The Kingdom Notes: Forty Days of Mourning
My deepest gratitude to all of you who have walked with me through my grief. Your prayers and encouragement have buoyed me up in the long and dark hours. It is possible that the below will be my last piece committed to this difficult journey. Rest assured, however, that the deep wound will not fully heal on this side of glory, and even then my scar, like His, and yours, will beautify eternity.
Because we are modernists and Gnostics we love to pretend that symbols and rituals have no meaning, that all that matters is what is in our hearts. Because we are humans, and image bearers, we find we cannot escape symbols and rituals. When my wife and I were married almost twenty years ago there were precious few surprises. Black tux for me, white dress for her. Traditional hymns were sung, traditional vows were taken. She processed with her father, and recessed with me. And in between, we exchanged rings- simple, traditional, gold rings. The only twist remained within the tradition, inside the ritual. Inside our rings we had inscribed Joshua 24:15- As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Too many pundits tell us that if we want to have a successful marriage we need to make Jesus the center of it. He is the glue, the center, the guide. There is wisdom here, but also danger. Is Jesus a means to a happy marriage? No, He is the end. Jesus does not exist for our marriages. Rather, our marriages exist for Him. Denise and I married not for ourselves, but that we might serve the Lord. We committed from the beginning not that I would die to self for her sake, nor that she would die to self for mine. Instead we would both strive to die to self for Him. We would pursue not our own happiness, but His glory. And in losing our individual lives, we found our one life together.
Jesus did not, forty days ago, take Denise from me. She was never mine to begin with. He placed her under my care. He blessed me with her wisdom, with her example, with her love. But she was then what she is now, and will always be, His.
I too belong to Him. I asked Him to give me forty days to mourn- to devote time, space, energy to entering into my loss. Those forty days have drawn to a close. Crossing this barrier, stepping out of the ash-pile, however, hasn’t changed my heart. Indeed despite recognizing the objective wisdom of my friend who suggested that I give myself over to mourning for forty days, I find myself not wanting to let go. I know, as I knew from the beginning that moving past this forty days will not end my sadness. I fear, however foolishly however, that it will end her, that she will pull further away from me. I fear that I would be giving up the ghost, which seems to be all I have left of her. The dust of her death has become my familiar familiar.
The irony is the matching fears. That is, in putting that ring on Denise’s finger, in that ritual pregnant with promise and meaning, I was afraid. Could I be the kind of godly husband she deserved? Would I be faithful in leading her? It is the same fear that haunts me now. Will I honor her memory by being the man she helped make? Will I be faithful to her memory, and our pledge? And the mirror of that fear is in the mirror of the ritual. On this, my fortieth day of mourning my beloved, I remove the ring she put on my finger. I cried through putting her ring on, even as I cry in taking mine off.
The ring reminded me not that my life was committed to Denise, but that our lives were committed to the Lord. Its absence, I pray, will remind me still of the message inside. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. God called me to be a husband for almost twenty years. He has called me to be a servant, a soldier, a disciple and a friend for always. Pray that I would be faithful.