My beautiful oldest child, William, was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was just a boy, age 12. My little family battled cancer for 5 years. After my William died and after my husband went to work and my two remaining children went to school, I crawled into bed for three years. I would rouse myself to get everyone off and then I would lie down and sleep; I was so very tired. We were all so very tired and broken. This is what grief looks like. The remaining family members living under the same roof, and yet each of us are so alone in his or her personal heartbreak.
One of the things that kept me somewhat grounded was my church’s Wednesday night high school bible study. I started helping teach after William died. My two remaining children were part of the group, most of the kids were really questioning God after the death of a brother and a friend. My dear friend, Jean, was our minister’s wife and a powerful youth leader. She and I led together for some 15 years.
There’s a funny ebb and flow to high school youth groups. Some years the kids are very interested in really digging into the Word; other years a group may be full of troubled kids and only able to grasp small bites of God’s manna.
For several years, we had a high school boy named Patrick. Every Wednesday night, as we started our study, he would sigh and say, “You do know that I don’t believe in God?” And we would say, “And yet, here you are back at bible study?”
We had bought a disco ball as a visual illustration of the Son of God. It was made-up of little light reflecting mirrors glued to a large orb. I would hold the ball up and we could turn off the lights in the room and point our phone flashlights at it and witness the hundreds of prisms emanating from it, filling the dark with brilliant light. “This must be what Christ is like, full of light and reflecting light throughout His entire creation!”
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
Another visual illustration was a beautiful large glass globe that I had been given by my mother as a Christmas ornament. It was a gorgeous amethyst purple. I treasured that globe because I had had a difficult relationship with my mother and that globe had meant a lot to me after she died. Every Christmas, it would serve as the centerpiece for our Christmas Eve dinner.
At one of our bible study evenings, as I held up the globe, I said, “Think about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, overflowing with love, and deciding to create a perfect, exquisitely beautiful world, the Kingdom of God.” Here I paused for effect. “ Now think about this beautiful creation falling and breaking. Of course I’m not going to drop this beautiful glass globe to show you what it would look like if I did because it is so important to me but think about what it would look like if I did.” Here again, I paused for effect.
“Now, on this broken Kingdom of the Earth, separated from God and His Kingdom of the Heavens, we, as part of that creation, have two choices. We can walk through the dirt and cut ourselves on the broken shards of glass or we can look down, pick one up, clean it off, and hold it up to the light and see the rainbows of color. We can choose to bloody our feet or we can look with wonder at the fragmented broken beauty in our hands.”
I passed that beautiful glass globe around the room, cautioning the group to be careful with it because it was dear to me. When it had almost made its way around the room, our youth minister playfully tossed it into the air. He failed to catch it and it shattered on the floor! There were gasps all around the room. I caught my breath and said, “How do you think God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit felt when their beloved creation fell and broke?“
Later in the year, Patrick, our agnostic “atheist,”said to me, “So, Salley, what if I wear army boots and crush those shards of glass into the dirt?” I had to think a minute. “Well, if you bother to gather a handful of what is at your feet, you’d still have glitter mixed in with the dirt?”
Most of us as christians learn the bible beginning with the middle of God’s perfect story. We begin with the birth of The Son of God as He becomes The Son of Man, lying in the manger. Christ made incarnate as the babe, Jesus, our Emmanuel.