My heart is heavy. With sadness, with expectation, with remembrance. I've been following the story of a man full of love and much loved - husband, dad, grandpa, brother, uncle, friend, pastor - and his family, in a three year battle with advanced prostate cancer. They've been believing for a miracle, enduring in faith, for these long months, and I add my prayers of faith with theirs. And now, as his strength is declining, as his pain is unrelenting, as doctors give him two to four weeks left to live, I find myself on my knees this morning, weeping and singing and crying out to the God I know understands the fear of death and the agony of loss more than any of us. He's stared it in the face, felt it coursing through his veins, doubling him over in anguished sobs.
Jesus in the Garden.
Jesus, Son of God and fully human, pleading with God to the point of sweating blood, "Is there any other way? Please, spare me from this death..." And after hours of anguished wrestling in prayer, "Yet...not my will, but Yours be done here." Jesus wanted out. He didn't want to die.
I remember this as I pray, soaked with tears, as if Jesus were kneeling beside me, remembering his own moments with fear and sorrow and death. And I'm trying to pray like he did, with that gut-wrenching honesty, pleading for deliverance from death, trusting ultimately in his sovereignty even in the face of death.
I wish I could say I had these moments of clarity of faith when my own Papa died. The truth is, I felt dead inside, spiritually checked out, and what I just wrote above would have ticked me off at the time. I didn't want to hear about God's sovereignty or his plans being different than our own. I just wanted my Papa to live. I didn't want to face the pain of losing him.
I'll never forget watching life slowly leave his body. It felt like an eternity, each minute ticking by in my ear, sounding like fingernails on a chalkboard. I thought when they removed his tubes he would die quickly. I wasn't prepared to watch him struggle, his lungs gasping for air, choking on fluids in his throat, for nearly six hours. My prayers for God to heal him gradually shifted to angry pleas that he be compassionate and end Papa's life. This, in my book, was not a dignified way for Papa to go. Didn't God owe it to him, this man who had loved and followed him for so long, to spare him further suffering? Didn't he owe it to us to spare us the agony of watching him die like this? It was like God was rubbing salt in our open wounds and I was all but shaking my fist at him. I wasn't able, in these moments and for a long time after, to see it any other way.
Papa wasn't supposed to die at fifty-eight. I wasn't supposed to lose my dad at twenty-seven. My mom wasn't supposed to say goodbye to her husband, the love of her life, six days short of their thirty-six anniversary. My sister wasn't supposed to lose him the day after her wedding anniversary. His grandkids weren't supposed to lose him at the ages of four and eight months. I wasn't married yet, didn't have kids for him to hold yet. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. But it did. And nearly four years later, only by the grace and healing of a faithful God, do I kneel in a different posture than I did when praying for my own Papa.
As I pray, I'm singing along with a song I found online, and this song levels me. At the same time, it leverages my heart to heaven, where I'm reaching my hands up high as if to grab hold of Jesus' hand and the hand of my Papa. And I can almost see them, not really with my eyes, but squinting with the eyes of my heart. My heart holds a mix of sorrow, hope, expectation and longing, as I lift my voice to heaven. If faith can move the mountains, let the mountains move/ We come with expectation/ Waiting here for You, waiting here for You/ You're the Lord of all creation/ And still You know my heart/ The Author of salvation/ You've loved us from the start/ Waiting here for You/ With our hands lifted high in praise/ And it's You we adore/ Singing Allelujah/ You are everything You've promised/ Your faithfulness is true/ We're desperate for Your presence/ All we need is You/ Waiting here for You...
Yes, waiting. Waiting for him to come, as he always does, though not always in the way we expect, in the way we want. But to broken hearts and crushed spirits and angry questions and hopes deferred, he comes. He enters in. He covers with his loving presence. He hunkers down and never leaves, even with fists punching the air.