Orphans. My lovely wife, Cynthia, and I acknowledged that we are, in some sense, both orphans. With the recent death of her father, all of our parents have made the passage into death; the passage that awaits us all. We were both blessed to have our parents around for much of our lives. We were also both blessed to have parents whose love was unconditional, from whom we learned what we needed to grow into adulthood. That we miss them deeply is a testament to the beauty of their lives.
I do not wish to imply in any way that our experience is at all like that of a child whose parents are actually, or even figuratively, absent when parents are needed most. Kids in Foster Care and those awaiting adoption; those who have parents in the room who abuse and ignore them are nothing like what we are experiencing.
Instead, for us, a relationship that so defined our identity is now altered by the experience of absence. Until I was 35 years old, I was always “Bobbie’s son” and she was a tangible presence of that identity. Until I was 53 years old, I was “Bud’s son.” Death altered that identity – and, if I dare say, reminded me deeply that my grip on life is tenuous at best. In my memories, our identity as “son or daughter of so and so” lives on. But what happens when my memory fades? There are records out there that document my existence and the names of my parents. They do not tell you much about who I am.
The point is, who we are is tied to a lot of different things. Our jobs, our kids, our place in life; the honors we receive and failures we suffer. All these are temporary. Even our identity as a child of our parents is temporary. That is, unless somehow death is overcome; unless our life and our death are grasped by an identity that is not temporary.
Paul tells the Ephesians: “(Our Father) destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6). You see what Paul is saying? You are a child of God before anything else and the depth of that relationship is revealed in Christ! Before you were, you were God’s. After you are not, you are still God’s. In God’s eternal being you are – always.
This identity in Christ is also what will help us work through the loss of beloved parents. They too are held eternally in God. That means we share eternity, through Christ, with them. We are all adopted children of God. Grief, suffering, and death can erode nearly everything that makes up who we are. Nearly. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.” (Romans 8:39)
So, for Cynthia and me, our comfort will come in many ways. Chiefly, it will come in our identity. As it turns out, we are not orphans at all. We are the adopted children of God. We know who we are – eternally.
Pax Christi – Pastor Tim Olson