When my dear April ceased to breathe, a piercing emptiness settled over my home and my soul. Where once there had been laughter, playful banter, and deep theological reflection now there was only thick, sticky, and suffocating silence.
As my heart broke under the weight of April’s death, I longed to be heard, to pour out my heart without reserve and without concern of time, schedule, or setting. But when I asked aloud, “Where are you, my love?” the air brought back no reply.
Why I Generally Don’t Talk to April
Though some have suggested that I trade my past marital dialogues for a therapeutic monologue, I find the option rather uncompelling if not troubling. I have no idea how April would respond to the experiences, concerns, hopes, worries, and fears that I now carry about with me. I can certainly speculate about how she might react to this or that. But as all good historians know, such speculations prove to be anachronistic and wholly inauthentic. They are nothing more than the manifestations of our imaginations on to reality which by logical necessity distort reality. We cannot project out without either adding to or taking away from what would be real. Such imaginary interactions with our dead loved ones are to reality what orcs are to men.
But even if she were to interact with my ramblings from heaven, she would have little to share with me for she is perfect, and I (as my kids will happily attest to) am not. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” The struggles, fears, worries, hopes, and desires that I wish to process aloud with her, the things the make me yearn for her open ear, derive from my incomplete knowledge of the Lord and from my sinful frailty. April no longer shares in those things, nor can she relate to my incompleteness for she knows the eternal joy of completeness. She has crossed the Jordan. Even if she could respond to my mumblings, I could no more understand her knowledge than a three-year-old could understand the terminology used to develop rocket science. As Paul noted of his vision of heaven, “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” And what she could share with me has already been shared with me through the Scriptures. As Jesus said in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them (Lk 16:29).”
This is not to say that April has no knowledge of me nor awareness of what happens in my life or in the lives of our dear children while she awaits Christ’s return in heaven. Scripture seems to indicate some heavenly awareness of earthly things. But while her love for us and us for her remains, we have no meaningful way to communicate. Death has separated us until it will one day again unite us. Until then, I must embrace the reality of her absence.
Why I Pray
But I do not have to embrace the silence. Though I have lost the companionship of my April for a time, I am not alone. My cries do not go unheard. The Psalmist offers all who grieve a glorious hope writing, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.” I still process my life out loud. I cry out to the Lord through the penetrating silence that has enveloped my bedroom, kitchen, car, office, and even the church sanctuary. When I am alone and in need of help, I talk to the God who is there in the silence, bottling my tears as I weep through the night, extending grace to me as I argue with him through the day, and filling my heart with hope as I plead for fresh signs of his goodness and love. In other words, I do not bottle up my emotions but rather audibly process them with the Lord. The Puritan John Flavel who discovered the goodness of this process a few hundred years before me wrote,
To whom should children go but to their father, to make their moan…Did we complain more to God, he would complain less of us, and quickly abate the matters of our complaint.
Oh friends, it is sweet to process one’s life through prayer. Indeed, to talk with God is to commune with him and to experience the truth, love, and grace that transforms our lives.
However, such practices are not unique to widowers or to the grieving. As one theologian noted,
Invoking God, calling on him in prayer, isn’t an emergency measure…something that we turn to in extremity, at the hour of death or disappointment or depression. Calling on God’s name accompanies all of human life and all human activity.
Or to borrow from the apostle Peter, all of us are to cast our cares upon Christ because he cares for us (1 Pt 5:7).
What April Knew
Towards the end of her life as April verbally processed her fears with me, she would at times bring our conversations to a conclusion and kindly say, “I don’t expect an answer from you, Peter.” The comment unnerved me. I was her husband…her best friend…her truest confidant…her pastor. Surely, I should have some answer…some hope to offer…some word to say. But with each passing day, I have come to increasingly appreciate her wisdom in those moments. My shoulders could not carry all her burdens. Nor could her’s carry mine. They were not designed to. But Christ’s could. To Him, she turned.
A few weeks later when I lost my April, my heart shattered into a million pieces like a glass striking a hard kitchen tile. Nothing made sense. Everything hurt and was out of place. But I was not alone. Though he crushed me, my God did not leave me nor forsake me. He heard me. He hears me.
Don’t talk to the dead who cannot help us as they await the resurrection. Talk to the God who hears!