ART STORY: "I Shall Not Want" - Finding Meaning and Clarity in the Midst of Grief
In the middle of the night on March 1, 2017, I receive a text from my friend Stephanie, requesting me to call her in the morning. I figured something must be wrong so I called her right then. As we talked, the conversation unfolded into something I was not at all prepared for or expected to hear; “Brian Pugh was in a car accident and he died. Brian is dead.” Over the next few moments, all of the typical responses shot through my mind and heart; denial, shock, speechlessness and finally tears. During our conversation, we both shared how we were keenly aware that God had actually been preparing our Sunday night Small Group for his death through a book we all had just begun discussing together called, Imagine Heaven. The reality of God's loving kindness was not lost on either of us at that moment. Upon reflection, I felt a sacredness surrounding us in that painful, middle-of-the-night conversation.
Over the next few hours after I hung up the phone, I simply did not know what to do with myself. I could not focus my thoughts on anything at all and sleep was completely out of the question. So, I decided to do something that helps me unwind, think and relax: I got in my car and drove around randomly for about two hours. During that time, I was mostly silent with bouts of bursting into tears or praying in the Spirit. Every once in awhile I would timidly call out, “Oh my friend, my friend…”. I couldn’t comprehend life without my dear friend whom I had only known for 4 years, yet it seemed like a lifetime.
Brian was a spiritual brother and father to me. He did not have pat answers for my complex and deep questions nor did he find my questions irrelevant and he didn't he roll his eyes at me (at least, not when it mattered). He was very intentional towards me, always listening attentively, asking clarifying question and sharing his unique and expansive brand of wisdom and insight on all aspect of faith, life, scriptures, philosophical thought and what it means to be a true follower of Jesus.
I could go on and on with the many ways his friendship impacted and shaped my life. But I want to share one specific thing. I remember often Brian would say that he felt that friendships and relationships were sacred things. So much so that he wouldn’t even move a block away from where he currently lived, unless God told him to, because of the impacted it could have on the sacred bonds of friendships and relationships that were being built in that specific place and time. Whether it was with a teacher or a postal worker or a waitress or a family member…. or a weekly Small Group friend. As a result, throughout our friendship I was often aware of this sacred, intentional exchange and offering of his friendship towards me. And I also experienced a sacred receiving of my friendship towards him. This view on friendship is one of the reasons he was an exceptional gift in my life. His sacred giving and receiving of friendship was very unique. It was very uncommon. It was very….Brian. I am thankful for the deeply gratifying privileged to have known him and to have shared in this rare and precious friendship.
After driving around for about two hours trying to process the loss of my friend, I got home and tried to sleep. But within a few moments, I knew that would be impossible. Yet I still didn’t know what to do with myself; I had no words nor any thoughts that I could harness or focus. Then I realized, a compulsion to paint was filling me. As I got out my painting supplies one of Brian’s favorite songs, I Shall Not Want, came to mind. I knew I had to spend time listening to the song while I was painting. Over the next hour or so I spent time worshiping God through my tears, singing in the Spirit, crying out in pain and releasing the grief out of my body through my hands and onto the canvas. I listened to the song many times and as the weeping left my body; my heart and mind (still muddled) experienced the Love of God surrounding me; cradling me in peaceful sorrow in the very midst of the very fresh, heart-severing loss of my friend.
I’d like to share lyrics to the song which meant so much to Brian:
I Shall Not Want
By Audrey Assad
From the love of my own comfort From the fear of having nothing From a life of worldly passions Deliver me O God From the need to be understood From the need to be accepted From the fear of being lonely Deliver me O God Deliver me O God And I shall not want, I shall not want When I taste Your goodness I shall not want When I taste Your goodness I shall not want From the fear of serving others From the fear of death or trial From the fear of humility Deliver me O God Deliver me O God And I shall not want, I shall not want When I taste Your goodness I shall not want No, I shall not want, I shall not want When I taste Your goodness I shall not want When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
This is the painting titled, I Shall Not Want, which was created during that painful yet beautiful night I began to say good-bye and let go of my friend and learn how to live with a “Brian shaped hole” in my heart as long as I remain here on earth. Over the days and weeks to follow as I continued the grieving process, I came to an important personal revelation in my heart. The truth is that my friend, who was a follower of Jesus on this earth, simply followed Jesus through death into eternal life. Which only means that Brian shed his earthly body and gained a new body which houses his spirit now. Brian did not stop existing; his spirit did not die, only his earthly body died. Because of Brian's faith in Jesus Christ, he is very much alive and it is Jesus Christ who make this a possibility for anyone. And Brian is also living in a real place; a real 'country' as scripture tells us in Hebrews, “a better country, a heavenly one.”
For awhile, I am separated from my friend who is now living in ‘another country, a better one’. And since I too, am a follower of Jesus Christ, when it is my time to die I will also follow Jesus through death (which is the only safe way to pass through death), into eternal life where I will also shed my earthly body and gain a new one...then I will be reunited with my friend, because we’ll no longer be in two different countries separated by the border called “death”. We’ll be in the same country! And we’ll be together with our Beloved Savior, Jesus! What a glorious homecoming and celebration party awaits all who will follow Jesus Christ!
‘Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die...’ John 11:25
‘All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.’ Hebrews 11:13-16
“When we really see Jesus' goodness, our hearts can't help but long to see His face.” - Brian Pugh