Today I ran for the first time since my son Caleb died. It was a short run (three miles) and I prayed for most of the first mile. It was a prayer for understanding, a prayer of lament, a prayer of thanksgiving. The last eight days have been quite busy. As I mentioned in my last post, we hosted a wake that many of his friends and co-workers in Southeast Georgia attended. We then traveled to middle Tennessee for the funeral. The love of extended family and the family of faith made the experience easier, but did not dispel totally the hole now torn in my heart. Several preacher friends and a man who had attended my “Call for Fire Seminar” in Afghanistan encouraged me with their presence also. A friend who sang in a college choir with me preached the funeral; he delivered an encouraging eulogy from the first eight verses and last four verses of Isaiah 40, as well as Matthew 7:7-11, where Jesus says,
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock; and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”
Those words might seem empty; I prayed nightly for my children’s health and safety. However, as I discussed with God in my prayer this afternoon, his will does not have to align with ours, and we may overlook or misunderstand the answers he gives our prayers. I know now that I hurt. There is an empty space in my family that cannot be filled in the same way that my son filled it. Nevertheless, I remember that Jesus, the Son of God, prayed the night before his crucifixion that he might be spared, but he was not. I have learned from the prayers in the Bible that prayer does function like a debit card. The verses from Matthew do not teach that God gives us what we want.
I ran today, and prayed. Those disciplines refreshed and renewed me. They did not remove all my pain; each used physical or spiritual muscles that ached afterwards. It will take time to heal from this loss, and I suspect that my posts may reflect my grief. I know, too, that I have gained empathy for others who have lost children. I spoke after my friend spoke at the funeral. I began by telling how when I was eight years old I attended my grandfather’s funeral. His mother, my great-grandmother, sat beside me. She took my hand in hers and said, “Mike, no one should have to go to their son’s funeral.” My great-grandmother spoke truth that day. Pray in your sorrow with assurance, as I do, that God hears even when it seems that he does not. Pray with faith that God will act for your good, even if what you receive is not what you desire. Pray, and continue to pray even when it seems painful to do so. Remember that you are not alone. I concluded my address by singing the song I sang to my son when he was a baby, “O, how he loves you and me.” Yes, God loves us, even in the darkest season when we may not perceive his presence. Pray hard, my friends.