By Billy Walker
I’ve started this article a couple of times and keep hoping the creative juices will flow a little easier with each new beginning.
See, since the last time I put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys) to share with you, my dad went home to be with Jesus.
Talk about a different Christmas, New Years, and all-around holiday experience. Exactly halfway between the beginning of December and Christmas, our family gathered at the house as paramedics worked to revive my dad. While he was gone by earthly standards, he was more alive than he’d ever been before.
The very next night, we hosted a special concert with Ernie Haase and Signature Sound—an evening made possible more because of my dad than anything else.
People were there when the doors opened, and a continual steady stream of people came to pay their last respects to my dad who had loved them, led them, inspired them, and encouraged them. It was truly a wonderful tribute.
To try to relate all that has happened in the past month would take far more room than I have the desire to write and much more than you have time to read.
But let me try to share a few life lessons that have come from processing the hurt, the hope, and the healing.
1. Remember to Give Thanks
Give thanks for the memories, give thanks for the lessons, and give thanks for the time spent with loved ones.
Can I admit something to you? I can find myself questioning, doubting, and even resenting God’s timing. But I endeavor to quickly eradicate that thinking and move into the lane of gratefulness.
Here’s something that may sound a bit crazy but has been a recurring theme for me: I’m actually thankful for the hurt!
If only because, in this case, the pain of losing my dad at this stage of life shed light on all we were enjoying by having him with us.
I’m keenly aware this isn’t the case for everyone. This moves me to have more sympathy and empathy with those not so fortunate in their parental relationships.
2. Remember to Cry
Just a couple of days after the funeral, my wife said she’d cried so much, there were no more tears left to shed. I concurred. But we’ve found many more tears in the arsenal.
I know there are some of you who might fit into the “never let ’em see you weep” category. However, that was not my dad, and it’s definitely not me.
Let grief happen. If it happens with tears, so be it.
And don’t be surprised at how that emotion can arise out of nowhere. Interestingly, I’ve had a hard time at the end of sermons. A message devoid of that type of emotion got the best of me as I was leaving the platform.
And that’s okay.
3. Remember to Let Them Go
There’ve been times (and I’m sure they’ll continue) where in my selfishness, I wish dad were still here.
I need him, even if it’s in a hospital bed or a rehab assistance center. I need to see him, hear his voice, get his advice, and know his love and encouragement.
During those times, it’s helpful to try to imagine what he’s doing, what he’s a part of, and Whom he’s worshiping. When heaven becomes more real to me, I love him too much to continue wishing he were still here.
December 28 was his birthday. To be honest, it was more difficult than Christmas Day. We’d always celebrated with him on his birthday to make sure it didn’t become part of another holiday.
What brought a smile to my face was that for the first time in 40 years, he’d celebrate with both of his parents. “Today, you will be with me in Paradise,” has never meant as much as it has in these past days.
4. Remember the Prince of Peace
Finally, but most importantly, there’s a peace that passes human understanding. This can only be truly understood when life is anything but peaceful.
The Sunday after his passing, I was continuing a series on “Unwrapping Christmas,” and the gift we were “opening” that day was peace.
The prophets promised peace, and peace on earth was delivered that first Christmas.
I don’t think it would have been wrong for me not to speak that Sunday. However, dad taught that ministry was far more important than entertainment. Therefore, if “the show must go on” in the entertainment industry, the ministry and the minister must go on.
But here’s the deal; with or without dad’s “stick with it” mentality, the only explanation for what happened that morning and throughout the days to come was a God-given peace that could only be experienced by those having a relationship with the Prince of Peace.
In Romans 12:18 Paul writes, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Dad understood the importance of that command. He lived at peace. He died at peace. Why? Because my dad knew the Prince of Peace, and his greatest desire was for others to know Jesus too.
At the end of so many of the messages my dad gave, he’d share John 1:12: “But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name.”
To God’s glory, dad spoke to well over a million people in his lifetime. He shook the hands of over 30,000 people who gave their lives to Jesus Christ. My dad prayed with hundreds of others who serve in ministry around the world.
He leaves a tremendous legacy and shoes too big to fill on my own.
My dad is my hero. The thing about our heroes is we think they’re invincible. I’m sure that’s one reason why this has been one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever experienced.
5. Remember the Father’s Love
There’s one more lesson my dad taught above and beyond everything else. My dad taught that as much as he loved me, I should know my heavenly Father loves me even more.
There are countless people who still need to experience that love. While they may not have the earthly experience I’ve been fortunate enough to have, they can know my Jesus!
By God’s grace, I’ll continue to share the good news until I see my dad again.
And so, I cling to this promise: Dad is with the Lord, and the Lord is with us. Someday, all God’s saints will be together again.
BILLY WALKER (@billyhwalker) is the pastor of Calvary Church in Southgate, Michigan. He’s vice president of the Billy Walker Evangelistic Association and is the president of the Pastor’s Conference for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.