The Essence of Grieving: Embracing Sovereignty


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I can already see this series of posts is going to be difficult to write. Excruciating, maybe. But I need to write it–if not for you, for me.

To prepare for this first piece, I scrolled through our Facebook pages and saw posts, comments, and photos that brought back painful memories. As I’m writing, I’m listening to one of our favourite jazz pianist-vocalists sing the love songs Donna and I would often listen to on road trips or while we were eating supper “alone together”–our favourite state of being. The music, as pleasant as it is, no longer has any point. For me, it has lost its context because I have lost the one I loved.

In the last post, I mentioned that every theme in the series will involve a key word beginning with the letter, “s.” The first word is, “Sovereignty.”

The photo at the top of this page was taken on 31 July 2015. Our entire family had taken a two-week road trip to Nova Scotia, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday that had been planned for two years. We will never forget it. The people, the sea, the haunting beauty of the place, the food, the music, the childhood memories, the scents, the reunions after so many years, the countless hours of family fun and conversation–these were all gifts of God for which we will be forever grateful. “The Kiss” was photographed at Yarmouth Light, one of our family’s favourite places when our children were growing up just outside that charming seaside town.

So, what does this all have to do with sovereignty? This excerpt from an 8 October 2015 Facebook post will explain:

 Yesterday, only moments before we left to meet with the surgeon, I read an immensely encouraging email from [a close friend]. He cited this text:

“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. His heart is steady, he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.” (PSA 112.6-8)

Little did [he] know how timely and appropriate his note was.

Dr. Weaver told us that all the tests indicated with 98% certainty that the mass on Donna’s pancreas is malignant. Further, Tuesday’s CT scan of the chest revealed a small spot on each lung. The tumour is inoperable, because it has attached itself to a main artery leading to the liver; therefore, the only viable treatment option, in Dr. Weaver’s opinion, is chemotherapy.

We drove home in shock, but then when we talked yesterday afternoon, we both said that we felt God had been strangely preparing our hearts for this news. We wept and prayed together, and experienced an overwhelming sense of the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” When we gaze through tears, we can’t discern details, but we can see the Light…

1. God is not scratching His head, wondering what to do next. This is part of His plan, and we’re all in. We know there are things He wants to do in us and through us to His eternal glory, and we want to be usable and willing vessels. We have not given up hope. In EXO 15.11, Moses asks, ““Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” We know that everything God does is a wonder, just because He does it…

2. Life will go on as normally as humanly possible. At the table last night (Donna cooked a wonderful chicken dinner for our guest,) after he’d spent some time processing our news, David said, “You know what? This is God’s plan, and we’re still going to fill this house with joy and laughter…”

3. We do not want to live lives of resignation, but of anticipation. We have no idea what God wants to accomplish through this, but we hope it’s something they will be talking about in heaven some day…

4. Cancer is not the enemy. The Enemy is the enemy, and he wants at best to distract us and at worst to devour us. Please pray with us that does not happen…”

Knowing exactly what was lurking in my wife’s body, our Father lovingly and graciously allowed us to have two weeks together as a family in a place that is not only stunningly beautiful, but that also held some of our happiest and most poignant family memories. While Donna was experiencing occasional abdominal comfort, we didn’t know why–and she was well enough to enjoy every moment of our time together.

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On 3 November, I wrote this entry:

“The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” PSA 145.17

These words sprang off the page yesterday as I was preparing for my BTCP class on the attributes of God. I was sitting in our car in a parking lot–I wasn’t really in the mood for a coffee shop, believe it or not–while Donna was undergoing her second ERCP. The discussion of God’s goodness was poignant, given the news we received from the doctor yesterday afternoon.

Donna has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It has spread, but we don’t know to what extent. That will all become clear when she goes to the Regional Cancer Centre. They already have all her data, and we expect news about an appointment very soon–this week, we hope. The doctor told Donna, “You’re still young and healthy, so we’re still optimistic.” (She chuckled a bit when he said this and thought to herself, “Did he check my birth date?”) We savour every morsel of good news.

This is not the news we wanted to hear. But we know God is righteous, and good, and kind, and we rest in Him. We have no idea what God is doing or why, but we sense His presence with us and want to be used as His tools for whatever He wants to accomplish.

Honestly, I still have no idea why God chose to take my wife when and how He did. I may never know. The only one Who needs to know, knows. Job, perplexed that God would allow him to be so troubled–he lost his children, his possessions, his health, and the support of his wife–said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (JOB 1.21)

Job embraced the sovereignty of God. Embracing God’s sovereignty is not fatalism, which is common to many of the world’s religions. It is recognizing that the Potter has both the ability and the right to shape His clay however He desires, for His eternal purpose. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 9, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to it’s molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (ROM 9.20)

Who am I, indeed?

After Job’s three acquaintances–I am less prone to call them friends than others may be–spend thirty-five chapters of the drama berating Him for his sin and his ignorance of God, Job has come to the end of his rope and is clearly annoyed with his self-appointed tribunal. Beginning in Chapter 38, God says to Him, “Enough already. Have a seat, Job. Now I’m going to ask the questions.”

Two chapters into the Divine discourse, Job says, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (JOB 40.4,5)

God answers, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me, that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (JOB 40.8,9)

After two more chapters of listening to God’s hard questions, Job responds by acknowledging his submission to the sovereignty of God: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (JOB 42.2,32)

Looking back on it, I think my grieving began in the surgeon’s office when he told us Donna had pancreatic cancer. As much as we tried to convince ourselves over the next weeks that things would work out fine, God was preparing us for what was ahead.

My wife’s illness and death have driven home to me the lesson of a song our children used to listen to as they were gong to sleep at night. It’s the lesson of the first “s”:

“You are big, and I am small.”

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