(This post was originally written in March, 2019)
I dropped the dish into the sink of soapy water. It hit the bottom with a thud as my eyes brimmed with tears, my hands resting in the hot sudsy water as tears streamed down my face. My heart felt like it was breaking. I was so confused…
My husband Joe and I were married in October. Since then, my life had been one crazy, wonderful series of changes and new “firsts” with the love of my life. We'd definitely had to go through some difficult life-stuff together during that time, but we'd faced those hardships as a team, so it had honestly been a pretty sweet, joyful season of life, probably one of the happiest seasons of my life thus far.
But that's when I started to experience some pretty painful emotions that I didn't fully understand… I started to grieve the day when Joe would die.
I'm a very positive, glass half-full kind of person, so I was taken aback by such a morbid mindset. Why was I grieving a day that is probably something like 50 years in the future? I was enjoying a new, sweet season of married life, so why was I grieving? Over the first six months of our marriage, I experienced these random moments in my day when I would just cry, and I felt like my heart was breaking.
It was frustrating. I just wanted to enjoy this season, I didn't want to be grieving something that hadn't happened yet. So why was I struggling?
In hindsight, it makes sense. When we possess something valuable, we have a greater capacity for loss. I suddenly had even more to lose to death. Unless I die first, there will come a day when I will have to go on living my life without Joe. Since he's seven years older than me, it's likely that I will outlive him. My ever deepening love for Joe meant an ever deepening ability to feel pain when someday he's ripped from my life.
This isn't an easy thing for me to write about. The reality of the likelihood that Joe will die before I do is very personal to me. It took a year of marriage before I was able to publicly write about it, and even now as I write, my chest clenches with twinges of grief. But I want to share this with you, because it has forced me to ponder something important, and that is the topic of pain.
Pain is a horrible thing. It's unnatural. When God created our world, pain was not a part of it. That's an important thing to recognize at the beginning, because I think there's a compassion we sometimes neglect to give to ourselves when we suffer. We tell ourselves to just grit our teeth and make it through another day. We fight back the tears and press on. But we weren't created for this. God made us for peace and joy and fellowship with him. He created a world where there was only delight. It's no wonder we want to run. That instinct isn't wrong. Pain is unnatural.
Pain comes to us in many forms… emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain, relational pain. Many of us navigate life just trying to avoid it. Pain avoidance is our default. There's only one problem. It kills us slowly.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love, is Hell.C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I could keep my husband at arm's length, never fully investing myself in the relationship. It would lessen the pain, later. But I couldn't live like that. Our God is not a stingy God. His character is that of a bridegroom, over-abounding with love and joy. As His image-bearer, I am called and empowered to live the same way, a full, joyful, loving life.
Pain avoidance is an understandable desire, but it's not healthy. So what was I supposed to do? How could I enjoy my marriage, while knowing that every relational deposit I made is someday going to make my loss all the harder?
I knew I had to face my biggest fear head on. Yes, death will someday come for my husband. That is a harsh reality that I have had to come to peace with. But there is more reality to be seen.
First, there is the reality that God is completely sufficient for me. My heart feels fear and grief at the thought of having to live life without Joe. But God will be sufficient for me when that day comes. Even if everything I have ever loved is stripped from me, Jesus is enough.
I love this song from Ellie Holcomb…
The ring around my finger
To have and hold forever
It circles round like years that
We've walked through joys and tears
But You (Jesus), but You have loved me better
And there may come a dayEllie Holcomb, You Love Me Best (song)
When all other loves have gone away
When darkness hems me in
You'll be right where You have always been
Closer than the heart within my chest
Because You loved me best
Even if that were all the hope I had, that would be enough. Jesus alone is enough to satisfy every desire I have for the rest of eternity. But God is so gracious. There is even more!
The reality of death is trumped by the reality that this life is short. Death, as horrible of a reality as that is, is going to feel to me like a light momentary affliction. I won't be separated from Joe for long. This painful life is going to feel like a blip on the radar. Sure, we won't be married anymore in the new heavens and the new earth, but I believe our memories and friendship will still be there. We won't only be reunited to each other, but we will be untied to Jesus, our bride groom, experiencing full, joyous fellowship in His presence, together.
It's hard to imagine that that's actually my reality. I can't really imagine how amazing that is going to be, but this quote from The Last Battle, the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series stirs my longings for that glory…
“The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
There is a reality that rings through those words. A whisper of eternity beckons to me. If a human author could write something so beautiful in a fantasy book, how much more beautiful will Heaven be, dreamed up by an infinite and glorious God?
The courage to face pain comes from knowing I am not walking this path alone. Jesus wasn't pain avoidant. He entered this world as a vulnerable baby. I can imagine that he was cold and hungry at times. Then he lived as a nomad without the comforts of a home or family. Finally, he opened himself up to betrayal, deception, false accusations, and death. Jesus wasn't a victim, He willingly submitted himself to the pain I deserve so that He can welcome me into His presence for the rest of eternity. It's Jesus that gives me strength for today, and a bright hope for tomorrow.