My father had a heart attack on Friday evening, March 16, was rushed to the hospital, died on Sunday, March 18, and was buried on Tuesday. Of course that was 1984, but it always seems more current when March 18 again falls on a Sunday.
What a sweetheart he was! One of his favorite Bible passages was Psalm 1, which actually described him: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Everyone loved him, people said at his funeral, but I knew they were wrong. The people who hadn’t loved him—in fact were extremely jealous of him—contributed to his death. The anonymous poison pen letters, the public accusations, though disproved—all had contributed to his stress and to his death.
His parents lived to be 99 and 96. He had nothing in his genetic history that indicated that he would die at 62. But his parents did not suffer the continuing emotional stress that he had. They were “good Christians” in that they participated in church services, helped those in distress, and studied their Bibles. They did not take leadership positions in the church, knock on doors surrounding the church to invite people to attend, have Bible studies to convert the lost, have people in their home constantly in order to encourage them, or give sacrificially to the church. (I know this last part because my grandmother marveled that my uncle, when converted, put a twenty-dollar bill in the collection plate every week.)
But that’s what my parents did, and when they started working with a struggling country church, invited there so my dad would lead their singing, jealousy leaped into the hearts of the previous “leaders” who were content with their small, spiritless group. They were not thrilled with the numerical and spiritual growth, with all the new people who were eager to get involved and teach and serve. Instead, they felt threatened and actually conspired against my father.
Earlier on the evening of his heart attack, he said to my mother, “I’ve been reading in I Corinthians 6, and it’s clear that I can’t take him to court even though I know I have grounds for both libel and slander. It’s clear that I cannot take a brother to court. I must allow myself to take the wrong and suffer without going before unbelievers to get it settled.
“Strangely enough,” he said, “I’ve made my peace with that. The people who know me understand and I don’t need to worry about the rest. I’ll leave it up to God to judge. Is that OK with you?” And of course it was.
It was comforting to know that Daddy had made his peace with the situation, which had agonized us all.
Reliving all that happened in 1983 and 1984 makes me examine my own life as well. I was acutely aware of my possible mortality the year I was 62, as was my brother. But the chronological age now doesn’t seem as important as my spiritual condition. I want to be at peace with everyone. If I am not, I hope my true friends will let me know what I need to remedy.
At the time of my father’s death, I was not aware of this verse, but it has often comforted me since: “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” (Isaiah 57:1-2)