloquently articulating a theological response to the issue of pain and loss—and then finding it utterly useless in the face of such loss.
In 1940, C.S. Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain” as an intellectual attempt to deal with this burning question. It was several years later, after Lewis’ wife had passed away that he wrote these words: “If you are writing a book about pain and then get some actual pain… it does not either, as the cynic would expect, blow the doctrine to bits, nor, as a Christian would hope, turn into practice, but remains quite unconnected and irrelevant” In other words, he didn’t necessarily think that what he had said was wrong, but he did not find it helpful in processing his grief in that moment.
For me, that means that in times like this, there are things one can say that might be correct or true. There are also things one can say that could be just plain wrong. In either case, it seems, that answers to the burning questions may not be all that helpful in the first place.
This week has caused me to reflect on the passing of loved ones in my own life. My brother-in-law, Adam died seven years ago this week. I remember that there was a service, and I remember who was there. I couldn’t tell you any of the words that were said on that day to attempt to make sense of the world, but frankly, that’s not what I needed that day. Where I experienced the love and presence of God that week and in the weeks and months that followed was in and through people; their arms and hearts extended in empathy, compassion, and grace. We were held up and sustained by that grace for a long time as we learned how to live with the pain of losing Adam.
While so many of our questions went unanswered. Why did this happen? Why Adam? Why now? There were some words that we did find helpful: stories. Over the next several weeks and months, people reached out to us and shared stories about how Adam had impacted their lives. Some were inspiring, so many others were just downright hilarious, but every one of them we cherished and every one of them a reminder of his heart and a reminder of how God’s presence flowed through him to bless the world.
During that week, I wrote a reflection about Adam in an attempt to organize my own thoughts. It is interesting to me that the themes of God’s presence through others and storytelling were as evident to me then as they are now. I offer that reflection below as a testimony to the people who showed up for us; those who, for me, were the very presence and comfort of God.
For those in the throes of grief this day, I do not pretend to know what you’re going through, nor do I assume that the following reflection will be helpful to you. I do however, along with my staff colleagues, desire greatly for you to know that our hearts are broken with you and that we are always available to sit and bear this pain alongside you. Please reach out to us at 817-282-7384 or firstname.lastname@example.org
July 6, 2015
Dear Friends and Family,
Words cannot express my gratitude for the outpouring of love and support that you all have shown for my family and for me in the wake of Adam’s passing. I have felt God’s presence in every note, every hug, every call, and every meal shared.
As brothers-in-law go, I have two of the best. Adam was and is a brother and best friend to me. I often envied his intelligence, humor, wit, and encyclopedic knowledge of all things fantasy football, The Office, James Bond, Star Wars, and Marvel. I rarely bested him in any game we ever played, but the few times he ever lost, he went out proudly and hilariously in a blaze of glory. On many occasions, Adam would drop everything to come help out with some youth ministry event or activity. Adam’s presence automatically guaranteed that whatever we were doing would be fun. He was an integral part of every mission trip he attended and his passion for the work he did with the Ozark Mission Project was inspiring. One of my favorite times with Adam was driving down to George West last year. We listened to and sang along with his favorite Pandora station, 90’s Pop Radio, to which we knew all the words to every song.
More than any of that, Aimee and I cherished him as Uncle Adam. He always called Micah and Keira “Kiddo” and the girls adamantly insist that no one else is allowed to call them this. He was determined to teach them about online gaming and everything else that he loved. The girls have certainly learned about his affinity for Sour Patch kids.
Losing Adam has utterly and totally devastated us, but thanks to so many of you, I know that we are not alone. At the end of the day, I trust that we will find a way to carry on. I know that we’ll never get over losing Adam. It’s not how life is supposed to work. Some people will talk about plans and angels and other BS, but I know that this was not God’s plan for Adam. Adam was vibrant and full of life and grace. God’s plans for him were for good and not for harm. God’s plans for Adam involved his humor, his passion, his wit, his charm, his heart, his hands, and every other intricate detail that God so carefully and lovingly wove into his being. We already know what took Adam. It was an accident; a tragic accident. And as we are left in the midst of death, I take comfort in familiar words from Paul:
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I know that Adam is with God. I know that God is with us. I know that God’s action and activity in the world is creating, sustaining, and redeeming a broken and hurting world. Adam was invested in that work. As we cling to his memory, and remember and tell his stories, his passion will live on, and he will best be honored as we carry on together–living in and for one another, living in and for God, who in all things works for Good, for resurrection, and for new life.
I am thankful for all that you have already done and for what you will continue to do in the coming days for our family. Please know how much we are so grateful for your prayers. Adam was so deeply loved.