An article written after Ron’s dad died:
This week I am preaching in a small town in western Oklahoma. The young pastor is a good friend, his people are good listeners, and the church is beautiful.
But the landscape which seems bleak and windblown is depressingly desolate to me and punctuates my loneliness. I don’t want to be here.
I want to be back in Arkansas, in Room 558 of the hospital where Dad is dying of cancer. My wife is there, my brother is there, the entire family is there–except me.
Grief has a way of isolating a person. Joseph Conrad said that we suffer just as we dream–alone. We become the sole inhabitant of the earth. I am no stranger to this exile of mourning. I felt it when Mom died, and I felt it especially when my wife and I lost our older son. And I am feeling it now, that familiar and unwelcome intruder that makes me the loneliest person in the world.
We are having noon services this week, meeting in the fellowship hall. I am speaking on prayer. This morning, before the luncheon began, I was suddenly overcome with grief. I escaped to the sanctuary. It looked dark and empty, the blackness relieved only by the dim, red glow of the exit sign. I felt my way to a pew and sat down. Resting my head on the back of the pew in front of me, I let the tears flow. I prayed without words.
After a few moments I sat up and opened my eyes. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I discovered that I was not alone in the sanctuary. In the room were three or four others, praying in the darkness. The darkness had deceived me. I was not alone.
And then he was there. The presence, his presence, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, God’s Gift to every believer. Of course, he had been there all the time. But I had let the darkness convince me that I was alone.
The Spirit reminded me of the words of Jesus: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;…I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Another Helper, just like Jesus; that is the promise. Another Helper to do for us all that Jesus would do if he were physically present. And better! Because if Jesus were still present in the flesh, present with me in this darkened sanctuary, he could not be with you right now in your darkness.
“What though his holy footsteps/Linger no longer here?/ Still through his Spirit’s presence,/ Jesus is ever near./ What though your heart be lonely,/ What though your friends be few,/ He will not leave you orphans,/ Jesus will come to you.”