With one sentence, my son broke my heart.
He said, “I’m going to take off my gloves, because it’s the last time I’m going to hold Shadow and feel how soft he is.”
Our rabbit passed away in the morning about a week ago. Two weeks of sickness took its toll. He grew weak and thin even though we gave him food and water by a syringe. After the first week, Shadow rarely moved. On the last day, he would fall over, unable to get back up. We had an emergency appointment with the vet scheduled for that afternoon, because the treatment was not helping.
We talked with the kids all along. “We’re doing our best, but this isn’t looking good.”
I hurried home for lunch when I could break free from briefings and meetings. I didn’t even cancel the vet appointment–not because I didn’t believe my wife and son’s ability to figure out that Shadow had passed, but because I didn’t want to accept it yet.
I spent ten or fifteen minutes digging a deep hole in the long grass that was Shadow’s favorite place to hide when he would hop around the fenced yard.
And as I dug, and as Jonathan held his rabbit close, we talked. Jonathan said, “I don’t want to get another rabbit for a long time,” and I think we both knew he was really saying, “I don’t want this pain again.”
Rather than simply grieve the loss, we remembered with joy the fun moments we shared with the rabbit. Once, Jonathan forgot Shadow in the yard. I hurried outside hoping he hadn’t squeezed through a gap in the fence, but Shadow was nowhere to be seen… until two black ears popped up within a thick patch of grass. Maybe it was time to mow!
Shadow would jump sometimes and thump the ground, changing direction in mid-air. When we first got him and took him out in the yard, it took Jonathan and his friend a good half an hour to finally catch Shadow and put him back in his pen.
It touched my heart to hear Jonathan laugh in spite of tears.
We also took comfort that Shadow no longer suffered. Watching him wither away was painful.
Jonathan and I both spent hours trying to care for Shadow as he grew ill. The vet gave us something like baby cereal for rabbits, and it would clump up in the syringe we used to feed Shadow. Squeezing hard enough to get the food out without putting pressure on our weak bunny’s face was a difficult challenge. We held a sort of vigil for two weeks, hoping our efforts helped.
But Shadow still passed away.
I thought about how Jonathan must be feeling, and I thought of King David in the Bible.
Quick recap: David sinned, sleeping with Bathsheba and getting her pregnant. Once that happened, David tried to trick her husband into thinking it was his child. When that failed, David coordinated for the husband to be killed in battle. God sent Nathan to call David out for the sin, and David repented. But Nathan also promised that the child of that union would die as a result of the sin.
The child grew ill. David fasted, forsaking food and drink. He lay on the floor, inquiring of God on behalf of the son. His servants tried to pick him up, tried to give him food… and he rejected their offers. This lasted a week.
Then the child died.
The servants grew worried. If David took the sickness hard, how would he take this news?
…David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped…(2 Samuel 12:19, 20 NASB)
They questioned him about his actions, and he replied, “I thought perhaps God might have mercy on the child. Now that the child is gone, why should I fast? He will not return to me, but I will go to him.”
It called to mind Job’s profound response to all his suffering: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)
Matt and Beth Redman wrote the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in response to both their personal hardships and the terrorist attack on September 11th. Their concern was that the church lacked songs for expressing faith in God when times are hard and things don’t go our way. They looked at Job’s responses, and how he asked “Shall we accept good from the Lord and not accept adversity?”
So this became our song, out there in the lawn. As we laid Shadow in the grave, I started to sing Blessed Be Your Name.
I cannot imagine the sorrow and suffering of a parent who loses a child, or of a spouse losing their other half. There’s a reason the best advice is to simply be there with them in their grief, to listen, to say nothing.
Even with our relatively insignificant loss, it was still very difficult to sing the second verse.
Blessed be Your Name,
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be Your Name.
Blessed be Your Name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your Name.
It’s hard to look at difficulties or loss and still say “every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise. And when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say blessed be Your name.”
But being a worship leader is more than singing on stage for the congregation, convincing people to clap or raise their voices to a popular tune. It’s demonstrating worship, even for our little congregation of the two of us, responding to God no matter the situation.
Sometimes leading worship means showing others how to worship when it hurts.