“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
I returned to church on March 17, 2019 almost one month after Kim’s death. I was optimistic as I prepared for church that morning. I needed to be back at church, and I was leaving after the service to go to the airport to head to Atlanta to spend some time with Kim’s parents and then to Trevor’s for his birthday. We were going to a cabin in the Ozarks to hike.
This distraction provided a momentary promise that things are better. But things are not better.
That Sunday morning, I began to cry when I merged onto the interstate. Kim and I drove to church together. I wasn’t supposed to go alone. Driving all alone in my car forced me from my temporary distraction back to my tough reality.
It got worse.
I stood alone during worship where I’d stood with Kim a month before. Matt, a friend, came across the aisle and put his arm around me as tears filled my eyes. We worshipped together. Supported.
But it got worse. And a little funny. Nothing had been funny to me in quite a while. But this was quite funny. Or at least ironic.
Our pastor, Cliff Jordan, stood to continue teaching out of Genesis. I’m not quite sure who to blame. Is it my fault for waiting a month to come back to church or not waiting longer? Is it Cliff’s fault for not calling an audible? Is it God’s fault? Kim’s fault? As Cliff stood it became apparent very quickly that the central text of his message on my first Sunday back after the untimely death of my beautiful wife of thirty-five-and-a-half years was Genesis 2:18. I’m sure he read more, but this is all I heard:
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” Genesis 2:18
Honestly, it was quite uncomfortable. It was as if I was transported to sit next to the podium as evidence, and everyone—I mean everyone—was staring at me. I thought, “Had Cliff somehow arranged for me to come to church like a child brings an object to school for show-and-tell?” I sat trying not to move awkwardly. I wondered if there was a spotlight on my head, because that’s how it felt. Inwardly, I realized the humor of it all. I wanted to scream out, “Amen, don’t I know it.” Or I could have yelled out, “Are you trying to rub it in already?”
He wasn’t trying to rub it in. Nor could I say, “Amen, I fully get it.” Not yet. I was still so early in my grief that I had no idea what was ahead of me. I would understand Genesis 2:18’s loneliness more in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Looking back on that awkward moment, I realize that God gave me a gift. He wanted me to know, “It is not good that [this] man should be alone.” I don’t have to pretend—it’s not good. I’m alone. I’ve lost my best friend. Face it. Acknowledge loss. Undermine any tendency toward naivety!
But he also wanted me to know he could work a bit of humor back into my life. It really is funny that on my first Sunday back at church the pastor preaches an entire message to tell me that it’s not good for me to be alone. Harsh.
After the service, I got a group hug from the youth group. We spent a few minutes together. It was rich and healing to me.
Then I turned and there he was. I put my arm around Cliff and said, “Really?” He was shaking his head in disbelief and admitted that he’d never preached an entire sermon thinking of one name throughout the entire message. I told him that it was alright. He was faithfully teaching through Genesis, and he came to this passage. What he taught us that day was spot on. It was true. I was living it.
I was missing my best friend and companion. However, it was only the beginning of a very long and unwanted journey. Cliff simply reinforced it and further helped to undermine my naivety.
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13