God Meets Us in Our Grief

Jeffrey Brian Bonner. Thomas Francis Kenney IV. Dylan Jim Wilson. Joshua Bryant Baldwin. Who are these four people and why have I given you their full names? These four people are very near and dear to the hearts of Sharon and Tom Kenney. Sadly, all four are deceased. Jeffrey is Sharon’s son by her first marriage. On April 14, 1989 Jeffrey took his own life. Ten years later on May 15,1999, Tom & Sharon’s son Tommy was killed by a drunk driver. On April 6, 2013, their grandson Dylan died of complications from Cystic Fibrosis. On October 10, 2019, their grandson Joshua died in a motorcycle accident. Four tragic deaths. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to deal with those losses? When Sharon got the news that Joshua was killed, she said, “I became numb. I couldn’t feel anymore. I screamed out to God, ‘God you won! You broke me! Why have we lost 4 children?’ At that moment I really felt forsaken by God. I felt like I had done something so bad that I was being punished. I had lost faith at times, but at that moment, I felt like God was punishing me.” Tom & Sharon unfortunately knew too well the pain of losing a child. They both leaned on each other as they kept asking God why?

There are certainly times in life where we can feel like God has forsaken us, forgotten us, or worse, is punishing us. What can we do when those awful feelings slap us in the face? First, we can admit how we feel. Just tell the truth. Both Jesus and the Psalms give us permission to bring all of our emotions before God. When Jesus was on the cross, he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the opening words from Psalm 22. The Psalms encourage us to be brutally honest with God. Sharon was able to get to a place where she could admit her feelings about God to someone. That someone was her neighbor, Betty Siler, who just happened to be a gifted Christian counselor. Betty often went out of her way to call Sharon to check on her and encourage her to discuss her feelings. In their conversations Sharon learned that, “My feelings are my feelings. They aren’t right or wrong. Betty never told me I was wrong to feel the way I felt. Other people were telling me things like, ‘You shouldn’t feel that way.’ Betty never did
that. She walked the walk and talked the talk. She always listened to me and really cared about me.” Sharon’s anxiety began to ease through her talks with Betty. The other thing we can do when we feel like God has forsaken us is to hang on to the truth of Scripture. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified
because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Then there is one word in Psalm 22 that I think is extremely important in understanding our relationship with God when we feel forsaken, it is the word “Yet.” In the first two verses of Psalm 22 the Psalmist cries out to God and wants to know God’s whereabouts and why doesn’t God answer his plea for help? Then in verse 3 it says, “Yet, you are enthroned as the Holy One.” The Psalmist cries and complains to God, but He will not let go of God. Even though Sharon felt forsaken, she never let go of God and God never let go of Sharon. God was present through His people. God sent Betty to minister to Sharon and, in a small way, I think God worked through a funeral I performed to help minister to Sharon & Tom.
In November of 2021 I was asked to do a funeral for a gentleman that committed suicide. Little did I know that Sharon and Tom were in attendance and that their son also committed suicide. This gentleman also worked with Tom for the last 25 years and had a close friendship. This was the first time I’d ever done a funeral for someone that took their own life. I reached out to my former seminary professor for advice. He told me to address the “elephant in the room.” So I spoke about how this gentleman made one extremely poor decision to take his life, but he shouldn’t be defined by that one decision, just as we would not want to be defined by any one poor choice that we made. I also offered
that he was now in the hands of a graceful God and that God forgave him of that decision. As I understand Christ, I believe that when we give our lives to Christ, all of our sins, past, present and future, are paid for and forgiven by Christ. I don’t recall all of what I said at the funeral, but the Lord spoke to Sharon & Tom that night and they both felt like they needed to visit Bethel. It had been a long time since they attended church.

Sharon said on her first visit to Bethel she looked at the cross hanging in the People of Hope Center and she felt
peace wash over her. It was a deep peace that she hadn’t felt for a long time. Sharon told me, “I now know that God did not forsake me. I know it’s nothing I did to cause these tragedies. I know God is not evil.” Amen. Indeed, God is love. God is good. God will NEVER leave us or forsake us, even though it might feel like it sometimes. When those times come along, as they surely will, remember that we have our Savior’s permission to cry out to the Lord. Cry out, but remember that word “Yet.” This awful, heartbreaking thing is happening, yet God is still enthroned and He is a God that is well acquainted with suffering. He suffered for us, and He suffers with us, and He is with us.

One final thought: In the opening lines of this article, I wrote out the full names of Sharon and Tom’s sons and
grandsons. Why? Sharon says, “I want people to know their full names because they matter. God put them here and they made a difference. They matter to God and they matter to me.” So I say, thank you Lord for the gift of our lives. Thank you for Jeffrey Brian Bonner, Thomas Francis Kenney IV, Dylan Jim Wilson, and Joshua Bryant Baldwin. Thank you
for people like Betty Siler who reminds us that You are present through listening ears and caring hearts. Thank you
for Sharon and Tom Kenney and thank you for the people of Bethel who have opened up their hearts to welcome Tom
and Sharon into our family of fellowship. Thank you, God, for this reminder that we matter to you and to each other. May God bless Tom and Sharon Kenney and may God bless each one of you.