In late September my brother Jim, a Ruling Elder in a PCA church down in the Jacksonville, FL area, came home to discover that his wife, Allison, had passed away in her sleep, due to heart failure. She had no history of heart problem and was only fifty-eight, so it came as a cruel shock to Jim and their three grown sons. His church, and our family, rallied around them, and continues to do so. Watching his godly response to this difficult providence gave me a few thoughts that might be helpful to us all.
- Brevity and uncertainty of life here. “For man does not know his time.” (Eccl. 9:12 ESV) Most of us imagine ourselves living to a ripe old age. If we were to examine the idea, we might even feel that God owes us that ripe old age. He does not. God, as the author of life has the total liberty to decide how long each of us will live. This he does with holiness and justice. But we do not know our time. So, we should live ready to go home to Jesus at any time. Happily, in Jim’s case, just the day before Allison went to be with the Lord, the two of them had a deeply meaningful talk about how much they loved each other. So his last memory is of their deep dedication to their marriage. Friends, we should live more with the idea that each goodbye could be our last. Recognize the brevity of life, keep short accounts, forgive quickly, love deeply and more freely. As I am fond of saying, life is not a dress rehearsal, this is the real deal: give it all you’ve got. None of us knows which day will be our last in this life. Keep that in mind and on your heart.
- Assurance of life after death. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’” (Jn. 11:25 ESV) We can live with this confidence that when we, or those we love, pass through death, it is not the end for us. A few hours after Allison passed into the presence of the Lord, Jim said: “My greatest comfort is this, I am absolutely certain she is in the presence of Jesus whom she loved so deeply.” We should live with hope rather than fear. Death is the last enemy to be conquered but Jesus has conquered, and we should live with this incredible assurance that life continues after this life. We know this because Jesus rose and assures us that we “shall yet live.” That is a word that you can stake your life on, and as Jim did, rest your loved ones in.
- Hope in heaven. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn. 14:2 ESV) At one point in the first few days, Jim said, very understandably, “It is just so hard thinking I will never see her again.” I gently reminded him: “But you will see her again, in thirty years or so, at the most, you will see her again and be even better friends then you were now.” We should have all our greatest hopes for our life located in the life to come. This world, while filled with blessings from our loving Father, also has plenty of bitterness. If our hope is for this life only we are most to be pitied. Where you treasure is there your heart will be also. Do not let this world take your treasure, place it, and your hope, in heaven. More recently Jim said, “I have much more interest in heaven than ever, now that Allison lives there.” Let us all put more hope in heaven. It will make you an even better disciple here on earth.
- Thankfulness. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18 ESV) The first few hours after Allison left this world I counseled Jim to keep his heart from bitterness questioning God’s fairness, with thoughts such as: “Why take her so soon?” Instead, I suggested that he lean toward thankfulness, with thoughts like: “Why were you so good to give me such a wonderful wife for 33 years? Wow, I did not deserve that, you did not owe me that, thank you so much.” At the funeral service he did a beautiful job giving thanks for his wife, in the midst of deep sorrow, certainly, but with real thankfulness for the gracious gift of God his good wife was to him. We tend to see the portion of our lives that are currently painful and forget the fact that God has already extended us blessings beyond number. One of those chief blessings are family and friends. We do not deserve one of them. But our Father graciously gives them to us. When we lose any blessing, while it is right to mourn, let us not cease giving thanks for the fact that God first gave us the blessing we now miss. Gratitude is a great attitude to develop.
- The power of prayer. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (Jam. 5:16 ESV) Jim has repeatedly said that anything he has been able to do was in large part because he was upheld by the prayers of so many of God’s people. When I showed Jim the first draft of this blog he encouraged me to add to it this final point. He wrote: “I do want to be sure that everyone understands the power of the prayers of the saints that have held me up and God’s amazing grace that comforts me and strengthens me every day. I don’t want anyone to think I’m some kind of spiritual giant. I am not. I am a defenseless child with no strength or skill, being cradled in my Father’s hands, borne aloft by the faithful prayers of my friends and family.” Prayer is used by God to actually change the world in which we live.
I have been impressed by my brother’s honest and deep mourning, accompanied by his thankful and hopeful faith. Observing his godly grief in the face of such a difficult providence—the sudden and unexpected loss of his dear wife—may we all learn how to live even more wisely, here and now.
Author: Dr. Tom Hawkes