Grieving the Loss of my Spiritual Father
By Chuck Colson

Editor’s Note: We’ve been quarantined, locked down, and obliged to forego in-person worship. And like never before, we’ve come to see the hope of our faith in unexpected places. In a special section of our Summer issue, 10 of our brothers and sisters reflect on the thoughts that have come to their minds.  

Chuck Colson, pastor of Christ Church Mandarin in Jacksonville, Florida, shares here a lament over the loss of his friend and mentor, Tim Russell.

During the coronavirus crisis, God asked me to deepen my knowledge of the vocabulary and grammar of lament. On March 30, 2020, my beloved brother and spiritual father, Timothy Russell, died of complications from COVID-19. Tim’s death was unexpected, to say the least. Along with many others who cherished him, I was heartbroken.

With social distancing measures in effect, it was not possible to participate in the normal means of grief, such as attending a funeral. Given this, I sat down to write a lament. It was the constructive way for me to process my deep sense of loss, honor my friend, and express my heart to God. 

Lament doesn’t stifle our doubts, fears, or disappointments; it also doesn’t leave us in despair. Lament takes us to God, who in His mercy will fix all the chaos on one final day.

Laments, especially in the Psalms, are complex, involving elements of honesty, grief, confession, trust, and thanksgiving. In the end, they join in the deep groanings of the Spirit as we await the great final day, crying out, “Come, Lord Jesus.” 

Below is the prayer I wrote. I hope you find it helpful as you process your own losses and grieve with me. 

Gracious Father,

Yesterday brought hard, troubling news to my soul. I was not prepared for the death of my spiritual father and beloved friend, Timothy Russell. His days were known to you from of old; I doubt not your wisdom or your care for him. Tim knew that all things, even death, belonged to him because he belonged to Jesus Christ. Today, he joins angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, in joyous festival as they await the great final day.  

That said, I grieve the loss of my brother with whom I’ve shared friendship for many good years. Through trials and troubles, fears and failures, successes and setbacks, Tim was present to cheer, guide, and challenge. Years ago, he pledged his love: “I promise to hug you around the neck and knee you in the groin.” With diligence, he kept this vow. He was steadfast, wise, faithful, and true. 

I grieve that I’ll not hear his commanding voice greet me by phone. Each call began: “This is the servant of the servant of the Lord.” It was an unalloyed pleasure to share in conversation with him throughout each week. The Psalms were constant companions in our conversations. I’ll miss his laughter and his stories, his wisdom and his wit. These were the gifts of friendship he shared.

I grieve that his upcoming visit for the dedication of our sanctuary will not be. With our commitments to ministry, opportunities to see one another were difficult to find. But the deep waters of last year opened the door for a visit — it was a gift. Then, in an unexpected turn, schedules allowed for him to return this spring. I felt like a thief, enjoying plunder undeserved. We were to have leisure to pray and to talk about the kids, my studies, and our hopes for the future. My heart is broken not to see him again. 

How long, O Lord? How long must the sorrow of death cast its shadow over us? Remember the tears of your servants. Arise, and return, my God; end all our sorrows. 

Have mercy, O God; have mercy. 

However, in my grief, it is good and right to give you thanks for your mercies. With each day, they are ever new. Even in times of trouble, you are the same faithful God — yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

I am grateful for the life of my friend. Before the foundations of the world, you set your affections upon him in Jesus Christ, singling him out for adoption as a son. By your Spirit, you turned him from self, freeing him to turn to Jesus in faith. Tim comprehended a measure of your great love made known in Jesus Christ. He, then, translated that into love for those in his care. From him, I learned a measure of what it means to care for others and, even more so, a measure of what it means to be loved by you. Thank you for allowing our lives to intersect. It was a privilege. 

Thank you for the gift of Tim’s wisdom and insight. These do not perish; they will continue in the hearts and minds of those fortunate enough to have received them. May they be passed to another generation. 

Thank you for his willingness to walk with me, explaining patiently the painful scars of injustice and racism in our world. He sought to cross the divide, erasing the hostility erected by humans. He comprehended that your Son broke down the wall of hostility, reconciling people from every tribe and tongue and nation to God. Yes, that is the Jesus he knew! He was courageous and vulnerable in those conversations. I will be forever grateful for his willingness to wade into that water. 

And, thank you for his hope! Even though we poked at one another about how you intend to wrap up this broken age, his hope for the world to come was infectious. He understood that you would undo the wrongs of this world, ending the long, sad saga of Adam’s shame. He knew, with certainty, that our Lord Jesus would return with the city of Zion. On that day, sin’s stain will be removed, dead bodies will be raised, death will be destroyed, and you will once again dwell with your people, stooping to wipe every tear from our eyes. Yes, all things will be made new. Father, you taught him this hope; let it be our peace. 

Even though my heart is swollen with grief today, it also swells with gratitude. I lift up my heart to you, O God; be not far from me in my distress. Bottle up my tears; replace them with shouts of joy. Grant me to grieve in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

I miss my friend. However, I am learning that lament doesn’t stifle our doubts, fears, or disappointments; it also doesn’t leave us in despair. Lament takes us to God, who in His mercy will fix all the chaos on one final day, stooping to wipe the tears from our eyes. Yes, all things will be made new. 

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Chuck Colson is pastor of Christ Church Mandarin in Jacksonville, Florida.

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