The morning sunlight was streaming through the window when Bob Graham opened one eye. With the slow dawning of consciousness came the dull ache of loneliness again. As he turned to look at the eight-by-ten photograph on the dresser, a sharp stab of pain exploded in his head. His eyes lingered on the smiling face in the picture. It had been a late night again last night, trying to find relief from the pain that plagued his body and soul. He found himself gazing once more at the empty pillow beside him, and another wave of emotion washed over him. “Sheila,” he heard himself mutter, “whatever happened to us?” Like a horror movie, his mind replayed the tragic chain of events of the last six months.
It started with the day he looked up from his desk to see the uniformed police officer standing in the doorway – instantly his heart dropped in fear. “Mr. Graham,” he could still hear the sympathy in the officer’s voice, “it’s about your son Bobby…” Cruelly, his mind replayed the events of the following days. As if the horror of making the arrangements for the funeral, and the agony of those first few days were not enough, in the days that followed, each of them attempted to deal with their personal grief. Both had withdrawn into their separate emotional worlds, trying to handle the sorrow on their own behalf. Watching their struggles, his sister Kathy had made some pointed suggestions about seeking the counsel of her pastor, but Bob had never sought ‘religious counsel’ before, and he hurt too much to start now. Besides, if God were such a loving God, why would he have allowed this to take place? What was their great sin that all of this had happened to them?
Soon, the frustration of all of the unanswered questions had turned to open hostility toward each other. It wasn’t long before the household had become like two armed camps. So it was not surprising to Bob, last Thursday, when Sheila had told him that she had arranged to spend some time with her mother so that she could ‘sort things out’. At least this wasn’t a permanent separation, but the loneliness of an empty house still haunted him. What if she never came back? It was a question that had kept him awake for a good part of last night.
The ringing telephone broke rudely into his thoughts. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to talk to anyone right now, so he let it ring. After the fifth ring, the answering machine cut in. Impatiently, he listened to the recorded preamble, then, ‘after the beep’ Kathy’s melodic voice came over the small speaker. “Hello Bob, I know you’re there,” she said confidently, “and I know that you hurt too much to talk right now. I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you, and I’m still praying for both of you. I love you lots, so give me a call when you feel up to it – OK? Bless you – bye.” Why did she always have to say that – “bless you”? He certainly didn’t feel ‘blessed’! Reluctantly, he picked up the receiver, hit the speed-dial button ‘02’ and waited for Kathy to answer.
“Bless you too!” he said, with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, before she had a chance to say ‘Hello’. Instantly he felt a stab of remorse – after-all, she was only trying to cheer him up. Kathy didn’t even give a hint of taking any offense, instead, she got right into ‘how was he doing?’, and ‘would he like to come for supper on Friday night’? Knowing how transparent he was to her, he readily accepted the invitation, just to avoid another lonely evening feasting on chicken steaks and microwave-heated corn. One statement led to another, and, before he knew it, he was confessing his hurt and loneliness to Kathy once again. He had to admit that, as much as it made him feel uncomfortably vulnerable, there was a definite sense of relief in unburdening his feelings to her.
Friday night came and went without any unusual incidents. Supper was delicious, and the conversation was stimulating. Bob listened patiently as Kathy once again proposed the idea that a ‘real-life relationship’ with an ‘all-knowing God’ would, at the very least, make his trials more bearable. His sister had never been one to simply ‘follow the crowd’, Bob reasoned, and the more he listened to her, the more he began to sense a growing hunger for the peace and tranquility the exuded from her. The most convincing aspect of their exchange that night was the fact that Kathy didn’t condemn Bob or Sheila for the way that Bobby’s death had affected their relationship. On the contrary, honest emotions gave way to healing tears as Kathy assured him that, in God’s eyes, nothing is ever beyond hope. By the time he made his way home that night, Bob found himself truly wondering if there was possibly an element of truth to Kathy’s arguments. Vaguely he remembered agreeing to attend a ‘grief-management’ seminar that was to be held at her church the following weekend. Kathy would also attend so that she could learn how to ‘minister to others’ – whatever that meant. Still, he knew that he would be grateful for her company, aware that he would definitely feel out of place with the general church-going crowd.
Wednesday evening, Sheila called again to see how he was ‘holding-up’. It encouraged him to know that she was still concerned about him. In the course of the conversation, Bob mentioned the seminar that he was planning to attend with Kathy. It was clear that Sheila didn’t quite know how much credibility to lend to the notion, but she certainly was not going to be openly critical. She wished him well before offering a slightly more-than-cordial ‘Good-night’. “God,” he prayed hesitantly, “please let this work”. Then he drifted off to sleep.
It was Friday night, again, and Bob’s mind was going in a hundred different directions – again. He lay in his bed, wide awake, reviewing the principles he had heard tonight. “Grief management”, the pastor had said, “is not something that you can handle on your own – you are going to need help.” That was a fact that Bob had known all along, but where was he to go for help? “Remember,” the words echoed in his mind, “whatever your situation may be – it is not necessarily your fault.” Yes, that was one thing that had plagued his mind countless times – could he have done something to prevent Bobby’s death? Could Sheila have done anything? Now, the whole idea of finding a scapegoat on which to lay the “blame” sounded so pitiful, and it was so very liberating to realize that he didn’t have to bear the guilt anymore. Then, using the illustration of Jesus at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, the pastor had said, “Don’t ever be ashamed of expressing your emotions.” How many times had he stifled his rising emotions just because he had been taught that “big boys don’t cry”?
Uncharacteristically, Bob felt an overwhelming flood of raw feelings rising within him. He panicked at the thought of an overt emotional display, but he couldn’t hold it back any longer. Scenes of his son’s birth, Bobby’s first toddling steps, his joyful giggles, spilled over Bob’s face. The loneliness of retreating to his own ‘world’, and the remorse of excluding Sheila from his life also rose to the surface, and was lost in mournful groanings – too deep for words. “God!”, his spirit cried, “I need help”! Instinctively, he reached for the phone, and once again hit ‘02’ on the speed dial.
When he heard Kathy’s bubbly “Hello, Bob…” he was unable to speak. “Bob?” she repeated, as he gasped for breath between sobs, “Bob, hang in there,” she encouraged, “I’ll be right over!” He heard himself numbly mumble a ‘thanks’, then the line went dead as he hung up the phone. Waves of emotion washed over him, while he waited for Kathy to ring the doorbell. When he finally heard the chimes, he was almost too weak to even answer the door. “Oh Bob,” Kathy wailed, “I am so sorry!” She wrapped her arms around him – not saying anything for several minutes as they both gave vent to their emotions. There was no condemnation, there was no sermon, she just wept with him, speaking words of comfort and encouragement as she had when they were children. Gently, she guided him to the couch and motioned for him to sit, leaving momentarily to ‘put the coffee on’.
Kathy returned with a steaming cup of coffee, and continued to listen patiently as Bob emptied his soul to her. Then she reached for her Bible and began to read. “Surely He has borne all our griefs, and carried all our sorrows…” He had never heard such beautiful words, as Kathy went on to explain that Father God knew exactly how he was feeling because He had also lost His only Son. It was a totally profound concept, but, somehow, it made perfect sense. An hour passed as Kathy continued to show him just how much God loved him and cared about his situation. It didn’t take any more convincing, and seemed a perfectly natural thing to do when Kathy finally asked him if he would like to ‘ask Jesus to take control of his life’.
Over the next few days, Bob was impressed with the unsatiable thirst that he had to read the bible that Kathy had given him. When he talked to Sheila, even she noticed the change in his voice, and in his outlook on life. How he wanted to comfort her, to understand her feelings, to apologize for emotionally deserting her. Understandably, she was skeptical at first, but as the days turned into weeks, she also began to hope for a repairing of their relationship. It seemed that Bob was at church now every time it was open, and Sheila almost dared to believe that this change for the better was going to be permanent. It appeared quite logical then, when Bob suggested that they make an appointment to talk to the pastor about their relationship, and she accepted the opportunity without hesitation.
They sat together on the couch in the pastor’s office like two school children hungrily taking in Biblical principles and instruction for building a healthy marriage. Session after session brought more changes to their relationship – definitely for the better – and Sheila became the first-fruits of Bob’s evangelical efforts. In fact, Bob became so excited about his new-found relationship with God, and with his wife, that it wasn’t long before other family members and friends listened with undivided attention to their story.
It was Sunday night. Bob and Sheila had once again enjoyed a lively time of fellowship with the Body of Christ. As was their custom now, Bob reached for his bible to read a chapter to Sheila as she drifted off to sleep. "Again, the kingdom of heaven", he read, "is like a treasure hid in a field, which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy over it goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field…". As he listened to Sheila’s breathing become regulated in the manner of slumber, he turned out the light and pondered the treasure that he had found in this new relationship, not only with God, but also with his wife. His last thought, before he drifted off to sleep, was what it meant in his life to be totally ‘sold-out’ to God, and to have ‘bought the field’ where he had found his eternal treasure.
Many people stumble upon the kingdom of heaven totally by accident. Whether it is the result of a life-changing crisis or the consequence of a randomly spoken word by a faithful believer, the inherent value becomes unmistakably obvious. The discovery leads to an ‘unspeakable joy’ as the apostle Paul describes it, and a burning desire to acquire it at any cost. The man in Jesus’ parable was willing to sell everything he owned in order to obtain title to the field in which his newly discovered treasure lay. Knowing that the title to the land included the rights to all that it contained, the purchaser was satisfied with the wisdom of his investment. So it is in the lives of those who, in the course of their earthly wanderings, stumble upon the treasure of the kingdom of heaven. The result must be a total surrender of all that was previously deemed to be valuable in the life of the discoverer, in order to obtain the riches that are available in Christ Jesus.