The most painful letter I’ve ever written
Last week I sat down to write three letters I’d considered writing for years. They were letters to each of my family members–my wife, son, and daughter–that they would only receive in the event of my death. It was something I’d wanted to write but just hadn’t–I don’t know why. I was going on a trip and felt a compulsion to make it happen. It kind of made me wonder if I was having some kind of premonition, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.
Writing these letters was incredibly clarifying for me. What would you say to the people you loved most if you knew it was your last time to tell them anything? That was the question writing these letters answered for me. As I typed through tears, here are the things I learned.
My words won’t matter without my actions.
The first and last things I wrote to each of them were words attempting to sum up the depth of my love for them with only moderate success. While these words were important, I felt the truth that they would only matter to my family to the extent they were supported by my actions over the course our years together. I am far from perfect, but I do believe each of my family members has experienced the truth of my love for them, and that was the thing that gave me confidence in the words I wrote. I also reminded me that this joyful work of love is an ongoing one. I want to live with my family in a way that those words would always ring true.
I believe the gospel of Jesus and its implications with every fiber of my being.
I devoted time in each of my letters to trying to engage the pain of loss and how that might impact the way each one viewed God. I don’t worry much about my wife’s faith. I know it would be devastating, but I believe she’d lean on God in a time like that. My daughter on the other hand, she feels so deeply, I’m not sure what outlet she’d find for the pain. I was a little surprised at how necessary it felt to me to communicate that my own death wouldn’t shake my belief in the goodness of God at all. It’s actually the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives me an unwavering hope.
I know we’re all at different places in our journey with God, faith, and what truly gives life. Writing these letters just confirmed to me how deeply I have planted myself with Jesus. His work in the world to bring healing to every aspect of the brokenness of the world and each one of us is unspeakably beautiful. Every day I see this in ways I haven’t before. He really wants what is best for all creation and every person, no matter how hard we run from it. His victory over death and the description of what will be one day at the end of the Bible give me so much hope for a wholeness beyond what I can currently imagine. There’s just nothing more life-giving or beautiful than this and I want my family to live in that, regardless of the hardships that might come in this life.
My fear is that they wouldn’t continue living fully.
Look, when I think about losing one of them, I struggle to think how I would continue to live fully. There would be a long period of grief. That loss would never leave me. Both of those things are okay, even good. At the same time, my love for them compels me to long for their good. I spent some time specifically encouraging them to seek healing with God through grief so they could pursue a full, happy, purposeful life. I understand I don’t have control over that, but I didn’t want them to have any sense that they would fail to love me by living the life they’ve been given fully.
I certainly hope those letters are never opened. I’m also thankful I wrote them. I’d want my family to have those words. I am also thankful for the things writing them taught me. It revealed the depths of my feelings and convictions. After all, there was nothing to hide there, no pretense. I’m thankful for the clarity it gave me. What would you say?