Forty Days of Wrestling

I have become an expert wrestler. That’s what happens in a heart like mine when the LORD drops huge statements of meaning and promise and then life moves swiftly in the opposite direction. But there was a wrestling in the first 40 days after Ethan’s death that was different than the wrestling that was to come next. 

At first all my wrestling centered around one thing. 

Have you ever had that gut feeling that you were created for something very specific? I have that feeling. And pulsing under all my wrestling was this phrase: The Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The Lamb is Jesus and the wedding feast is his when he will finally be joined as one with his Bride as depicted in the book of Revelation. Perhaps we are each meant to reflect something bigger, to be a living, breathing metaphor of some eternal truth. 

This gut feeling of eternal purpose has always been there, as far back as I can remember, but was never more fervently on my mind than in the forty days following Ethan’s death. I wanted to push the thoughts away, I kept telling the Lord that now was not the time to tell me these things. The wound of loosing Ethan was still too raw, I didn’t want to think about weddings. I just wanted to grieve. But He would not let me shake this feeling, I couldn’t get away from the fact that I was meant to point people to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and Ethan was not an insignificant part of the story God was telling with my life.

What am I supposed to do LORD? Where do I take this? These were the constant questions on my tortured heart. I said many times in those days, “if God had waited just a little longer before he had taken Ethan, if He had waited until we were married, none of this would hurt less, I know that, but at least the statements of purpose of my life and Ethan’s would make a little more sense. Maybe then I wouldn’t struggle to feel as though He had betrayed me by speaking these things, leading me toward Ethan, and then taking him away before anything was fulfilled.”

My soul writhed in this agony for days on end. I couldn’t understand it and the persistence of the Wedding Feast only made it that much more difficult to find any peace. Those 40 days were composed of the most beastly wrestling my heart has ever engaged in. I was not in a haze of depression, I was not numb in my grief. I was thinking more clearly than ever. I was hearing and knowing the voice of the Holy Spirit with greater clarity than ever before. And facing the darkness more viscerally than ever before. This was not aimless wrestling. I had questions. I had a purpose. That purpose was opposed. And God was committed to seeing me fulfill it.

But, I must admit, He wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to me, though I could feel his passion, attentiveness, and persistence. I needed questions answered. Never mind that everyone told me I probably wouldn’t get answers to my questions—they had no reason to assume this, I do not know why they persisted in telling me so. God often provides me with insight and perspective if I stay with a question and keep my heart open to His answers. I felt like everyone wanted me to keep my head down, to stop searching. To take all this lying down, but I refused. 

I had this distinct sense that I was on a quest of eternal purpose, something huge hung in the balance, and what I did with all of this mattered. But this sense of purpose could easily be smothered by the darkness that did not want me to succeed. Someone would try to offer me their perspective on my life with a line like, “we live in broken world, these things happen” as though God were not all that concerned that these broken circumstances made everything he had ever promised me suddenly and utterly impossible. I remember telling someone during that time, that I knew there was worse pain in the world than what I was feeling. There were things more sinister than the death of a believer, but no situation felt as impossible to redeem, nor so final a tragedy. I thought about other promises I had heard people receive from the Lord, and while things like, certain marriages restored may have looked impossible, at least both people were still living and breathing–for them there was still hope. Yes, I was tempted to despair, but God came for me every time. He was and is so committed to seeing me fulfill the purpose He has given me.

One day, fatigued from all this wrestling, I almost gave into the darkness and accepted the defeat. I was sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, not doing anything. In fact, I was beginning to fade into the gray numbness of empty grief. I was just sitting there in that horrifying chasm, when God came for me, and with a voice that was at as strong as it was comforting, He whispered to my soul, “I have entrusted this to you.”

With that statement came a warm glow that pushed back the gray. And suddenly I knew my search for purpose and my desire to partner with God in whatever He was doing was not in vein. In fact, taking the stance that God probably will never answer any of my questions about what story He was telling with me, with Ethan, with all of it would have been a mistake. He had entrusted these unique circumstances to me. There was something to steward here. Some role to play and I needed God’s perspective to know what that was. 

I’ll admit, if any other person had told me that “The Lord has entrusted this (meaning Ethan’s death) to you” I probably would have been livid. But when God said it, it settled me a great deal. If He entrusted this to me, then I was going to do whatever it took to play my part well. 

About a month after Ethan died, Valentine’s Day was upon us. Everyone expected this to be a really difficult day for me, even I expected as much. But when the day actually came, God buoyed my spirits with an outpouring of love from friends and family. I busied myself with work and writing. 

Then came a gift. There were actually several lovely gifts given to me that day, but this one was different. A friend from church had dropped off a large white orchid with the message that the flower was from the LORD, and that He had told her it had to be pure white and it had to be an orchid. 

Wouldn’t you know it, it was just fifteen minutes before she showed up with that white orchid that I had got to thinking about that one time Ethan had surprised me with an orchid. I had been having a rough week with some family problems and Ethan’s gift of an orchid reassured me that God sees me and loves me. Ethan was such an easy conduit of His love straight to my heart. 

This friend had never known about Ethan’s orchid. She was simply being obedient to the LORD’s leading. As soon as I received the orchid, I had known one thing for sure and been very confused about another thing. The one thing I knew was that there would be verses to accompany the orchid, one from Ephesians and one from Revelation, and that God would lead me to these verses in His time. But the thing that confused me was, why did it have to be an orchid? Couldn’t it be a white rose or something? Why did it have to be a white orchid? Why was God still linking this sense of purpose and love to Ethan. 

Later I pulled out my Bible and was flipping pages when God showed me the two passages that he wanted me to associate with the orchid. Ephesians 5:25-27 and Revelation 19:7-8.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27)

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothes herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Rev. 19:7-8)

At this, the feelings of being touched, brought into something divine, and also the confusion deepened. I was so touched that God would give me a gift and beautiful flower on Valentine’s Day. To have the Creator of the universe give you flowers feels kind of surreal. But then to have Him bring me so personally into the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, was something I accepted with a little fear and trembling for this was such a holy thing. But then the verse about husbands representing Christ, and the fact, again, that it was an orchid to tie the whole thing back to Ethan.  What was it supposed to mean?

I wanted so much to just accept the beautiful gift of the orchid and call it a day. But I couldn’t let it rest. What was it about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that I was supposed to do? What could I do? If Ethan’s death didn’t catch God by surprise, then what was the purpose of it all to begin with.

As an undercurrent through this confusion was the memory I didn’t want to look directly at of all God had spoken to me on night of the accident before I had known Ethan was dying, the whole picture from Ruth about submission and showing the world God’s heart and the passion play of marriage that was pointing to the wedding feast of the Lamb. I couldn’t help but feel like either I was missing something or God’s timing was terribly off. All this talk about weddings and marriage being a picture of God’s heart and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb was beautiful, but it was so odd in the immediate wake of Ethan’s death. I kept thinking, its too soon, LORD, it hurts to think about life going on without Ethan. Please just let me grieve him before I start to think about marriage again. Its too much, I cannot take it.

But I knew God wasn’t naive about the ways of the human heart, about the ways of my heart. He knew what He was doing, it was I who was having trouble accepting His meaning. What was I missing in everything the Lord was saying? What exactly had He entrusted to me? 

And then, in a statement that somehow gave me my breath back, these words floated into my mind, Jesus died for his bride before she was his bride. 

“What?” I asked. Trying to comprehend the statement. And then came clarity. Jesus died for his beloved before the wedding feast. 

I didn’t know what I had been entrusted with and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with the information that Jesus had died for his bride before the wedding feast, but something about it eased my soul. I thought maybe, somehow, the love and story that was built between Ethan and I was not all lost–maybe there was still a way to point people to the larger story. Maybe I wasn’t wrong all along in feeling like Ethan and I had some eternal purpose together to play out here in this age.

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