The state of Arkansas is reeling from the death of two very beloved young men. The first announcement came across my phone as breaking news that former University of Arkansas Razorbacks and former NFL football player, Mitch Pretrus died at age 32. This nationwide heatwave turned deadly for this incredible young man as, according to reports, he died from complications of heat exhaustion. It was not long after this news broke, that my wife received a phone call from her sister. As my wife’s countenance dropped and she stepped into the backyard, I could tell immediately it was not a “happy call”. After hanging up, she stepped back inside looking as if she had seen a ghost, to tell us Zac Stuckey of Fayetteville, AR had died tragically in a motorcycle accident. Zac is the late husband of Kelly Cooper Stuckey from my hometown, with whom I attended high school.
The melancholy I felt for Mitch and the Petrus family was much of what I’m sure all Razorbacks fans felt. However, the grief I immediately began to feel for this incredible husband and father began to metastasize in my heart and spread to every moment of my day. I simply could not come to grips with the truth. While it’s true I never knew Zac, thanks to social media and the beautiful network of friendships that is the state of Arkansas, I felt like I did. My grief extended beyond the beautiful life of his wife, Kelly, and into the lives of the hundreds of people and dozens of my friends who I knew would be grieving – and grieving harder – in these hours after his death.
As news continued to break about the death of both men, it would seem a dark fog would settle over the state for all the many different lives who knew and loved these two men.
It does not take much for me to cry whenever I am singing worship songs about God the Father. This past week was no exception. In the Chapel at Fellowship Bible Church we sang Agnus Dei. My emotions waged war. “Our God reigns?! Worthy is the Lamb?!” How can we sing this whenever an all-powerful, ever-present God would allow two great men to die?! Apparently He doesn’t reign or control anything and if He does, how is He worthy if He allows so much pain?! I could feel my jaw clenched.
My suspicion is that I am not the first person to ever feel these emotions. Nor am I the first person to ever struggle through singing worship when my emotions feel like a raw wound. What makes matters worse? I’m a pastor. I’ve been to school (multiple schools) to learn all the right answers to the hard questions. I’m not supposed to feel these feels.
So here is my encouragement to you today; to anyone experiencing grief or anyone wrestling emotions. If you are in a relationship with Jesus, as a Christ-follower, you have two truths. The first truth is how your emotions make you feel. The second truth is what Jesus, God the Son, has declared as truth. It is okay to feel the emotions you feel. Emotions are not a sin. Yes, even painful, “not happy” emotions. Emotions have a way of capsizing your life when you allow yourself to detach from the anchor. The anchor I write of is the anchor of God’s promises – His truth. Not just a cute bookmark or random phone app (though those can help). I’m talking about a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, possibly minute-by-minute immersion into the Word of God. If you are experiencing grief or struggling to make sense of your emotions, engage yourself in reading the Bible, listening to songs of worship. These are acts of anchoring your heart to your Savior. Even if you do not feel like it makes sense or feel like He is worthy or can be trusted, the fact is He will one day make sense of your pain and He can be trusted to be with you during the storm, during the pain, and yes, even during the anger.
Promises Fulfilled. Through our tears or through our doubt, we can look back to the promises fulfilled. Consider God’s promises to the prophet Isaiah. “Do not be dismayed.” (41:10) “Do not fear.” (41:13) “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (43:2). And He has done this. Not just for the Israelites centuries ago, but for you and me during our lifetime. Grief will blur that truth. The rain and winds and waves of the storm will cause you to doubt what you’ve seen in the past. Remember His goodness, His presence, His compassion for you. It has always been and it will always be.
Promises to Be Filled. Lost at sea in the storm of overwhelming feelings and emotions that have all but capsized you, His promises of future peace are true, no matter how you feel today (or have felt for days). The size of the storm and the depths of the sea change not the truth that a safe harbor exists. He promises you by way of proclamation to Isaiah, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” But the truth specific to grief is that while we are anchored to God’s truth during the storm, the land of peace and comfort we seek may not be in this lifetime. It might just be, the sand and the shore we so desperately desire is actually the manifest presence of Jesus…in heaven.
And this is the truth we hold true for our beloved friend Zac. This is the truth I must hold, no matter what. Though emotions rage raw, God’s truth holds eternally true.
If you are someone you love is experiencing the storm of grief, please also read previous words I’ve written H.O.P.E. in Grief or consider biblical counseling. If I can be of any help in any way, please don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org.