This article originally appeared in the June-July 1998 issue of No Greater Joy Magazine. It has been updated and reprinted in our November-December 2012 issue.
Twenty-two years ago a wonderful, sweet, darling two-year-old boy, whom I loved, came down with a fever. Within 24 hours he was dead.
During the days after his death, while the family grieved, I kept his baby brother. I remember staring at my sweet Rebekah and feeling a sense of relief that it was not she who was taken.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” What I am about to say will be hard for many of you to understand, but as an older woman I feel compelled to speak.
Death is not the worst enemy. When I was a young mother, this truth was simply beyond comprehension. To lose a child was my worst fear. I avoided long bridges because I was afraid I could not save all my children if the car plunged into the water. I carefully chose cars by the ease of opening the safety buckles and doors—just in case. I studied medications, familiarizing myself with potential problems and learning how to use alternative medicines. My natural instinct to protect my children, regardless of the cost, was in full operation. God gave me that instinct. Along the way, other children whom I knew died, and I continued to cling to my children, trying to guard their safety. Yet how frail my efforts would have been if death had come calling.
When you are young and raising a family, death seems to be the ultimate loss. The grief is a pain you can only know firsthand. When we are young, we see through a glass darkly. As we grow older, life is not as big as we thought it was when it was all before us. Life in this flesh is quite temporary. I am not so old yet. Life is still precious. Death is still the enemy. I continue to cling to life, not only my own, but to that of those I love. Yet, my clinging has changed. Somewhere over the passing years I realized death was not the worst enemy. Grief over death stopped being the worst grief. I can now see just a tiny bit clearer through the dark glass.
Eternity is so eternal, so terribly final, so completely forever. Death is not final. By the grace of God, it is not without hope. There is something yet beyond. Temporarily saying goodbye, even to a child, is still temporary. There will be a glad tomorrow. At the parting of death it is our own loss we grieve, not the child’s, who has gone into the presence of God. But there is a loss into the darkness of eternity that is far more than the loss of temporary separation.
The older you get, the more you see the real enemy; you learn to recognize the real grief. It is not a temporary parting that brings apprehension, but knowledge of certain and eternal judgment awaiting your child. The pain of that rebellious child seeking a life of destruction is a thousand times more grievous than losing a baby. That mother I spoke of earlier, the one who lost her baby, suffered another, far greater loss years later. She lost her second son to the devil. Looking back, she now admits it was her own selfish grief and bitterness. It stole her joy, leaving her without a smile to nurture her living son. I heard her say 14 years after the death of her son, “It would have been easier to have also lost this one to death as a baby than to see what has become of him now.”
I remember when I carried my first child in my womb; I had waited for 3 years, and when I finally got pregnant I was the happiest person I had ever known. One day, as I practiced childbirth relaxation, God spoke to me. I believe He told me to give the child I was carrying to Him. I began to cry and beg God not to take the baby, all afternoon I wrestled with my own feelings and what I believed God wanted of me. Finally, in great grief I surrendered the child to God. As the days passed, I was totally thrilled and amazed that nothing happened. When the baby was born strong and healthy, I knew God had something bigger than what I had feared. Still, I saw through a glass darkly. Life and death were the only two “biggies” in my life.
Thereafter, as each child was conceived, I eagerly gave it to God. Throughout their childhood I had instincts just like every other mother. I would protect my children at any cost. Instinct, although an overwhelming feeling, is just instinct. Even mother animals will die protecting their young. Oh, mother, if we as young mothers could just get a vision of something greater than instinct for our children, and begin to feel just as urgently for their souls, how different it would make us. Things that appear as tragedies are not so tragic. If as young mothers we could have eternity in our eyes. Older mothers, God-fearing mothers see more clearly. Whether it is age or spiritual maturity, I don’t know—maybe both—but it is not for their lives we fear; it for their souls. We are still stirred to pray for their safety and health, but our consuming prayer is that they overcome all the snares and diversions this evil world can offer. Where once a mother begged God’s protection for her child, she now begs Divine intervention at any cost (including life or limb). No, death is not your greatest enemy. Death brings a temporary sadness, a time of great loneliness, but in Christ there is always hope. Your greatest enemies are those vying for your child’s soul.
People often ask me how I could ever let my daughter Rebekah go to the mountains of Papua New Guinea. What they don’t understand is that I let Rebekah go years before when she was still in my womb. Yes, I have fears, but there is great hope. There is great joy. There is wonderful peace in knowing this is only temporary. I shall see her in a few months, or maybe in a few years, but most assuredly I will be with her again. There is no grief, there is no pain, there is only a glad tomorrow. Yes, I cry when she leaves, and I wander from room to room for a few weeks. When there is word she will return I clean and clean, and buy her clothes and talk and cry some more.
But, mother, what would it be like if she were to disappear from home, leaving in anger and rebellion? If I knew she left with a man I didn’t like or respect. Weeks pass and there is no word, there is no hope. Grief? That is real grief. You think because they are grown you cease to feel? Death is such a simple thing compared to this grief. You lose a child to death, and everyone understands your sorrow and shares your pain. But lose a child to Satan’s grip and you are an island alone, buffeted on every side with such turmoil, such pain, sleepless nights, exhausted prayer, and hopelessness. Grief? Only the older mother understands eternal grief. Only the older mother can look in the face of a young mother and say, train your children to obey, raise them to love God, be real in the home, so much depends on it.
When you are a young mother raising a family, it is so easy to care about your own feelings, your own hurts, your little fuss with your husband. Oh, but Mother, there is coming a day when your own feelings, hurts, and fusses will seem so immaterial, so silly. It is that atmosphere emanating from your relationship to your husband, your attitude and responses that help decide your baby’s future in eternity. It is not your child training techniques; it is who you are today. It is how you respond to life’s ups and downs and to life’s grief and joy. It is how you honor your husband, thus how you honor God.
We go through life so protective of our children’s bodies. Let us as mothers early look to the protection of their souls. The enemy is not death. The enemy is not outside, lurking to get in; the enemy is a mother’s heart dedicated to a mother’s feelings. It is our own selfishness, our own anger, our own bitterness, and our own disappointments. The enemy is Mother, doing what is right in her own eyes instead of obeying God. God, grant us the wisdom to get beyond instinct to the wisdom of true love. God, grant us hearts to see, to feel, and to live with eternity in our eyes.
“The aged women likewise, that…they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children” (Titus 2:3-4).