I've been thinking a lot about death and loss lately.
This past year I've known seven people to pass from this earth into eternity. I've watched almost a dozen friends and associates lose their jobs. And I've walked with two people struggling with cancer.
As I sat this morning and filled out a sympathy card for another friend who recently lost her husband, I thought about the words I wrote to her: "May you be surrounded by God's tangible presence, and feel overwhelmed by his peace and comfort. May you somehow, some way, experience the unexplainable calm and the joy that God pours out, and may you swim in its depths—even in the darkest hours."
I've experienced those moments (sometimes seasons) of pain, in which I felt so empty and dark inside, I wondered if I would ever rejoice again. I've wept until I ached.
And somehow, some way, in the midst of my grief, God revealed himself. A quiet, oh-so-subtle calm slowly moved over me. While the pain didn't disappear, the brutal edge of it lessened. God didn't "show up," as some would say, for he was there all along. He simply reminded me that I wasn't alone.
Where God's Glory is Found
It seems that God has designed every circumstance, every moment, as a reminder that we are not alone. When the sun rises each morning and the trees bear the beautiful, fresh, and stunning colors of spring, it's easy to remember and praise, along with the angels, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven's Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!" (Isaiah 6:3).
But perhaps his glory is also to be found in the pain of death and loss and loneliness. Even in the darkest loneliness, he reminds us that although life continually changes, he doesn't. The earth and everything in it—including our private pain—is filled with his glory. He is the one—the only—constant. He is always there, never leaving us, never forgetting, never too busy, never sleeping. Never changing.
Maybe that's why life and the earth continually change—so we have a sharp contrast to the One who does not change (Malachi 3:6). And the One who does not change knows our name (John 10:3). He knows us intimately (Psalm 139:1-24). He loves us unabashedly and without end (1 John 3:1). He hears us (Psalm 55:17). He has compassion on us (Exodus 34:6) and comforts overwhelmingly. And nothing that happens in this life catches him off-guard or by surprise (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
I visited my grandmother three weeks before she died. Until her final three-month stay in a nursing home, this 89-year-old woman—frail, fragile, widowed—lived alone in a big house in the country. She got out to attend church, check in with her doctor, and visit the beauty parlor. The rest of the time, she laid on her couch and watched TV Land. Living two states away from her meant I couldn't visit as often as I'd liked. I worried that she spent so much time by herself—well, and with Bill Cosby and Andy Griffith. I worried about her loneliness and wondered if she'd ever thought, Time is passing. My husband is gone. And things will never be what they were. I wondered if a sadness passed over her, missing life as it used to be. And I realized sharply again that God was with her during her marriage, and God was with her in her widowhood. Her circumstances changed, but he didn't. And that too is filled with his glory.
So this morning I sealed the envelope and mailed the sympathy card to my friend. I wiped my eyes of the tears over her loss, and over all our losses. I sighed and smiled a little, knowing that God was watching, in the room with me. He will be in the room with my friend when she opens the card. He was in the room with my grandmother while she laid on her couch and sipped her iced tea, and then when she was moved to a nursing home. He was with her when she died. And he will be in the room with me when I am again overwhelmed by loss. And all those moments too will be filled with his glory: the glory of the unchanging Creator; Comforter; Almighty God and Friend—who will never leave us alone.
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Ginger Kolbaba is the editor of Today's Christian Woman. She is the author of Desperate Pastors' Wives and the soon-to-be released The Old Fashioned Way. Connect with her at @gingerkolbaba or facebook.com/gingerkolbaba.