Wednesday, December 25th 2013

I’m writing this with less that fifteen minutes of the day remaining. It’s the first Christmas Day in thirteen years that I have spent without my dear Annie. It will mark the first of all the Christmases without my Annie for the rest of my life. 

A month ago, as I thought about Christmas, I didn’t really think that it’d be especially hard. I’m surrounded by people who love me and support me practically and prayerfully. I’ve spent every day of the last nine months in the hands of the God who has always been stronger than my weakest days; the God who always works His best when I am at my worst; the God who lifts me when I am at my lowest; I’ve seen God work through me and despite me in some incredible ways. But there have been some especially painful moments recently – floor thumping, chest tearing, sobbing. Heartache and agonising sorrow. I may have said this before but I say it again to all those believers who seek to counsel other believers who grieve: don’t deliver 1 Thessalonians 4:13 on a fridge magnet! Yes, Christians grieve differently to those who don’t have a Saviour; Christians grieve with hope. But they grieve. That word ‘grieve’ is a very heavy word. It’s the same word used when Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane hours before He went to the cross. Unless you have personally felt the weight of it be careful that in your desire to ‘be light’ you don’t ‘make light’ of it. The grief of losing a loved one – even one called home to Christ – is ever so painful. By faith, I know I will see my Annie again, but oh the bitter agony of not waking up to her today, not gazing at her today, not feeling the touch of her hand today, not seeing her smile today, not hearing her voice today, not holding her in my arms today.

Pastors and young pastors and elders and teachers and evangelists and preachers and apologists if you can only articulate your theology of suffering succinctly and smoothly then hold your breath until it takes yours away.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. – Romans 12:15

There is something very significant and deep about that verse in Romans 12:15 regarding the way we counsel other believers who are grieving. There are a number of verbs for weeping and crying in the original language of the New Testament but in this verse both verbs are the same. If we understand anything about suffering and our part in counselling others, we will not just stand alongside the grieving saint, but enter into the very same with them.

Now this all sounds a little bit hopeless. When and how does the hope bit come into all of this? If we’re too busy weeping and wailing with a grieving saint, when will it all dry up? It’s got to be somebody’s job to throw in the hope-hankies, right? Someone needs to drown our sorrows in sermons and verses. How will anyone get counselled if the counsellor has their face in the dirt?

“When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me.” – John 15:26

If you know grief and you know Jesus, counsel, consolation and comfort comes (super)naturally. In my experience, it’s from the vantage point of grief that you get perhaps the best seats in the house for beholding and receiving The Counsellor. How beautiful the risen and ascended Jesus appears, from beneath the shroud of grief and behind a wall of tears. How close and how sweet heaven is when you’re as low on the earth as you could possibly be.

Words actually fail me here and if you feel like I’ve accurately communicated this succinctly, then I’ve actually failed you. My attempt to express the overflow of my heart contains words, but my words cannot contain the overflow of my heart. As the pastor reminded us this morning, what we celebrate at Christmas is actually an indescribable gift!

Praise be to God for what He has given, which words have no power to say. – 2 Corinthians 9:15 (BBE)

This morning as I awoke, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as joyful about Christmas day. As I lay in bed thinking about the birth of Jesus I welled up in my heart and in my eyes. I’m not particularly precious about whether or not what we celebrate specifically took place on December 25th or the equivalent date in the Jewish calendar. What matters is that there was a day. There was a day in history. There was a day when God became man. There was a day when man saw God and God dwelt among men. There was a day when the creator of the universe was nursed as a fragile baby in the arms of a young Jewish girl named Mary. There was a day when people looked at that child and said “Look, there is God!” There was a day when God came to this earth to seek and to save me, and my Annie and all who come to Him, heavy-laden and burdened and lost and broken. There was a day that He refused to take any path other than the one that ended with a cross because He wanted to spend eternity with me. There was a day He sweat drops of blood for mine. There was a day He took the punishment for my sin to the cross. There was a day He breathed His last in lonely anguish that I might never be alone. There was a day when His body lay cold, breathless, yellow and grey that I might have life to the full. There was a day when death could no longer hold Him down, when the grave could no longer contain Him, and the earth no longer hold on to Him. There was a day when heaven received Him again. And there will yet be a day coming. A day when my eyes at last shall see Him. A day when He comes again.

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

Today has marked the first of all my Christmases without my Annie for the rest of my life. On my left hand I continue to wear the first and most precious material gift my wife ever gave to me and it remains unremoved as a symbolic reminder of the many years of love and joy she brought me. My wedding band also acts as another reminder – a reminder of the future that I desire most: for my heart to belong only to the Lord and His purposes until He calls me home or comes to get to me. This wedding band reminds me, I’ll see Annie again. I’ll see her because she belongs to Jesus and I belong to Him.

I don’t know who might be reading this, but oh I pray that God would lead someone to this who is laid as low and as hopeless as they could possibly be. I pray that this might be read by those in anguish and sorrow. Is that you? Are you torn up with grief? Enslaved by addiction? Broken-hearted? Defeated? Weary? Oh dear reader, God cares. He cares for you. He has come to bring hope and peace and joy. He has come to bring new and everlasting life. Call out to Him today. Cry out to Him today. Don’t wait until to you get your life in order. If you truly are laid low, the prospect of New Years resolutions will have no appeal. Ask Him for faith if you lack it. He has come. He is real. He is there. He is doing what He promises. And He is coming again.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

In His Arms,

5 thoughts on “Wednesday, December 25th 2013

  1. Ryan,
    Happy day after Christmas. It’s kind of a numbing day for me – another birthday. Still I’m thankful to have been around for more than half a century with my Lord and Savior watching over me; guiding and protecting me through the “crazy days of youth and military service.” When we detach ourselves from our present “predicaments” and really look deeply into what
    has happened, if we can’t see the hand of God himself in all of our ups and downs (even the
    deepest downs) I really believe we have underestimated the wisdom and power of God, that if He brings us into a place of difficulty, He will give us the strength to overcome or live with it as necessary. Now back to what I really wanted to say. I watched the Sunday Night Discussion last Sunday night (Steve Hinton is our wonderful pastor) and was amazed by the strength, determination, love and hope that God has given you with the loss of your wife. All I can really say is Blessed be the Name of the Lord! In Him we have hope when all appears lost to our
    human knowledge. Thanks for sharing your testimony via this media plus the encouragement I
    got from your stint on the air with Steve and Robert.
    May God who is our ever present strength and hope of a better tomorrow richly bless you in your
    “start up church” endeavors and keep his guiding hand on you in your walk with Him.
    Greetings and Blessings from the northwest side of Houston (Cypress) Texas
    Your brother in Christ Jesus, Jerry Stevens

  2. Yes, we were thinking of you yesterday, as Ruth mentioned. Praise God that our hopelessness takes us to God alone; and that in Him we find our true answers, even if there are no verbal or visible answers, then there is His presence to lean into. Much love Gill and Mark.

  3. Thank you for your post, how open and honest you are, it is a reminder to us who are living without grief right now to be mindful of those that are. We thought of you yesterday as we shared Christmas with Joy and Tim.
    What an encouragement your last paragraph was!
    Love Ruth Newham

  4. Sharing this first with you Ryan, my husband died on the 15th Dec after 28 years together. He was a Christian, so like you Ryan I have the assurance that we will be together again, but Oh the pain and sorrow grief and utter sadness of not having him with me , there is a numbness too, as if I am inhabiting another place. Grief/Grieving, weighty and profound, and only experienced if you are doing it. God has given me the freedom to fail, which gives me the Hope to fight. Found such encouragement from reading your article. P.S Am a friend of Sarah`s from Morning Star Children`s Centre in South Africa.
    Love in Jesus

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