Our kids grew up deeply loved and loving deeply. It is their true heritage. For my son Ben, his love and life were still young when his dad died, and as life has grown bigger, sometimes, so has his grief. Grief requires tender and consistent care with each stage of life, and when Ben became a young man, new losses sometimes reopened the old.
Such is the loyalty of grief.
Though Ben didn’t get as many years with his dad as Jennifer and Samuel, God’s kindness (in hindsight) was expressed to him in a more subtle gift, because by the time Ben came along, Bob had gotten pretty comfortable being the dad of a fragile, crying baby. He changed more diapers, cleaned up more barf, and many a night carried his baby boy up and down the hallway rhythmically singing, “Yaaah-yah … yaaaah-yah … yaaah-yah … ” until Ben fell asleep-most of the time.
When Ben grew big enough to tackle the canyons and hills surrounding our home, the two of them would hike together and share the sights, sounds, smells, and conversation that make up the heavenly stuff of father-and-son memories. Above all, he remembers learning to play soccer, because it was his dad who first taught him how. The world refers to it as the “Beautiful Game,” but for Ben, its beauty is really his boyhood connection to his dad.
Passion for the game followed Ben through the years. His hopes to play soccer in college were realized, but injuries and circumstances beyond his control prevented the culmination of dreams that had begun in our backyard so many years before. He wanted to play for his dad. He wanted to be excellent and honor him and persevered through four years of some unbearable conditions and crises to do so, but it was not to be. The captain of the soccer team grieved the loss of his last year of college soccer and, with it, his dad. His heart told him that letting go of soccer meant letting go of his dad, and he couldn’t see how doing such a thing was possible.
One night we sat together with worn spirits and bowed for comfort and direction. God spoke to us that night, and the vision He gave is one for the ages. A borderless room appeared to me, and it shone with gold. A large crucible sat in the middle of the room filled with liquid treasure. The one attending the gold’s purification process was familiar; it was Jesus. He smiled and ceremoniously skimmed the dross off the top of the gold with His own hand and told me the gold was Ben’s grief. Then He said, “He gets to keep it.” What Jesus skimmed off the top was the part of Ben’s grief that was serving no purpose anymore. The portion of grief that remained was Ben’s to keep, but it was time to purify his treasure. The Lord assured us that He would take care of the task Himself; Ben wouldn’t have to do it. He just needed to trust.
Refining metal with fire is one of the oldest methods known to humanity and is still in use today. Flames need to reach over 1,000 degrees Celsius for dross to rise to the top, but there is no loss in value to the remaining gold throughout the process, only increase in its worth and potential.
Dross is considered a contaminant and must be removed, or the value of the precious metal will be lost. To “refine” something literally means to free it and to improve it for the purpose of excellence. In Greek it translates “to be ignited.” Fittingly, the symbol for gold (Au) comes from a Latin word meaning “shining or glowing dawn,” because during the final stages of refining, the gold experiences what is called a “brightening.” This phenomenon occurs when the last impurities vanish, and the pure metal emits a bright flash of light.
The vision from that evening’s time of sorrow and prayer continues to teach. We don’t miss the dross at all. It is made up of useless waste and keeps a broken heart from healing. Leaving it behind has never seemed painful, nor does it induce more grief, because the Master’s hand does the work of it and sees to its completion.
My persevering friend, the only comfort you may have right now are the tears on your face; and when you look forward, the seeming endlessness of it all appears to hold no hope for the future. Passions and dreams may have ended in your backyard too, and memories may haunt instead of heal. But the compassionate flame of your Refiner will not leave you with riches that cannot be used. His love will not allow waste to tarnish your worth or potential. The treasure of your grief will remain to accomplish its purpose-but what is useless, what will not produce anything of value, what will contaminate your future, must be entrusted to the refining hand of Jesus.
You cannot separate the dross yourself; it is too difficult. But that’s okay. Everything is difficult right now, so one less thing to handle is a respite, a kind of healing in itself. The refining will continue throughout the life of your grief, but when it has been tried, you will come forth as gold.
Ben wanted to play soccer to honor his dad because he wanted to be excellent for him. In God’s providence, to be refined and live without the dross of grief means to be free, to be improved, and to be excellent. It looks like Ben’s dream did come true. No wonder Jesus was smiling.
But He knows the way that I take. [and He pays attention to it.]. When He has tried me, I will come forth as [refined] gold [pure and luminous]” (job 23:10 amp).