Reflections on the Passing of a Son

            I meet most weeks very early on Friday morning with a covenant group of six other men. It’s a diverse gathering representing several professional backgrounds and church traditions. I’ve been with them 14 years, but they were meeting long before I was asked to join them.

            As you might expect, we’ve witnessed lots of change, and no small amount of challenges over the years: family issues, health issues, job issues, church issues, weddings, births of grandchildren, the moving away or the passing of friends.

            Through it all, there’s been a remarkable measure of faithfulness and the kind of personal concern and support likened to the “coming along side” ministry of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, this has required active, intentional listening and, if sought, careful counsel. Other times, it has called for simple presence and quiet contemplation—when God’s Spirit conveys to the throne of grace deep, verbally-inexpressible yearning, confusion, or pain.

            Such has been our course since early last week, when one of us lost his son, a 31 year old man married just three years ago. He and his wife had traveled briefly to California for a friend’s wedding. She was going to stay there a few days longer to visit another friend. He flew back home for work.

            That night he had supper with his family and, because they had been dog sitting for him, he spent the night at his parents’ home.

            The next morning they were preparing breakfast when they realized his clock alarm was still ringing. His Dad went to awaken him, and discovered that he had died in his sleep.

            Through all the ensuing turmoil of the week, they discovered viscerally that, though life may eventually be good again, for them it will never be the same. Of course, every moment of the day and night around the world many people discover the same thing. We all recognize this. But this was OUR friend, and this was HIS son.

            OUR friend was the one who had to call his daughter-in-law in California to deliver what he told her would be the worst news she had ever heard. It was OUR friend who wondered aloud to us how God would eradicate from his mind the image of his lifeless son that morning. It was OUR friend whose older son would momentarily and in grief shake his fist and rage at heaven.

            We told OUR friend to let him rage; that God can take it. I told him that pouring out our heart to God is one of the relieving features of the Psalms:

Out of the depths I cry unto you, O Lord! Lord, hear my voice!

            Sometime after our friend asked, “How do we walk through this?” Psalm 16 came to mind.

            Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

                        I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;

                                    I have no good apart from you…

                        I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;

                                    in the night also my heart instructs me.

            I have set the Lord always before me;

                        Because he is at my right hand,

                                    I shall not be shaken.

            Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;

                        my flesh also dwells secure.

            For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

                        or let your holy one see corruption.

            You make known to me the path of life;

                        in your presence there is fullness of joy;

                                    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

                Psalm 16:1-2, 7-11

You make known to me the path of life;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

            Sometimes, there is only enough light on our path for the next step. Sometimes, pleasures forevermore come just in little increments. But these still are sustaining and guiding graces from God’s hand.

            Sometimes, we all need even unspoken reminders from those who love us and who come alongside us that the Lord is here, and that we never walk alone.

Author: expositionalvision

Michael Denham has served many years as Director of Music Ministries at The National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

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