Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
I have never needed Paul’s words on consolation as I have during the last few months. In July, my daughter Anna died. She had struggled with her mental health and with alcohol. Without getting into the details of how she died, let it suffice to say that she didn’t do what she needed to do to stay healthy and alive. She was 32, and she was studying for a graduate degree at Yale University.
I have never experienced such sadness and grief. Although I had long heard that there is nothing harder and more painful than losing a child, I now know those words to be true. There isn’t an aspect of my life that hasn’t been impacted: It has been difficult to sleep, eat regularly, pray, sit still, think, read scripture, and write—which is one of the ways that God becomes real for me.
I am going to share in the next series of “Notes” what this time has been like for me and what has been helping me to get out of bed. Although my words are going to be deeply personal, I want to write in a way that connects to you (at least to some of you), and, ultimately, I want to point all of my words to Jesus. Even though I have had a hard time accessing and leaning upon my faith, I am going to trust that Jesus knows my pain and your pain and that we never suffer alone.
About a month after Anna died, I was scheduled to give a talk to a group of men that I had been having a weekly breakfast with for several years. However, I had not been attending the breakfasts because of COVID. When the person who organizes this group heard that my wife and I would soon be moving from Houston to Maine, he requested that I come to say goodbye to these gentlemen because he discerned that I had become something of a pastor to many of them.
About a week before this event, I almost called my friend, the organizer, to say that I had nothing to share and that I didn’t really want to even see anyone. I knew there was no way to give a talk—a real talk—unless I shared with them that my daughter had died. Before calling to cancel my talk, I decided to take a long kayak ride with this question in my heart: What is keeping me alive right now, and what will help me to carry on with my life? During this long paddle, eight words or phrases came to me very powerfully. What was given to me I shared with them, and now I will share them with you in the next several reflections.
Before I share these eight points and a few others that have since come to me, I would like to invite you into this next chapter of “Notes” though through these reflection questions.
- Have you ever had your heart broken? If so, when did that happen, and why did it happen?
- During this difficult time, what and who helped you to breathe and to carry on with your life?
- I hear Paul speaking straight to me in today’s scripture on consolation. How might he be speaking to you? Where and how do you need God’s consolations and mercies right now in your life?