Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sudden Death

Not long ago, a young man in northeastern Arkansas passed away from a head on collision car accident.  He was three years younger than me.  Though he and I are from the same small town, I don't recall ever knowing him, but for some reason I find myself strangely impacted by his death.  His last post on Facebook was a reference to Proverbs 29:18, and it was written the day before he died.  "What's the message here, God?" I've wondered in eerie awe.  From what I've been told, this young man was doing great, had just finished John 3:16 Boot Camp, and was on his way to a beautiful life with the woman he loved.  Why did God cut that short?  Why does He cut anyone's life short?  I know these are, for the most part, unanswerable questions, yet I can't help but muse over the possible reasons.  I accept that it's not my time, place, or even right, to know the full explanation, but it seems that the last month has been wrought with multiple untimely deaths, so I find the issue inescapable from my mind's anxious grip.  Of the five deaths that have impacted me personally in the last few weeks, I find that only one of them "makes sense," while the others seem unfathomably premature and hauntingly reminiscent of my own mortality.  They have each been sudden deaths with gaping holes my mind struggles to fill.

I know and accept that God's ways and thoughts are not my own (Isaiah 55:8) but in the wake of recent deaths and absence of answers, I find my thoughts traveling back in time to a place where I feel cold, a little shaky, and very insecure about my own life.  I find myself hugging my son a little tighter in case, God forbid, it be our last embrace.  Who am I that I should be allowed to live into a ripe, old age, but my friend Amber's toddler was taken away in his sleep?  Who am I that I should be permitted to grow old while the young man in northeastern Arkansas died at 28?  Even more distressing, what if I'm not going to be that person at all? What if God intends to take me tomorrow? Or the next day? What exit, for me, has He prepared?  Will I leave my son without a mother? Will I go in a car accident or will it be an illness that gives me time to prepare?  Will I be alone? Will it hurt, or will I go peacefully in my sleep?  "Shut these thoughts from my mind," I've begged of God recently.  I don't want to allow my mind entry into this realm of thinking, but I've found that with my every effort to push such thoughts out, they only fight harder to stay.  I feel the weight of impending, sudden death, and it terrifies me. 

Last night, I asked God one last time to please help me stop thinking about death, and as I inhaled the scent from my Bath and Body Works stress relief lotion and spray, I drifted off to sleep.  I woke this morning to the sounds of my son's guitar while he played innocently at around five a.m.  As I pulled the pillows down over my head, I became refreshingly aware of my own presence. With a sigh of relief to be alive next to my sleeping husband and just across rooms from my guitar playing child, I thanked God for another day and purposed to live it with fullness and love.  I gently pulled the covers back and stepped out of bed to poke my head around the corner.  "Ashton, it's a bit too early to rock it out on your guitar," I whispered with a smile.  As he playfully laughed and told me good morning, I went into the living room, hugged him close, and reflected over my recent concerns.  As I sat down with freshly brewed coffee, I pulled out my Sarah Young devotional and began to read.  The following words from God were what I read:

UNDERSTANDING will never bring you Peace.  That's why I have instructed you to trust in me, not in your understanding.  Human beings have a voracious appetite for trying to figure things out, in order to gain a sense of mastery over their lives. But the world presents you with an endless series of problems.  As soon as you master one set, another pops up to challenge you.  The relief you had anticipated is short-lived.  Soon your mind is gearing up again: searching for understanding (mastery), instead of seeking Me (your Master).
The wisest of all men, Solomon, could never think his way through to peace.  His vast understanding resulted in feelings of futility, rather than in fulfillment.  Finally, he lost his way and surrendered to the will of his wives by worshiping idols. 
My Peace is not an elusive goal, hidden at the center of some complicated maze.  Actually, you are always enveloped in Peace, which is inherent in my Presence.  As you look to Me, you gain awareness of this precious Peace. 
Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 5:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:16

As the words permeated my thoughts, I suddenly realized that before my every fear has been a futile attempt to understand deaths that are simply not understandable.  Though I've said the words, prayed the prayers, and gone through the motions of accepting deaths that don't "make sense," it seems I've actually accepted nothing at all.  In fact, I've actually been angry with God without even fully realizing the emotion of anger was present.  "I trust You, God, Your ways are not my ways, I know you work all things out for good, Your plans are perfect," are words similar to the ones I've spoken lately, but they mean nothing if they're empty as mine were.  As I sat quietly in an all too bright living room thinking about all of this, I looked down at my phone and realized it had been days, if not an entire week, since I read through one of my other favorite devotionals.  Wondering what else God might want to share with me, I began to read.  The words, written by Billy Graham, are as follows:

For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 
(2 Timothy 1:7)
Many diseases of both body and mind are self-inflicted. For example, ulcers are often caused by worry and anxiety.  Heart attacks are caused many times by overexertion.  Unjustified worry, fear, prejudice, hatred, and envy can contribute to mental stress, which could lead to mental illness.  So one way to have a healthy mind is to avoid those practices.  But the Bible-way to a healthy mind is this, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." If you have the mind of Christ, worry will be offset by trust, enmity by love, and fear by faith.
Fears sometimes seem as if they would overwhelm me, Lord Jesus, but then I remember Your gift of power, love, and a healthy mind. Thank You for the promise of healing and love, as I keep my mind on You, my beloved Lord.

If I wasn't certain with the first devotional whether or not God was responding to my recent cries, prayers, and concerns, I was without doubt after I read this. How comforting this was. I realized that not only had I been angry with God over deaths that seemed so unfair, but also I had fallen completely out of trust in Him. Did you know it's impossible to be engaged in the useless act of worrying if we're fully trusting in God? Seems my trust has needed to be built back up. With His help, I'm still working through various emotions and internal alarms and fears, but at the end of the day, I know that even those "sudden deaths" that leave us in so much pain, turmoil, anger, and resentment, are part of a plan that is perfect. Our God is perfect and from that perfect God can flow only perfect plans. It's an undeniable struggle and deliberate choice to accept that a loving God can and does take loved ones from us before we're ready, but the beauty of death, whether sudden or anticipated, is the promise of new life - eternal life. This can be quite comforting if you have a relationship with Jesus, but if you don't I encourage you to ask Him for an introduction.  He's the only One who will never turn you away in this life, and in Him there is no sting from death.  (1 Corinthians 15:55). 

Live each day as if it were your last and hold your loved ones close.  Love without reservation and above all else, trust in the Lord with all your heart and don't lean or rely on what you do or don't understand; trust that He understands. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.  (Proverbs 3:5-6)


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