January 9, 2023

Every January, social media is full of posts where people announce their choice for a word as their theme for the year. In 2022, I also decided to choose a word. As I thought about what word to choose, what kept coming to me was the word “sanctify.” Little did I know at the time that 2022 would bring painful losses in three generations of my family—including the tragic loss of my beloved son in a rock-climbing accident.

When my good friend, Jack Brotherson, lost a son in his twenties in a tragic car accident, he said “I’ve never begrudged God anything He asked of me. But I never thought I would be asked to tithe a son.” Of course,  there are biblical precedents where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac or where God, Himself, gave His Only Begotten Son. We all call God “Father.” But Jesus Christ was his Only “Begotten” Son. In the course of my adult life, I have collected a few children who call me “Dad” or think of me in that way. I love each of them and I am grateful for them. But I only have two “begotten” children. To lose one of them at age 24 is very difficult. In addition to the painful loss of my son, my father and I both lost our mothers in 2022. My grandmother was almost 103 years old. My mother was 86 years old when she died two days before Christmas 2022.

What sanctifies a significant loss such as a parent, a grandparent, or a child? It is sanctifying to humbly declare that God knows best and say, as Jesus did, “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). I also believe some wounds are sanctifying. For the rest of my life, I will carry a wound in my heart for the loss of my beloved son. Of course, it will heal and become a scar. But it will never go away. I don’t even want it to go away. A wound in my heart is a reminder of the love I have for my son. When we give our pain that meaning, it is beautiful . . . and sanctified. Jesus Christ chose to keep the wounds in His hands as a reminder of His loving sacrifice for the rest of us. Even before His birth He prophesied the meaning of the tokens in His hands as He said of us, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

I do not suggest that anyone focus full-time on grief for 40 years as Queen Victoria did. That’s a waste of life, not healthy, and not a true memorial to the departed loved one. But a wound in your heart will surface from time to time and give you a moment of tears, even years later. I have experienced this from time to time, even recently, in relation to my little brother’s death 29 years ago. I suggest that those tears are sanctifying and symbolic of bonds that are stronger than the cords of death.

After 2022, I better understand (though on a much smaller scale) what it was like for God to sacrifice His Only Begotten Son. I had no choice in the matter. It was a lesson I wouldn’t have chosen and didn’t want to learn. My only choice was in how to receive the unwanted trial. Our love for God and willingness to let go of anything He asks from us, trusting that He knows best, is sanctifying. To sanctify means to “make holy.” Consecration of that which we love to God makes it holy, and it makes us holy. I don’t mind saying that I hope I never have another year like 2022. But I will hold these losses in my heart and keep them close for the rest of my life.

Many of you have experienced significant losses in your life and, as a result, have experienced the greatest loss of all—a loss of hope. Because we have recently entered a new year, I might suggest that you prayerfully choose a word to serve as your theme or focus for 2023. Use it to give meaning and power to all your efforts and remember that hope still lives because our God is a God of redemption.

For inspiration for your word this year, enjoy LILY Pod episode 51: The Power of One Word

Published in Meridian Magazine 1/9/23

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