NONE OF US COULD ever make such a bold claim as to own more than the day now. As a matter of fact, this day now, this hour current, the minute passing and yes, even your breath now drawn could not possibly be claimed by you or me. For though we assume ownership of our lives and livelihood, in that we choose careers, build homes and make our lives in the context of happiness, lasting possession, quite simply, is not our own. We busy ourselves, yes, but in the business of building our lives, we mistakenly lay our hand to heavy on all that we claim, “Mine”.
Not so. Not ever.
When tragedy or calamity strike and cut into the intimacy of our lives, we raise our hand to the sky, not in reverent acknowledgement of He who does truly own life and lives, but in curse-filled rebuke demanding reason for a violation. Every man, no matter his theology, admits what he knows but forgets in his business of life and ownership – life is not ours to have and hold, as we will. Ask the mother who lost her child, the husband lost without his wife, the little child swallowed by grief. Ask me. I would tell you a tale of a man moving through life undisturbed who mistook his fortune and happiness for God’s goodness, was profoundly wounded in losing his spouse and lost all that gave cause for security in the life he thought he owned. His hand, too, rose to the sky.
Give us this day our daily bread . . .
When I was a child, I repeated this prayer many nights just before drifting off in sleep. None of those nights did the meaning ever truly penetrate through my head into my heart. Even after my brother’s death and growing up in a household shrouded in grief, life didn’t feel so fragile to me. Truth is, as many discover along the way, life is fragile – much more than we know. When we do discover this truth through tragedy or dislodging loss of some kind, we also arrive at the point where we learn and know that life is not our own to claim, for we cannot right the happenings we measure wrong, nor can we breathe life where it is no more. And so it is at this point precisely, where life fractures and suffering makes little sense to us who’ve lost. This truth of life’s fragility revealed in loss is of no good consolation to the one who has suffered and is grieving, and yet, it is truth to be taken as such and swallowed for our own good.
So the prayer goes to the One who actually does own life and days in humble request and admittance: Give us this day our daily bread. This is the nucleus of thought shaping my next book.
Nearly five years ago, when my wife then unexpectedly died, life splintered into a thousand vacated pieces of all that I once owned. No understanding made sense. Certainly not an understanding that God allowed her death to be so, and yet in a sense her death was allowed. Surely God took notice of how our lives were lived, of how we gave of ourselves to serve others and of the goodness our lives brought to the world and of our little girls all under the age of eight years of age. In the years since, we’ve grieved and will continue to deal with grief in our family for many years to come. Grief is a life-long movement, which I believe holds the potential to reorient us to God in a most powerful way. What I couldn’t see in the aftermath of life undone was hope for anything else good to come. My view stood impeded by my fortunate and undisturbed good life and then by the circumstance of loss, but as the dust settled I’ve come to see what has always held my life together: God’s sovereignty. As such my life was then able to be renovated by His hands, not mine, and I will always expect it to be as built on rock rather than shifting sand.
This is a theology of suffering: God owns, we do not.
(image: Hope by Mike Bitzenhofer licensed by CC 2.0)