The one who stays behind

Hear, O women, the word of the LORD, and let your ears receive the word of his mouth; teach to your daughters a dirge, and each to her neighbor a lament. “Death has come up into our windows, it has entered our palaces, to cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the squares.”                Jeremiah 9:20-21

My Godly community is reeling. We have lost one of our own, and we have lost her quickly and with hardly a warning. Her children feel like they belong to us, and therefore we ache with deep grief as we contemplate their future, one in which they will always think of their mother in the past tense.

When you spend hours in a hospital waiting room, you have plenty of time to think. Amidst the fervent prayer, I often offered laments to God: for her bodily suffering, for the unfair element of this great woman’s early departure from this world, and for God’s poor choice in taking her. You see, I do not hold on so closely to this life. Within it I move and love and work, but I do not cling to it tightly. My hope is in a grander life beyond this world, where love reigns and the pettiness of greed and hate do not exist. This earthly home is temporary for me. So, I railed a bit against God. I should be the one winging my way to my Savior. It shouldn’t have been her, who has a young child to raise and a grandbaby to cuddle. She was much better a follower of Jesus than I, having mastered the art of forgiveness, patience, compassion and love. And so I wrestle with guilt; because she, the same age as I, is gone and I remain behind. I know I am not alone, as over the years I have heard many elderly people contemplate why they stayed and someone they loved didn’t.

We do not get to choose who will be plucked from the field and who will remain. We do not get to make rational arguments for the choosing of one to go ahead while we linger back. Life cycles end and we scramble to collect the broken pieces of our hearts and lives and find a way to create a life that honors the people we lose.

Being the one who stays behind means that one is tasked with responsibility. Your time is a gift, a precious one that calls for attention and intention. How can you live into such an invaluable thing as an opportunity to hug your grandchildren and hold them on your lap? How have you centered your life in such a way that your children will rest easy in time well spent and love freely exchanged? Being the one who stays behind means learning a lesson from those who go on ahead.

Loving God, who we rarely understand, teach us how to live even as we grieve those who live no longer. Hold us gently as we lift our anger to you when we disagree with the ways of this world. Draw us in and lift our eyes to you. Amen.



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