Several months ago, February 24 to be exact, Brandon and I were having dinner at one of our favorite places in town. We love to go out to eat. We love to go on dates. We have good conversation, and we love good food. 😊 This date was the same as the hundred others we’ve had. We were talking about everything, and the conversation turned to my mom, as it does often.
Brandon’s dad passed away in 2010 from cancer. He walked the same road I walked, 6 years before me. We talk often about them both. We reminisce, and we talk about what incredible grandparents they would both be to our future kids.
But this conversation was one that I’ll never forget. Just like the day my mom died is a day that will always be etched in my memory. For obvious reasons, of course, but also because it was traumatic, and the fact that it didn’t look like it does in movies haunts me to this very day.
I’ve told about the last few hours of my mom’s life to just a handful of people. I’ve never written about it, and even though I replay the image in my mind like a horrible memory that I’d often like to forget every single night when I close my eyes, I don’t talk about it much.
But today I want to. Well, I guess I don’t know that I want to, but I need to. This post is going to be all over the place. I will probably go back and forth a lot, and chase way too many rabbits, but hopefully it will all make sense at the end.
We got to the hospital on a Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up. It was a beautiful day, and when Julia (my sister, who was ten at the time), Brandon, and I got in the car, I knew that we were going to see my mom for the last time. We found out the day before that she had a couple of days, at most, to live.
When I turned the corner to walk into her room, the nurse met me outside to tell me I probably wouldn’t want to go in. I barely heard her, and nearly knocked down the door to get to my sweet mama. Her precious, once strong and healthy body was shutting down, and though her brain didn’t allow her body to feel the pain (praise God for modern medicine) her body involuntarily fought. She was in pain, and I ran to her side to hold her hand and tell her it would be ok, even though I didn’t know that I believed it.
She didn’t know who I was. In a sense, she was already gone. Her body was still alive, but it wasn’t my mama behind the glassy, pain-stricken eyes I saw. I begged God to make it stop. I ran to the nurse’s station, pleading with them to do whatever they needed to do to make the pain go away. I have no idea how long it took, and what felt like hours later could have been minutes. But her breathing slowed, and a short time later she took her last breath.
I told everyone at her funeral that her death was peaceful. And I guess in a sense it was, but the sight of her body dying, slowly and painfully, will haunt me for my entire life. I know that these words are dark and carry such a heavy weight. I know that they’re uncomfortable to read. And I think that’s why it’s taken me over two years to put them in writing. But I write them because I feel like they are a part of my story. In fact, I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I had to be the only one in that room with her.
Well, I thought I was the only one, but Brandon was there. And that’s where the story of our date in February comes back into play. I recounted the morning to him, as I’ve done a few times as if he were my therapist, and this was the first time I heard that he was in there with me.
My mom was ok with dying. She knew that she was close to meeting Jesus, and she wasn’t worried about death. Brandon told me that his dad felt similarly, but he said he was terrified to stand before God. I saw the anguish in Brandon’s eyes when he spoke these words, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what he meant. How could he be afraid to meet God? Why would he be scared of the hope that waits for believers?
I got up to go to the bathroom, in a complete daze and feeling like I’d been robbed of some sort of innocence, and angry that it didn’t make sense to me. God is supposed to be merciful. Loving. Majestic. Good. Not scary. We shouldn’t be afraid to meet Him face to face.
Months went by and I wrestled with this realization. It kept me awake at night, and I feared death, I feared God, and I pushed the thought from my mind whenever it reared its ugly head. I was scared to ask Brandon to elaborate on it, because I knew I wouldn’t like what he had to say.
I’ve said multiple times that I knew that it was necessary for me to see my mom die. Up until that point, I’d never lost anyone close to me. My biggest fear as a child was losing someone close to me. I remember one summer in particular, I was probably eight or nine, I wouldn’t even leave my mom for fear that she would die while I was gone.
A little less than 20 years later, when that fear became a reality, I was okay. It sounds weird. And maybe I’ll write more about that at a later time, but this is about something different. This is about the first time in my life that I truly saw my faith carry me through the hardest thing I’d faced. This is to share that my walk with Jesus was so superficial and almost meaningless before this moment and the moments that followed.
Watching my mom suffer and die was unparalleled to Jesus’ death, but in hindsight, it was the closest I’ve ever been to understanding the agony of His death. I know, I know, it seems silly to even put the two in the same category. But death was something I’d never experienced. And when it actually happened to me, I saw mercy and grace and the love of Jesus executed more perfectly in those few days than I had in my entire life.
Last night I sat in the living room after Brandon had gone to bed, reading my Bible. I was just about to shut it and go to bed when I saw a scripture that nearly made my heart stop.
for our God is a consuming fire. -Hebrews 12:29
There it was again. Words that I didn’t want to see, and something that I truly could not understand. I resisted the urge to close it and forget the words I’d just read, and instead searched for commentary on it.
I read, and I searched, and I found different scriptures. I sat there for a while and came to realize something that I’d been resisting for months. If there were ever a time that I truly felt the presence of God, it was in this moment. I wept. I prayed. I thanked God for showing Himself to me so vividly.
This was the first time that I experienced true fear of the Lord. It was so clear. It felt as if I were seeing Jesus for the first time. God is to be feared. He is a God of wrath, and a God of vengeance, and a God that deserves to be revered. He is holy. He is powerful. And he is God. That isn’t sweet and tender, as we like to believe. That is absolutely terrifying. But the peace that overwhelmed me in that moment is something I can’t even begin to describe.
Growing up I’d heard the scripture that I’m sure you’ve heard too- “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and each time it was explained the same way: not literal fear but more of a reverence. But that’s not biblical.
Stay with me here. I know that it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me to write, because I am so far from a Biblical scholar (shocking, right?) and I don’t want to say the wrong thing. But I’m going to do my best to explain.
I walk a few miles each day. Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast, and sometimes I’ll walk in silence. I’ll take that time to pray, and I pray often for wisdom and discernment. If I’m being honest, it’s a superficial and lazy prayer. I pray these things, asking for God to show Himself to me in flashing letters and neon lights, but don’t look for Him where He can be found every time- His word.
I believe that Christians go through different “phases” of conversion. I’m not saying that properly, and I don’t know if it will make sense. But what I mean is that I think at different times we reach different milestones in our walk with the Lord. We experience different steps in our spiritual maturity.
Faith has been fairly easy for me for as long as I’ve known Jesus. It was even easier for me when my mom died. I never lost faith in Jesus, and never questioned why she had to die. Love comes naturally for me. I genuinely love people. But until my recent epiphany, I felt like there was a barrier between God and me. I felt like my walk with Jesus was missing something. And now it’s so clear to me what that was: fear of the Lord.
I think our culture is missing out on a part of God that is essential to truly knowing Him. The fact that he is holy. We want to share a Gospel that is easy on the ears, tied up in a cute little bow, that condenses God down to this soft being that just wants His children to be happy and content. We live in a world promoting self-love, a world that encourages us to seek happiness in possessions and material things, and we claim that God wants nothing but success and a fulfilled life for us. Oh man. We have it all wrong.
God is magnificent. He is to be revered. He is powerful, and all-knowing, and He demands praise. He is holy.
The Bible illustrates this phrase by saying that there are angels hovering around the throne of God whose purpose is to do one thing and one thing alone. Tend to His holiness. They are celestial beings, with multiple wings, and their only purpose is to cry over and over again “holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory.” Imagine angels that fly around proclaiming that for eternity. Our human minds can’t comprehend that. We can’t see the magnificence of His holiness.
And if we could? Well, we would have to hide our faces.
Take Isaiah, Habakkuk, Job, and many other prophets in the Bible. These men experienced the presence of God, and what does the Bible say about each of them? They were afraid. They were sick, literally ill, in the presence of God because not only did they see His majesty, but they realized how wretched they were. They didn’t run to hug Him. They didn’t stand in His presence, proud of all the wonderful and righteous deeds they’d done. They trembled. They hid their faces. They knew that standing before a sovereign God was the most terrifying thing they could ever experience.
Friend, I write these words because I think they are so necessary. I pray that this might lead you to understand just how great God is. Do I think this is a requirement for Christianity? Not exactly. I know that our human minds are incapable of fully understanding it. But I know in the marrow of my bones that understanding the fear of the Lord is an essential part of having an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. We are so quick to explain the Gospel that we take away the opportunity to let people truly understand how sinful and unrighteous they are. You cannot know the sheer majesty of God without fear. You cannot understand the power of the cross without fear.
It is hard to put yourself in a state of humility and vulnerability that leads to understanding the fear of the Lord. It’s scary, and it’s easier to just say that grace has us covered. But in doing so I believe we’re missing out on what it means to experience the fullness of joy that can only be found in Jesus. To fear God is to worship Him. Sitting in this chair brought me to the deepest, rawest form of worship that I have ever experienced in my entire life.
There is agony involved in true redemption. There is pain. There is turmoil. There is a wrestling with the fact that outside of Jesus, that redemption is impossible. For me, there were months and months of denial. I was scared to accept that God is more than just a merciful and loving God. It requires understanding that while God is absolutely a loving God, He is also to be deeply feared.
He is so loving that He had to let Jesus die. There has never been or ever will be a more perfect illustration of love. The wrath of God that should have been poured out on us was bought by the blood of Christ. The cross allows us to stand before God without any blame. The cross provided a way for us to enjoy the majesty of God with fear, reverence, and awe, without trembling or cowering. Because we are saved from the wrath of God through Jesus.
God doesn’t want us to cower in His presence and miss out on the peace and contentment that comes from knowing Him. Please don’t misunderstand me. As believers we should be done with a cowering fear that we might not be saved from death, but rather delight in fearing the Lord in a way that leads us to understand His majesty (Nehemiah 1:11)
What a gift to know God in a way that allows fear and peace to exist simultaneously. What a liberating and awe-inspiring understanding of the One who made you and me. And what an absolute blessing to be able to one day approach the throne of the Most High, knowing that through Jesus that debt is paid and you can stand without spot or blemish.
That is the absolute epitome of love, mercy, grace, and hope. That, sweet friend, is fear of the Lord.