Two years ago, when my mom was dying, a young hospice chaplain came and ministered to her. “Ministered to her.” That in itself speaks volumes about this young man. Those of you who knew Mom know she was not an easy person to get to know. Well, she wasn’t too hard to get to know, if(!) she let you into her world. Mom was very guarded. She was very careful about who she let in. She did not trust people she didn’t know, and since it was rare she would let someone in long enough for her to get to know them, she didn’t trust very many people. She did love the Lord, though. In her last few months, when she knew her body was shutting down and her time on earth coming to an end, she had to let the hospice staff (at least some of them) care for her. She wanted nothing to do with their social worker; trusted few of their aids, or nurses. Frankly, I was a little surprised she agreed to meet the chaplain. She gave him a chance, and his love for the Lord, his knowledge of scripture (especially that), and his compassion won her over. She really liked him and looked forward to his visits. When the hospice company replaced him with another chaplain, Mom refused to see the new chaplain.
After he met with her, he would visit with me for a few minutes, too. As we got to know each other, we found we had some things in common. Our visits grew longer, as we especially shared a desire to know God deeply. We became friends. After Mom passed, we stayed in touch some by phone and text message. We kept talking about how we needed to get together, but it never seemed to happen. He got married last year. A second marriage, and he was delighted with his new wife and blended family—both having teen-age children. This past February, we texted back and forth and were going to get together. He wanted us to meet his wife. Then Covid hit. Everything shut down. Everyone shelter at home. I thought about him from time to time and wondered if we could yet get together, but there was this pandemic thing still going on. It seems like years since last February, not months.
This past Sunday, I texted him just to check on him, and maybe arrange to get together, give him a book I set aside for him from Mom’s library, and maybe a copy of my book as well. The next morning I received a text from his number, from his wife, telling me he had “lost his life” a little over a week ago. Needless to say, I was stunned. I expressed my sympathy, and ventured to ask what had happened, thinking maybe Covid-19, or an unexpected heart attack. “Lost his life”—maybe a car accident. She replied he had struggled with depression for decades, and had taken his own life.
Okay, so you didn’t see the pause right there, but my hands just kind of froze over the keyboard, as tears came once again. How do I express what I’m feeling? My heart is broken. This young woman; these two teen-agers; their heart-ache. And why didn’t he reach out?!? Why didn’t I?!? Was he as unsure how to get past all the medical expertise telling us to stay home and social distance as I was?
You want “woke”?!? I know the answer to this man’s pain. He knew the answer, but he needed a brother to come alongside and help him access it. Where was I?
It is time we wake up! But it isn’t about politics or race or gender or any other social issue. Social issues need to be fixed. But throwing tantrums about it isn’t going to make it happen. Oh, we can make changes. Politicians can pass laws to pretend to be concerned so they can get reelected, and maybe try to force some changes to happen. The cold, hard reality is there won’t be any change until first, we seek God—as individuals, in groups, as a nation; and second, until we come alongside one another in loving care and bear one another’s burdens. Or let me put it another way: first—realize that God loves you, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it; second—accept His love and let it change you from within; third—spend some time helping others accept and embrace the love of God in their lives.
As Keith Green wrote: “The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight, ’cause it’s asleep in the light.” How’s that for “woke”?
As for me? God was not caught off guard by this young man’s suicide. He was not surprised by it. Could I have made a difference? Maybe. I’ll never know for certain. I do know that God allowed him in my life for a season of mutual encouragement. God was also fully aware of the timing of all of this—Mom’s illness and death while he was still chaplain, our friendship, our busy lives, the pandemic, and that he would die before we would get face-to-face again. And God is using it to grow me and show me things, and will use it for His glory in the lives of all who love Him, are touched by his death, and will allow Him to use it. In that context, I can be thankful for this experience. Joyously giving thanks? Absoultely not! Not right now. Not yet. Maybe a little further down the road, when I see more of how God uses it. For now, it just hurts too much. Right now, it’s time to grieve. And that’s okay. As the tears come again, I’ll close for now, with a sad, but thankful heart.