Where’s God at the very end?
How God arranged a conversation that allowed two loved ones to make amends.
On the day when everything changed, I woke up determined to go into the office. This was not my normal routine for Saturdays, and I could not figure out what was calling me—lesson plans to edit for children’s chapel or maybe resources to gather for the youth leaders—but I felt strangely compelled to head over to the church.
I had been puttering contentedly in my office for a couple of hours when Mary Ellen appeared at my door, drawn perhaps by the rotation of Taizé chants, Amy Grant songs, and classical hymns blaring from my computer. That Sunday she would be pulling double duty on altar guild and leading youth group, and she wanted to talk about the middle school lesson, with its provocative title “Who gets to go to Heaven?”
Would it be OK, Mary Ellen asked, to say that God wants to draw all of us in and not send anyone away? Of course, I replied. This would be my second most important conversation that day.
Sensing my work was complete, I called my husband and asked if he wanted to go to lunch, and I was glad when he said yes. The truth was that our 40-year marriage was coming apart at the seams, unraveling under the weight of long-term unemployment, financial stress, his resultant sadness and withdrawal, my compounding anxiety and anger.
In recent months my anger had begun to frighten me, and so I had made an intention to be kind in the face of uncertainty. I picked him up and we enjoyed some Chipotle and then browsed at Home Depot, just another long-time married couple on a Saturday afternoon.
On the drive home I related my conversation with Mary Ellen, and he was intrigued. For the remaining miles we talked of heaven and what we thought it might be like, and for the first time in a while I was overjoyed to be with him, to relax in his familiar presence, to savor the intimacy of spirit built over 40 years.
And as we were walking from the garage to our house he collapsed, stricken with a massive heart attack. He was pronounced dead within the hour.
I remember almost nothing we said to each other on that ride. The content of the conversation does not matter to me as much as the fact that it took place. In the early days after his death, friends would ask if I was angry. I was not, but I wanted to understand how God was present at this death that was too sudden and too soon.
I did not believe, and do not believe, in a magic-wand God or a God of granted wishes. I did, and continue to, believe that God was with my husband as he faded away from me and that God is with him now.
Five years of reflection have brought me to believe this as well about how God acts in our world: I believe God does not override our genetic predispositions or repair an artificial valve. But I am certain that on that day, God arranged a series of small coincidences in order to set up one singular conversation that allowed two old, lost lovers to be right with each other at the end. For that, I am grateful.
This essay is part of a series of reflections on conversations that left an impact on the authors’ lives. You can read the rest of the essays here.
Image: Matthew Bennett on Unsplash