Eight months ago today, I learned my husband was dead. Even as time begins to soften the edges of my grief, I remember that evening with blunt, raw clarity. My young children played in the summer dusk at our campsite as I packed for our travel to Glacier National Park the next morning.
When a white SUV rolled down the gravel drive and two police chaplains stepped out, my world shattered into a million pieces. They were there for me. My beloved husband, Rob, a skilled and conscientious hiker, had fallen to his death in Washington’s Cascade mountains.
Rob’s death at age 41 disrupts the natural order we Westerners have come to expect—that little children don’t attend the graves of their daddies, that young women don’t bury their husbands, that parents don’t outlive their children. In the months that followed, I have rarely asked God, Why? I know the curse of sin runs deep; this world is dreadfully broken.
However, many times I have wondered, What next? Rob’s unexpected death plunged me into deep grief and deep fear. If this terrifying thing could happen, what other tragedies lay in my future? A world once friendly had turned volatile, hostile, full of sorrow. I became shackled by fear of further catastrophe.
‘Perfectly Safe Place’
As I struggled to process my fear born of grief, I began to shrink my world, to hold on to life more tightly. I instructed my children not to hang upside down on the monkey bars at school. They could fall and break their necks. I banned tree climbing in our backyard. I worried about developing a terminal illness, about my children choking on the grapes I packed in their lunches, about my house being burglarized.
Rob’s death had reminded me that life could be tragically short, that evil could seemingly destroy goodness and joy in a moment. If there were a way I could protect myself from more sorrow, I was determined to find it.
The safety Jesus offered would look different from what I expected, but it would be ever more secure than anything I could have designed.
Over the next months, I learned my response was normal for those who have endured sudden loss, but I also knew a small life wasn’t what I wanted. Even as I grieved, I longed to live fully again, unencumbered by catastrophic fear. I saw that my obsession with safety would never produce the security for which I longed. The day Rob died, he’d done everything right. He’d worn a helmet, brought his axe and microspikes, carefully plotted his hiking route. All of Rob’s good efforts didn’t prevent his accident. Neither could my hypervigilance shield me from life’s other sorrows.
With the tenderness of a shepherd, Jesus began to coax open my clenched hands, my fearful death grip on life. I sensed him asking me to step out in faith, to trust his voice calling me forward into my new life as a widow. God’s power and presence had not disappeared with Rob’s death; they were still available for me. You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies. His providential love that had carried me through that darkest valley would continue to sustain me. I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
I returned often to Dallas Willard’s words that, for those beloved of God, “This present world is a perfectly safe place for us to be.” The safety Jesus offered would look different from what I expected, but it would be ever more secure than anything I could have designed.
Jesus Keeps Me Safe
Eight months into my grief journey, COVID-19 arrived on the nightly news. And along with it, my old friend: catastrophic fear. I live in the Boston area, one of the U.S. epicenters for the coronavirus, and all around me life has shut down. The aisles of our local grocery store, once jammed with frantic shoppers, now stand apocalyptically quiet. The library, the dentist, and the schools have closed. My boys’ baseball teams ceased preseason practices.
Fear runs high here, and for good reason. Disease and death are honest threats. The curse of sin runs deep. This world is dreadfully broken. Everyone wonders, How much worse will it get?
It is not my vigilance but rather Jesus himself who keeps me safe.
I recognize this panic, this catastrophic fearfulness. It is an old, albeit unwelcome, companion. Coronavirus, like Rob’s death, has arrived with little warning, a frightening force beyond our control. If I am not careful, I fall into step quickly with the ranks of those who scroll worriedly through online news, who hedge their bets against disaster by stockpiling toilet paper and energy drinks.
And yet, whatever I do, the fear will persist. I can wash my hands with the ardence of Old Testament ritual, but I still may not be safe. I can protect myself against disaster, but all I do may still not be enough.
Coronavirus may be a threat to my sense of safety, but it wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. I don’t understand how a world where fathers fall to their deaths and diseases course through communities can be a safe place to be. But I choose to believe this is so.
Because in the darkest hour I’ve ever experienced and in the days of grief that followed, Jesus has walked with me, his warm and gentle love dispelling my fears. It is not my vigilance but rather Jesus himself who keeps me safe. In this season of illness and panic, he is here too. Whatever comes, for those who know and love him, this world will still be a good place to live.