Reflections on My Father
By Matthew Steven Bracey
This time of year we find ourselves between the cold of winter and the warmth of spring and summer. I appreciate the holiday season and how it directs our hearts—from Reformation Day to Thanksgiving to Christmas—but I also anticipate getting beyond it. The holidays bring to mind any number of things for different people. For me, they remind me of my late father. Shortly after celebrating his 68th birthday in December 2013, we learned he had cancer, which claimed his life the following October.
Consequently, the holidays bring a complex assortment of emotions: sorrow, pain, even anger, but also gratitude. Time has a way of maturing our thoughts. As I remember my father, two reflections come to mind: one of grief and one of celebration. My hope for this article is that it will encourage others through the trials they are experiencing or equip them for the trials they will experience one day.
God is a sure rock amid the storms of life. From the beginning, God did not intend for affliction and tears to characterize the world. Yet they do (no) thanks to man’s sin. Suffering is not the fault of God but rather of the race of man. Thankfully, God has elected not to leave us in our pits of despair but to offer us rescue from our despondency. He uses different means to comfort different people. For me, God impressed upon my mind one single proposition, over and again: He is good.
Comfort of the heart results from conviction of the mind. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, yet also all-benevolent, demonstrating goodness and kindness to those who find refuge in Him. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit…God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalms 34:18; 46:1; 147:3). I don’t know what solace the unbeliever finds during the deep cavities of life. But for me, the comfort of God gave me the courage to keep on keeping on. God is good.
During this period, I also learned timing makes a difference between words that help and words that hurt, words that build up and words that tear down. Yes, God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those He has called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). But the morning of a man’s funeral is not the best time to quotes these words to his son, who is in the midst of great emotional pain. The person who speaks true words at the wrong time, even sincere or biblical words, is like the person who plants a garden in the dead of winter (Matthew 13:1-23; Proverbs 27:14).
Timing is everything. What should you say to those in the throes of anguish? My experience suggests less is more. Most meaningful were those who shared in my sorrow without attempting to fix it but struggling with me through it: certain family members, friends, and (most of all) my wife.
I took comfort in the numerous hymns that testify to God’s consolation. The Apostle Paul explains one of the purposes of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs is for God’s children to teach one another the Word of Christ (Colossians 3:16). Yes, the truth of God is a word of redemption and hope and celebration and thanksgiving, but it’s also a word of comfort and encouragement and forgiveness amid grief and sadness, doubt and struggle.
More than any other song, God used “Be Still, My Soul” (Katharina von Schlegel) to minister to my broken spirit. Consider these comforting words:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: When dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: Thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away. 
When I think of the aftermath of my father’s death, I think first of the deep sense of loss that followed and the great comfort that God provided—by His Word, by people, and by songs.
A second reflection concerns food (perhaps unsurprising to those who know me well). Prior to one of our last holiday gatherings, my father said to me, “Rather than the typical ham or turkey, I want us to try something different this year.”
“Oh?! So what are we having?” I asked, eyebrows raised.
“Prime rib,” he exclaimed, with a wide smile stretched across his worn face. I was somewhat skeptical because, to my memory, he had never prepared prime rib. Still,
I was looking forward to it. (I typically get excited about food!)
Perhaps he tried a practice run or two. To this day, I don’t know whether that meal was his first attempt or a practiced one. Whatever the case, he prepared everything: prime rib, horseradish sauce, au jus, and the sundry sides of beans, bread, corn, potatoes, and other country fixings. And I must say, as my two sisters and I, and our families, gathered around my father for what would be one of our last holiday gatherings, we ate one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. And I mean that quite literally: succulent, delicious—glorious!
Today, when I think back to the house where I grew up, on a hill above the valley the old-timers called “Possum Trot,” I remember that meal. We visited, we ate, we laughed, and it was a wonderful, memorable occasion.
I later thought I would eat prime rib on the anniversary of his death in subsequent years to remember him and his kindness. I relented after a couple of years, partly because I found restaurant prime rib pales in comparison to my father’s.
Although that occasion was one of our last meals, it was not our final one. I think of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when the Church across space and time will gather around their Redeemer (Revelation 19:7-10; Matthew 22:1-14). Celebration, not sorrow, will characterize that day, for the new Heaven and new earth will know nothing of mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). I look forward to the day when my father and I will share in that meal.
As good as that prime rib was—and truly it was marvelous—it was but sawdust compared to what God has in store. C. S. Lewis captured this truth beautifully in The Last Battle:
Compared with those fruits, the freshest grapefruit you’ve ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry, and the most melting pear was hard and woody, and the sweetest wild strawberry was sour. And there were no seeds or stones, and no wasps. If you had once eaten that fruit, all the nicest things in this world would taste like medicines after it. 
When I think of my father, I think of the grief that followed his parting, but I also anticipate the celebration of our reunion. Again, consider the words of the hymn:
Be still, my soul: The hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
As creatures in a fallen world, we will experience the bitter cold and death of winter; and without God’s grace, it is, as Lewis described, “always winter but never Christmas.” But in the hands of the Lord of rescue, winter can become spring, and death can become life. “I am the resurrection and the life,” explained Jesus. “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Or as author George MacDonald once put it, “Death…is only more life.” 
About the Writer: Matthew Bracey and his wife Sarah live in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. They attend Sylvan Park FWB Church. Matthew serves as vice provost and as a faculty member at Welch College, teaching courses in history, law, theology, and interdisciplinary studies. He holds degrees from Cumberland School of Law (J.D.), Beeson Divinity School (M.T.S.), and Welch College (B.A., History, Biblical Studies). He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics Public Policy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
1 Two other excellent hymns include "Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (Charles Wesley) and “Jesus Friend of Sinners” (Chalres I. Junkin).
2 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: Harper Collins, 1984), 156-57.
3 George MacDonald, “The Golden Key” (1867), in The Complete Fairy Tales (New York: Penguin, 1999), 142.