I was in Longview, WA, headed toward Interstate 5, when my phone buzzed twice, the screen lit up, and a short messaged scrolled into view. I was driving, but I glanced down at it anyway.
It was from my husband.
Please pray, Brett McLean drowned trying to save a student. Both are lost.
Time froze. My heart staggered. I could neither absorb nor deny the horrible truth of the words in front of me—though my mind struggled to do both. I drove on for a couple of miles that way, until the numbness of shock wore off, and the first tears began to fall.
I’d been praying regularly for this man for a year. He and my husband met together weekly to talk shop—namely, Jesus. They were friends. They were brothers. They loved each other. And my husband was so excited to see all the cool things God was going to do in and through this zany, charismatic, talented, twenty-something man with a deep desire to know and love Jesus better.
Each time they met, I wanted to know—How’d it go? How’s he doin’ this week? What did you talk about? I was proud of my husband for investing in this man, and so pleased by the mutual encouragement they were to each other.
But life in this world that is both beautiful and broken, will always be bittersweet.
While the two were working together at a youth camp this last week, there was a tragic accident, and my husband’s good buddy—a man with an uncommon zest for life, and a smile that could make anyone’s day—slipped under the water, and into eternity. And so did a teenage boy.
At first I wasn’t surprised by my sadness. It was a sad thing. Two young people were gone from this world. Many were left behind to feel the loss.
But after a day passed, I noticed that the grief felt like my own. My heart felt smothered when I woke up in the morning, and I couldn’t shake the heaviness. I was overcome with sudden bouts of weeping throughout the day. It didn’t make sense. Why did it feel like I was mourning a deeply personal loss, when my own interaction with this man had been relatively limited?
Granted, I am always saddened by the news of tragic deaths and young lives cut short, but it doesn’t usually knock the wind out of me like this did.
I hid when I cried. I was embarrassed by my pain. I felt like I was intruding on someone else’s intimate space, where I really had no right to be. So many people I knew and loved were experiencing the shock of a very tangible void in their lives, and I was…what? Indulging in dramatics?
Heartfelt sympathy seemed appropriate, but I didn’t think I should feel so shaken and ripped up inside. I certainly couldn’t be much of a soothing balm or rock of strength to anyone else if I couldn’t even keep it together myself.
That’s what I thought.
But sometimes the things I think are a little silly.
Now, I’ve come to believe there are a couple of very good reasons that this hit me the way it did.
First, my heart and prayers were all tied up in the good things that were happening in and through my husband’s young friend. I hadn’t known him well, but I had really cared about him. Along with my husband, I saw beauty and promise in that big heart and crazy enthusiasm of his.
So the pain begins to make sense.
There is a stinging shock in the awareness that someone so very loudly alive can really be so suddenly gone from us. And there is a grief in surrendering hopes and dreams—even when they are for someone else.
More than that, though, it was the repeated, fresh realization of the heartache of others that wrenched my gut and made the tears come again and again.
It was for them that I wept.
For my husband and the others at camp who will be haunted by that last conversation with Brett, just hours or minutes before the accident—knowing that it has become a strange sort of goodbye.
For his parents, who must now look to memories in order to connect with their son—memories that bring healing, comfort, and hope, but also serve as a tender reminder of all that has been lost.
For the many blessed to have been counted among his family and friends, who have an intimate knowledge of the unique reflection of God’s beauty that was Brett McLean. They know what the world has lost, and they rightly grieve.
I grieve with them. And that, I think, is good.
Yes, we know that he is with Jesus, that he is free and whole in an unimaginably wonderful way. Yes, we cling to the sure and sweet hope that we will see him again one day. Yes, we can smile at the thought of the exuberant greeting he will have for friends and family when they finally come home. Those are good, and true, and real things to think on and remember.
But the loss is also real. The pain is also real. People are hurting right now because they loved Brett—and he has been taken from them.
It is because I love them that it is my grief too.
And as I talk to God about all of this, I find myself saying, It hurts, it hurts—but dear Jesus, give me more. Help me love more openly and more generously from this day forward. Help me be willing to hurt deeply and repeatedly, all for the sake of the rich privilege of loving, and loving well. Help me love like you do.
Jesus wept. Love hurts.
But it’s so worth it.
Ask Jesus. He was willing to hurt for love, and because of that—he got to welcome Brett home the other day.
Ask anyone who loved Brett.
I’m willing to bet on a unanimous response—that the privilege of having known and loved him far outweighs any present sorrow.
It has become apparent in the last week, that so very many lives were touched by Brett McLean. I think he must have loved well. May I go and do the same.
Hebrews 12:2 (NASB)
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…