In January, America was hit with the tragic news of the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and a few others. Regardless if you were into basketball or not, this news was tragic to hear of. To those who grew up watching Kobe, this news deeply affected them. I was never into basketball and those who know me know that I have no athletic bone in me, however this news hit me deeply, but on a different level.
On June 1st, 2015, my dad passed away. Therefore, at the news of Kobe, I was reminded of the tragic event that happened in my life. I couldn’t help but mourn at the news of Kobe’s death. If it was tough for those who didn’t know him personally, it must have been even harder for his family. I thought about Kobe’s family and how I understood the pain they were going through. The countless nights of looking through old photos and crying out in deep pain. Days of looking through my dad's personal belongings. Countless nights of watching all the videos on my phone, wishing I had more videos of my dad. The countless nights in prayer. Months of professional counseling due to the trauma and pain it gave me. All the pain I went through the day of my father’s passing and after it was all brought back at the news of Kobe. The hidden pain that I thought was unpacked was brought to light. I realized that I didn’t know how to unpack my pain. I felt hopeless and lost in my grief. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the death of a parent, it’s that life will never be the same. Sounds quite obvious, however I finally understood what this meant when my dad passed away. The dreams I’ve had as a little girl of walking down the aisle with my father will never happen. Dreams of my father witnessing the milestones in my life such as becoming a missionary and marriage will never happen. I realized during counseling that when my dad passed, because of the trauma and pain, my “protector” was stripped from me. My dad who will always protect me, who will not let anyone mess with his baby girl was no longer here. My mind was in constant fight or flight after this. I spent nineteen years with my dad and within the blink of an eye, my life changed completely. The death of a loved one changes you forever. Questions such as “how do I keep moving forward?” never felt so raw and real before. After hearing the news of Kobe, I spent the next three days wrestling with God. I spent those three days in deep despair and asking God the raw questions of my heart. I thought I was healing from this pain. I thought I could keep moving forward. I thought I was starting to feel set free from this grief. Then I found myself in the dark mourning and asking God to give me reasons to keep moving forward. In my intimate moments with God, I shared with Him my thoughts of how life is just so sad. We live; people die, and those left behind almost have no choice but to continue moving forward. When your loved one passes, your world stops, but everyone else’s just keeps going, so you almost have no choice but to keep going. I was so sad at the concept of life. At this point, it had been four and a half years since my dad passed and I felt like I was back to square one asking Jesus all the same questions I initially had.
In my devotion one day, I read 2 Samuel 7:12-13. “When your days are filled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” In this passage, God builds a house for David. David feels that he too should build a house for God to dwell in forever. However, God says to him that he’s not going to build one. Someone else, a son of His will do so. This son will come after and will reign forever. Israel then had their hope in a ruler who will come through the line of David. They put their hope in this ruler who would liberate them, set them free from all their oppression. They were looking forward to this promise. We then jump to Matthew 22:41-46, and here, Jesus asks the Pharisees about who the Christ is. They answer that he’s the son of David. Then Jesus replies, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?". The Pharisees did not know what else to say after this. The Pharisees aren’t necessarily wrong in their response to Jesus. Jesus did indeed come from the line of David. But here’s where it went wrong, the Pharisees wanted the kingdom that was to come and not the King himself. Jesus tells them that they’ve misplaced their hope. They’ve been looking forward to the promise of this ruler, this son from the line of David who would set them free from all their oppression, that they’ve forgotten about the King himself. They were trusting in the promise of God over God himself. They were looking forward to liberty and freedom in their pain and oppression, rather than looking forward to Christ. They wanted the liberation, but not the liberator.
In my moments of feeling hopeless, I realized that I too had placed my hope in the promises of God over God himself. In my moments of grief, what kept me going was the promise of being reunited with my dad one day. I’ve rejoiced at the fact that I will one day get to see my earthly father, which is a very good thing, but being reunited with my heavenly Father became secondary. I wanted the liberation from this grief and pain, but not the liberator. My earthly father became the end prize of my race. I’ve forgotten about the real prize, which is Christ. Seeing my dad again was never the prize. Getting to spend an eternity with Christ is my prize and He guides and comforts me even in the race and promises to always be with me. I’ve forgotten about putting my hope in Christ himself. I thought I tasted liberty in my grief by looking forward to this reunited promise with my father. I thought I was starting to see freedom in my pain. I thought I was healing from this pain, but I realized that I had misplaced hope.
Freedom in Christ is such a beautiful thing. Being liberated and set free from oppression, pain, anxiety, sin, our past, etc. is such a good thing. Look forward to this. However, do not forget about Christ himself. Love the promise keeper more so than you do His promises. Love the one who sets you free more than the freedom. This month marks five years and one month since my dad passed. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever heal from the deep pain. Ten years from now, I will probably still cry thinking about my dad. Milestones in my life will never be the same and even twenty years from now, I will still cry at the fact that he can’t be here to see how I’ve grown up. Should I never be fully liberated and set free from this grief here on earth, I still count it all joy that this trial produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3). Although I still might grieve, I no longer grieve hopelessly anymore. I’ve been learning to trust in God as my protector who was my protector to begin with. He may have given me an earthly father to mirror Him as protector and father for nineteen years only, but God will always be my protector. I may never be fully liberated and set free from this pain here on earth, but there is liberty and freedom now that I have true hope in Christ. My hope is now in someone who is everlasting and gives comfort in all seasons. My hope is in Christ who gives me reason and purpose to keep moving forward. I now no longer put my hope in the promise of reuniting with my earthly father, but rather spending eternity with my heavenly Father. I look forward to the day when I will be truly liberated and no longer mourning. I do still look forward to the day when I am reunited with my earthly father, however that is no longer where my hope rests upon. I look forward to the day when He will wipe away every tear and when death shall be no more and when there will be no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Revelation 21:4). I look forward to the day when I hear Him say, “well done my good and faithful servant” and get to worship Him all day long. Until then, I choose to keep running the race and look forward to the prize, which is spending eternity with Christ Jesus. Although there may be things in which we may never be freed from here on earth, Christ still sets us free. May we continue running the race with our eyes fixed on Christ who is our hope.
Chong Chang is the Missionary in Residence at City On A Hill Church in Warren, Michigan. She graduated from Crown College with her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with a concentration in Cross-Cultural Ministry. She is currently doing her Alliance Licensed Ministry Experience and hopes to be sent out to do missions by 2022. She enjoys traveling, hanging out at coffee shops, and meeting new people.