On Thursday, June 17, 2010, I was in a bad wreck. The people at the scene of the accident could not believe that I survived my car taking a direct hit from a logging truck. But, thankfully, I did. A week after the wreck, I have only one small scratch remaining. People told me how “lucky” I was. They mentioned that I had been protected by my guardian angel. “God is not finished with you yet,” was a frequent phrase. I don’t intend to argue with any of those sentiments.
My primary thought and emotion has been one of gratitude. During my career as a pastor, I heard how many dumb things people say after a tragedy. They may be well-meaning, but there is a lot of bad theology that surrounds heartbreaking disasters. Be careful with your words in times of crisis.
The two sentences that made the most sense to me are these:
- I say my Alleluias softly, and
- God is present.
I am happy to be alive. I am grateful that on July 3, 2010, I was able to walk my baby girl down the aisle and present her to the man who is now her husband and my son-in-law. All four of Julie’s grandparents are dead and my best friend, her second dad, passed away this past year. I am grateful that I was there for Julie and Tom, and not in a hospital room or in a grave! I am glad that I am still here to cuddle with Sally at night. I am thankful I can still take my other daughter and her husband and my grandson to a baseball game. More than ever, I appreciate peach cobblers, roses, jazz, waterfalls, and good books. I love my friends. I am grateful to be alive.
But I do say my Alleluias softly, because everyone who has been in a wreck did not survive and/or thrive. Many sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, dads and best friends have been seriously injured or even died in tragic accidents. I don’t think God loves me more or that my prayer life is better. Anything that credits my survival to my goodness is probably bad theology.
As I was sharing this perspective with two friends, I discovered that one of them, my seminary buddy Don Garner, had indeed lost a son in a car wreck about a decade ago. God loves and loved Don and his wife and their son as much as God loves me. Don told me that their “lesson” during their awful grief is that God is always present. God is present when I survive my wreck, and God is there when Don’s son did not survive his wreck. God is present.