Unless we are there in the middle of the smell and pain of death, unless we are personally touched by the loss and grief, we may find that the news washes past us leaving us barely affected and only momentarily distracted. In fact, in the U.S. we have almost removed the death experience from our lives.
How many times have you watched someone die?
For the faith giant, death is not to be feared, nor is grief to be avoided. Death is not the end, not the period at the end of the sentence; it is a comma pointing the way to more, much more. And, grief — the shadow of death — is a window to God.
Every time we feel the grief, the sadness, the loss and pain, we are forced out of the shallows and into the deep. We don't like it, but that's the way life is. The non-believer sees only tragedy and pain; the faith giant sees God and hears his voice. God is always in the deep.
Hidden within the most quoted words of Israel's King David, there is a truth missed by many.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4 NASB)
How is comfort possible when I hurt so much? How is fear dispelled when I'm so shaken and uncertain about the future?
Answer: Look again at the beginning of the Psalm ... It is God who is guiding you in the paths of righteousness for his name sake ... those paths lead through the valley of the shadow of death ... For giants in the faith, God is more than a standard guide; he also knows the way and he also knows us. He loves us, and above all, he knows the pain of loss.
He has the touch, the comfort touch. And when everything is said and done, without explanation or reservation, his touch will have restored our souls.
Believe it. Count on it. You see, I've found him in the shadows, myself.
Our daughter, Julie, called to say they were at the hospital. "They're having trouble hearing the baby's heart beat and they want to check everything out." For twenty-three weeks everything had gone so well.
I wanted everything to be all right, but I didn't get what I wanted.
When Lyn and I walked into the hospital room, Julie was already in the patient garb and Scott, our son-in-law was fidgeting with something. A nurse was just finishing an Ultrasound, so we stood along the wall and waited.
"Mom, I don't feel any movement, no kicking!" Julie's eyes filled with tears and her voice broke. She was so brave!
We prayed for the baby, for Julie and Scott, for the nurses, for the doctors. We prayed for God to change what we feared had already happened.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I think the clock stopped. We were lost in shock. Before anyone could react, Julie cried out in a long wailing moan of agony that ripped at my heart. "Noooooooo!"
All I knew was that I wanted to comfort her, to hold her, to grieve with her. I took a step, one step toward the bed; but before I could take another, my heart was hit with a double whammy.
Julie reached up into the arms of Scott. He was her comforter. He was her first touch.
That day, March 30, 1999, we lost Madeline, our first grandchild. We mourned her before we even knew her. And, on that day I finally realized my oldest daughter had grown up and it hit me hard. Scott had taken my place. It was the way it should be, but the loss hurt just the same.
Only God knows how to comfort that kind of grief. And true to his promise he was more than a guide; his presence reassured us all and strengthened our faith. And I felt his touch and heard his voice.
And, before I knew what had happened, he had used those moments to restore my soul.
In the valley of the shadow of death we have a choice. Like so many around us, we can choose to see only pain and heartache and fear, or we can choose to look beyond what we see — to see the unseen. So what will you do?
Pray! Faith giants feel his touch, sense his presence (the Rod), are renewed with his power (the Staff), and hear his voice (the Comfort). After all, he is the Master Comforter.
Remember, no one wants to go through the valley of the shadow; but when we do, we have a guide that's been there before. He knows the way and he will lead us through.