Losing Dad: The Security of Knowing & Being Known Robin Weidner, June 2009
“The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." 1 Corinthians 8:2-4
I just passed an unexpected milestone.I entered the realm of those who have lost both parents—what some call becoming a mid-life orphan.
On May 7, my husband Dave and I were enjoying our first morning at Caye Caulker—an island off of the coast of Belize where we retreated after speaking in Belize City.After a prayer walk on the beach and breakfast at a small café, we came home to an urgent email.“Dad just died,” it said simply.
With that came a flurry of tears, phone calls, changing and arranging flights, making our way to Virginia where my dad would be honored, and more tears. In the midst were some tricky negotiations—my dad’s wife of five years choosing cremation, but then giving us the ashes to be buried; sharing all this with another family we barely knew, but afterwards being touched by their heartfelt response to Dave’s and my sharing (four asking for copies of Secure in Heart).
As I’ve been back home for three weeks now, still weathering waves of sorrow that suddenly rise up behind me and wash overhead, I find myself thinking about what it means to be known. There’s a cavernous emptiness in realizing that the two people who knew me for the entire span of my life—from my first butterfly-like flutters signaling I was on the way—are both gone.
But on the flipside of my grief, I find comfort in another kind of knowledge, the knowledge of God.I find myself going again and again to the rock on which my Christian life is built—that knowing God and being known by God is my highest goal and most valuable treasure.
“I am graven on the palms on his [God’s] hands. I am never out of his mind.All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me…. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.”— J.I. Packer, from Knowing God
One of my favorite memories of my mother (who died on May 5 six years ago) was our Sunday afternoon phone calls. I remember one particular Sunday when I opened up to my mom in a deeper way, and at the end, she said (with a note of pride in her voice), “That was a really good one!” Mom looked forward to our talks all week.Knowing me was priceless to her.
In a similar way, some of the memories I treasure most from my dad are from recent telephone conversations.He was losing his hearing (at 83 years old), and so sometimes, I felt like I was yelling more than speaking.But in his later years, he treated me with a sweetness that didn’t always happen in the midst of raising five other children.
Just hearing the tenderness in his, “Hey sweetie,” made the struggle to communicate more than worthwhile.Hearing his pride over my most recent travels touched a place inside my soul.He took deep satisfaction in knowing me.
On the morning my dad died, not knowing that he was slipping away, I went for a walk by the ocean with my husband.I knew that my dad was very ill (and had just been with him in Virginia before leaving for Belize). But I also knew he wanted to live well into his nineties.I didn’t want to let him go, but knew most of all I wanted to trust God.
As we walked, I spontaneously began to pray.Full of emotion, I asked God to let my father have more time to live if it would be quality time, but asked him to take my father if his life would only be suffering.
Later, I learned that my father died right about the time I was praying.God prepared me for my father’s death by leading my heart to a place of surrender at just the moment it was needed.It was like God was whispering, “Robin, it’s ok to let go.I’m in control. Trust me.” So when I did hear the tragic news, I was washed both with sorrow and an unexplainable peace.
Every time since, when others have stepped in to meet an unknown or unexpressed need, I see a God who knows me…
My two sons tenderly ministering to me during the funeral by holding my hand, squeezing my shoulder.
Timely calls and messages from my daughter in Kiev.
Dave’s parents making the 16-hour drive to stand by me as my other parents. Connecting deeply with my two brothers and two sisters.
My husband making me dinner when I haven’t had the will to even walk down to the kitchen.
Scriptures right when I needed them.
Phone calls when my spirits needed lifting.
“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”— Psalm 139:1-5
"There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God's favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” -- J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Late last summer, I traveled home to Virginia to see my dad, and took him out for a day just for the two of us. Feeling the urge to know him better, I took him to a war museum on a nearby army base.
Mainly, I was content to just hear him talk.As we went from exhibit to exhibit, I asked about his war experience.Although I bought him a spiffy World War 2 Veteran baseball cap (which he loved), the most meaningful gift I gave him on that day was my desire to know him.And imparting his knowledge to me was his greatest desire.
I was honored to give dad’s eulogy at the funeral.And going back through his life showed me a rich legacy he gave me—of courage, generosity, intelligence, hard work, humor and family. I also scorned the difficult years by sharing how my dad overcame alcoholism.But my only real regrets are the things I’d still like to know. I wish I’d taped my dad sharing his war experiences.And, I wish we’d gone over the family tree more in detail, so that I could understand the struggles of our family as well as the high points.
I’m so thankful I eventually came to see and accept my father’s favor, despite our imperfect relationship.Perhaps that’s one reason why Packer’s quote resonates so deeply with me… “And that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.”
Feeling favored by God is something I’ve struggled with on and off for years, being tempted to translate the conditional love I sometimes felt from my father into my relationship with God.But now I’m realizing more than ever that accepting God’s guaranteed favor towards me is a big part of knowing him.
Before we left the island, Dave and I had a small window of opportunity to go snorkeling. Since Dave had dreamed of snorkeling in Belize for years, I very much wanted to give this to him. But I wasn’t sure how I’d manage a mask and fins after crying all morning.
Yet it turned out to be medicine for my soul. As I swam through clear green water following our guide all over the reef, I felt surrounded by God’s favor.As I saw porcupine fish (see here), red snapper, manta rays, and even a nurse shark, I felt cradled in God’s arms… like God was revealing himself to me through his creation.And I kept thinking, “I’m surrounded by God’s favor. I’m embraced by God’s favor. God’s favor is all around me.”
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”-- 1 John 4:16
Losing Dad and Mom
I’ve read that the death of both parents can also be a time of change and refocus. A time to consider one’s mortality and live with new passion.A time to draw closer to family members and reprioritize.I look forward to understanding the gifts this time of transition bears.But even more, I hope this time will teach me more about my God, helping me know him better.
Although having lost both my mother and father is more difficult than I could have imagined, I’m convinced that death also offers a priceless perspective… an incredible security and peace.This security comes from a God who knows me completely in my weakness, in my heartache, and all of my many flaws, and who still heaps his unfailing love upon me.
“But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love….and that I delight in these things.I, the Lord, have spoken!”— Jeremiah 9:24, NLT
A special thanks to the sisters in Belize who helped carry me through a difficult time. And thanks to J.I. Packer for his foundational and inspiring book, Knowing God.
Read: Psalm 139, Isaiah 32:17-20, Matthew 6:25-33, John 14:6-8, Acts 17:25-28
How can I show God how much I want to know him? How has God shown me his desire to know me?How does knowing God bring me comfort?
Listen to God’s voice: “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” — Jeremiah 24:6-7
The Bible tells us that God goes to great lengths so that we can know him, even giving us a heart to know him.Read Acts 17:25-28 and apply it to your current living situation.What people, places, situations in your life right now, show God’s intimate knowledge of you?
What does it mean to have guaranteed favor from God?Go to a quiet place and picture yourself surrounded by God’s favor.Repeat to yourself in as many different ways as you can think of, “I am surrounded by God’s favor.”
Apply: Robin shares how one of the best gifts she gave her father was spending a day with him where they went places important to him (showing him her desire to know him).Schedule a time (from an hour to a day) to be with God for the express purpose of knowing him better.Journal about the results.
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