This is for the 1%. And everyone who loved them.
Dear One Percent,
You were some of the best people we’ve ever known. You were our fathers, our mothers, our sisters, brothers and friends. This world is not the same without you. We feel the hole, the chasm of your absense, everyday. We can’t wrap our mind or hearts around a life without you, but we’re trying. When you got sick, we begged God to save your life. We worshipped in faith, and prayed for a miracle. We wept on the floor until the carpet was wet with our tears. We rallied an army to pray for you. We begged everyone we knew. In the end, we held your hands, wanting to keep you. We stayed by your side, and cried behind our masks, not able to fathom what was happening. We didn’t want to say good-bye. Many of us, weren’t even allowed.
And we still feel it. This chasm. The words we wanted to say to you, before you left for heaven.
Sometimes, we dream about you. That your fight isn’t over, and we are able to do something. That you’re still with us somehow. Sometimes, in our dreams, you’re alive. You’re made new. You aren’t sick. And we can’t contain our joy or stop hugging you. In our dreams.
When we wake up, we remember, and wish it was a dream. Losing you. We shake our heads in disbelief. And the tears come. Where did you go?
“Why did he have to die, Mom?” my 8-year-old daughter Selah asked me, her green eyes full of tears.
“I don’t know,” I whisper. And I hug her. I hold her and think about Harold, my father-in-law we lost unexpectedly last year. As I hold her, I look up and see the giant life-sized picture she drew of him taped to her wall, and the banner that says, “Grandpa” hanging above her window, and the tears roll down my cheeks and into her blonde hair. I don’t know how to explain to her why her vibrant, funny, joyful Grandpa died.
Some nights before bed, she gets out all the little trinkets he gave her and spreads them across her pillow. The painted finch, and the little soapstone jewlery box, the loom-band bracelet she made him while he was in the hospital, and the fox stone. And then, she looks up at me with a face so sad, it almost takes my breath away.
I can’t take the pain away.
All I can do, is sit with her in it, as we sit on her bed.
“I miss him, too,” I whisper. Our tears run together as we embrace. Sometimes, there just aren’t words. There are just sobs, and trying to get your breath back.
If you’ve lost someone to COVID, I want you to know: I know how it feels. And I’m so sorry.
I’m so sorry you lost such a treasure.
And it’s okay to cry. Because when you feel a grief as violent as this, it’s only because you truly loved. And were truly loved in return. And you never imagined losing them–like this.
I just want to crouch down with you here in your pain. I want to wrap my arms around you, and cry with you. The way I do with my own daughter. Perhaps in seeing my tears, you will be comforted in yours.
And I’m thinking of you tonight, as we head into possibly the first holiday season without them. And I know nothing feels the same. Here where I live, it’s cold and raining. The yard is full of wet leaves and muck. The sky gets dark early, and sometimes it feels like this darkness will not lift.
Though I can’t know your exact pain, the grief of losing someone to COVID is unique in that it’s completely unexpected. It’s so fast. You didn’t get to say goodbye. And their cause of death is a controversial talking point for all of society. One you have to hear about every day.
More so, not many people know what you’re feeling. Because there is a “99% survival rate”, and COVID “only” affects 1% of the population. You will feel like an outsider at times. When other families are in tact, and all recovered from this illness, you might wonder, “Why couldn’t he live? Why did he have to die? Why did all these people survive? But he didn’t?” It’s here in this pain I want to speak to you.
Though you are grieving, you are still going to frequently hear people say, and post, and comment on Facebook, that, “COVID has a 99% survival rate!” And, “It only affects 1% of the population!” I’ll admit that I used to find comfort in this. Until, I finally did the math.
Think of 100 people you know, and imagine one of them dying. That’s not a comforting thought at all, that’s horrific. And it’s playing odds. It’s not the heart of God, or the gospel.
On the contrary, Jesus shared some strikingly similar statistics in his “Parable of the Lost Sheep.” I remember reading this shortly after we lost my beloved father-in-law last January, and reading it through the lense of grief, I saw something I hadn’t before. It says:
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then he told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:1-7 ESV (emphasis mine)
In this parable, 99 are fine. But 1 is not making it.
This parable would be grossly misread if we took it to mean some kind of “Faith over fear!” mantra. “Look!” we could say. “The odds are in our favor! Chances are we’ll be in the 99, not the 1 who wandered off.”
But Jesus was not sharing this parable to play the odds, or give us comfort in them. Quite the opposite. Rather, He’s showing His own heart for the lost. He’s baring His own grief and compassion for the one whom doesn’t have the odds in their favor.
And here we find a deep comfort.
Jesus goes after the one sheep that is lost.
He doesn’t just throw up his hands and say, “Well, the 99 are doing fine!”
No, like a father searching for his own lost child, he goes out looking for it. Searching. Tearing through the fields. Peering into the deep clefts of the rock. Injuring himself as he climbs down to rescue it.
The heart of Jesus breaks for the one that is lost.
And the heart of Jesus breaks for the 1%.
I find comfort here. Because I know that 99% of people don’t know how it feels to lose someone to COVID.
But 1% do.
And they are worth saving.
The God Who Goes After The 1%
If you lost someone to COVID, I want you to know that the very heart of Jesus is in anguish with you. He will never see your loved one as a mere 1%, or a statistic. He will only ever see them rightly, as the treasure they are, loved and created in the image of God.
He takes ownership of his sheep, and cares deeply about every single one. His heart aches for the one, in such a way, that he rises to action to go seek out and save it. Jesus’ heart is for the one percent. He weeps and cries with you when you lose someone to COVID.
And He has solidarity with you in your loss. And you are not alone in your grief. He, himself, joins you in it. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
He knows your grief, and feels it in His very heart. “He was despised and rejected by men a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3a) And, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:4a)
Jesus can sit with sufferers because during Jesus’ time on earth he was not treated well, he suffered, and was afflicted. He knows sorrow and pain more deeply than any of us, and yet was without sin. He knew a grief so great that as he suffered on the cross with nails pierced into his flesh, and a crown of thorns pressed deeply into his skin, he cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV)
Maybe you’ve echoed these same words as you waited in a waiting room, or as your hands gripped the steering wheel, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you have, you’re not alone. Jesus knows this feeling even more fully than we do.
He comforts you in your sorrow. He is with you in your pain. But he does something even more. He rises to action. Jesus goes after the one percent.
And He alone saves them. He alone can.
He doesn’t go after the one percent, though, in any of the ways we’ve seen people around us do it. He doesn’t yell at the 99 for letting one escape. He doesn’t lock the one who escaped in sheep prison. Nor does he throw up his hands and say that the one who wandered off should have known better! No.
His ways are not like ours at all.
Because he is not a sheep, He is the Shepherd.
More than that, He is the Good Shepherd.
And this is very important.
He goes after the one percent by laying down his life for the sheep. (John 10)
He suffered, so we don’t ultimately have to. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all of our sin and shame, and paid the penalty we deserved.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”(Isaiah 53:5)
By his wounds, we are forgiven.
Why does this give me hope after losing someone to COVID?
Because while there is still pain, and suffering, and great heartache in this life, Jesus’ death and resurrection made a way for us to be forgiven for eternity. He made a way for us.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
This gives me hope, and I can grieve with hope. Because while I weep with my daughter over her Grandpa, we can know that because he loved Jesus and was forgiven by Jesus, he has everlasting life. Though he died, he is not yet dead. He is alive in heaven with God, enjoying everlasting life.
We can have hope because our God did not leave us to perish. But sent His only Son for us.
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32
We have a God who sent His only Son to save us. That though we die of COVID, or cancer, or a car crash, we can have eternal life in Him.
We don’t have to worry about playing odds.
John Piper says, “not to put our trust in odds, but in God.”
And God in His rich mercy sent Jesus. He was sent not for the healthy, but the sick. He was sent not for the righteous, but the sinners.
And that’s all of us.
I’m sharing this with you because, right at the very moment you are reading this: Jesus is still going after the one percent.
This is perhaps the most important thing of all.
Because, if you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, if you haven’t received His forgiveness for your sin, perhaps today is the day you see Him. Maybe you are just like that lost sheep, and thought you had to climb out of this ravine yourself. But your legs are broken, and you can’t. Your heart is broken, and you can’t. And today, you finally see that you don’t have to run toward Him. Because He is running toward you. The Good Shepherd, Jesus, is climbing down into that rocky ravine to lift you out, to carry you on his shoulders, and to proclaim, “I have found my lost sheep!”
Will you let Him rescue you?
Because 99 people will scroll past this article. But if there is 1. Even if there is 1 who is reading this, who Jesus is calling to come to Him, I pray that you will respond to Him tonight.
Because He said, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7
All of heaven rejoices over the sinner who repents and turns toward God!
And His heart is sprinting and bounding toward the one who is lost.
The one who is sick.
The one who is desperate for a Savior.
He leaves the 99, and goes after the 1.
He not only grieves with you, but lays His very life down for you.
He not only weeps with you in your loss, but He rises to action, to rescue you.
That He may one day turn your grief into glory. Forever.