Since my kids have gotten old enough to express their opinion regarding what we listen to in the car, I’ve found myself listening to their choices more than I would like. My son loves books on CD, but sometimes we have a long break between books. In these gaps, one of the CDs we frequently revert to is Seeds Family Worship. This CD has a dozen different Bible verses set to music. Most of the songs are catchy, and my kids are actually memorizing Scripture without realizing it. Cool. But then comes the Phil 1:6 song. The verse says “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It seems innocent enough, but this song has brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions.
In Times of Sorrow
It seems silly to admit that a song from a kid’s CD could be so moving, but there is a background story. In 2014, my family experienced several painful events that make this promise all the more compelling to me. In January I decided to quit my PhD dissertation. This was an agonizing ordeal for me as I let go of that dream. Then during my husband’s spring break in March, I found out I was pregnant with our second baby. The very next day my 21 month old son spilled scalding tea on his face and had to be airlifted for surgery at a regional burn center four hours away. While he made a full recovery, it was a stressful (not to mention expensive) accident. In July we found out our baby was a daughter but that she had a rare and lethal genetic disorder. We weren’t sure whether she would survive until birth, and, if so, how long she might live—hours, days, weeks? She was born in early November and died a month later. It was a year of deep loss.
While the year was filled with pain and grief, we were not lost or without hope. Many times the words of this verse would remind me that the One who began this work of grace in my heart would bring it to completion. I didn’t need to try harder so that I could be strong, rather the One who called me is faithful to complete this work. It wasn’t about my efforts but about Jesus and his sufficient grace.
Confidence in Sorrow
In the midst of heartache, I found comfort in four different sources. First, the Word of God. All of Scripture is a testimony to God’s faithfulness. Time after time, God shepherded his people through various trials and challenges. He did not abandon them, even when they were unfaithful. The words of the psalms consoled me, and I took heart that the Lord is close to the broken hearted (Ps 34:18). I found encouragement throughout Philippians in Paul’s testimony of joy and contentment in the midst of hardship and in his teaching to the Corinthians (2 Cor 1:3-11) and the Romans (Rom 5:3-5) that suffering has purpose. James reminds us that trials are shaping us to maturity in Christ (James 1:2-4).
Second, God’s means of grace built us up. Participation in the Lord’s supper provided us with the courage to walk the path before us. It was a regular reminder of God’s deep love for us. Prayer was also significant. We prayed for God to have mercy on us and sustain us, for our daughter’s healing, and for faith to believe that God was in control. The preaching of the Word ministered to us, week in and out. We were also grateful that we were able to have our daughter baptized into the covenant community.
Third, the body of Christ was a source of great comfort. Our pastor, church family, friends, the Covenant College community, and our neighbors loved us deeply and practically. Our families walked every step with us. People prayed for us, visited us, brought us meals and baby gifts, wrote cards, took professional photos, paid for someone to clean our house, hosted a shower, babysat, and attended our daughter’s memorial service. Their generosity didn’t erase the pain, but God used them to encourage us.
Fourth, I don’t want to neglect secular sources. When we received our diagnosis, we had the option of working with a hospice organization. We decided to pursue it, and it was a great source of support. We were assigned a social worker and nurse, and they answered our questions, brought us material to read, and shared their experience so that we could make informed decisions. They helped us connect with a funeral home and checked in with us periodically after our daughter’s death. While their services were not officially Christian, they were a means of common grace.
In the middle of the storms of life, it can be easy to lose hope. The days feel dark and the nights even darker. But precious verses like Phil 1:6 remind us that we aren’t the ones ultimately responsible for pulling ourselves through difficult seasons. The One who began a good work in us will bring it to completion. Jesus is faithful even when we are not. We can be confident of this even in times of sorrow.
About the Author:
Shelley Madueme lives in Flintstone, GA, with her husband Hans and their children Caleb and Zoë. She completed a Master of Theological Studies at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, and a Master of Theology in New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. After quitting her PhD dissertation on grief in the New Testament, she experienced first-hand the grief of losing their infant daughter Sarah Grace to a rare condition. In addition to homeschooling, Shelley organizes adult Sunday school at St. Elmo Presbyterian in Chattanooga, TN, and is helping form a women’s ministry. She enjoys reading fiction, walking, adult conversation, cooking, and family outings.