I’ve reflected today on Psalm 90. While today is recognized in the United States this year as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 21 in 2019 is the fourth anniversary of a day that began with a telephone call informing me that my older son had died. The cavity in my life still exists. I still grieve the death of a young man who had so much to give. As I said at his funeral, “I wasn’t finished being his Dad.” Caleb’s death, however, awakened afresh in me a realization that I must not waste the time God has given me. I have not always honored that awareness. Yet, that truth emerges more and more as I remember the suddenness of my son’s passing away. The psalmist prays,
“You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man! For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers” (Psalm 90:3-6).
When I visit my son’s grave, I see the back of his tombstone first and the words inscribed there further jar me into treasuring this day. The back of his tombstone is my tombstone; my name and that of my wife are engraved there already. The monument reminds me that every day counts and must not be discarded without thought. I want to pray then with Psalm 90,
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:12-14).
My pain persists, although not so crippling as it threatened to be in the beginning. Preaching for a local church has helped reignite my own passion for life. My wife’s patience and love as she grieved alongside me has sustained me as well. Friends who have endured similar loss have encouraged me; I hope I have lifted them up, too. I still miss my son desperately, and treasure the memory of the last words he spoke to me, “I love you, Daddy!” Even in his late twenties, I was still “Daddy” to him. He was pragmatic and a concrete thinker much more than I, yet he valued his friends and loved to play. He was a good neighbor, I learned after he died. His security cameras had helped police capture burglars that had stolen from other houses nearby.
When my phone rang that morning, I feared that my mother had died. She recently had been in poor health. She would live another year. Caleb, however, was gone. I’m glad I heard him confess his faith in Jesus and that I had the honor of baptizing him into Christ. I still miss him. I get nervous when I have not talked for several days to my other children. I love them with equal intensity. Sheldon Van Auken, as he reflected on his grief after the death of his wife, wrote of God’s severe mercy and described life as a “vale of soul-making.” I pray that I may remember better the call to use each day wisely, and so I also say with Psalm 90,
“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:15-17).
- Quotations of the Bible are from the English Standard Version.
O God, our Father, our relationships with our children reflect in some small way your investment in our lives as father to your adopted children in Christ. We laugh and rejoice when our children thrive. We fret and cry when they suffer. We grieve and wail when they die before we do. You guide us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, through this vale of soul-making. Help us to lead others through it when they grieve. Renew us as we enjoy our lives that you have given us and the work that you have prepared for us to do. Heal us of our hurt. Energize us to be the parents and grandparents you dream for us to be to our family that survives. Establish the work of our hands. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.