We give Thee but Thine own,William Walsham How, 1858
whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
a trust, O Lord, from Thee.
When we lived in Chicago, Rob and I attended a church that read 1 Chronicles 29:14 each week before the morning offering was received. “For all things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” After hearing it Sunday after Sunday, over time I memorized that verse. A fan of Shakespeare, I loved how the old fashioned “thees” and “thous” rolled off the tongue — a good and necessary reminder wrapped up in poetic language. Lest we forget, every penny we gave had come from God’s own pocket first. If we were tempted to hoard our earthly riches and claim them as our own, this verse reminded us of our true role as recipients, not owners. It called us to a life of open handedness.
To my surprise, Rob’s death has brought this verse into sharp focus in my life. While I don’t recall actively trying to hoard the riches of Rob’s life, I certainly fell into the habit of believing he belonged to me. After all, we were “one flesh” — we belonged deeply to one another. Yet Rob first and ultimately belonged to God. Before I ever knew him. Before he kicked and swirled inside his mother’s womb. Before time began, Rob’s life belonged to God. God assigned the measure of his days before one of them came to be. God called his name and knew him completely. Rob was beloved of his God, one for whom Christ had died.
The deep sorrow of Rob’s death reminds me that I have lost something — someone — dear to me. But I must be clear. I have not lost someone I owned. “For all things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” Through death, Rob returned to the One whose name is written on his forehead. He now enjoys the presence of the only One who truly could make the claim — “You are mine.” Knowing that Rob belonged to God doesn’t make his death hurt any less. But it does prompt me to review any instinct toward entitlement in my grief. It brings me face to face with my anger and frustration. It allows me to grieve rightly — as a grateful though sorrowful recipient, not an embittered owner.
It is incredibly difficult to live with an open hand in the face of death. Death provokes us to scratch and claw and grasp after what we have lost. We shout our claims at the open grave. We feel cheated, robbed of what we believe was rightfully ours. Death causes us to clutch, to cling to what we have. We see how quickly life can be snatched away, and we feel we must hold more tightly, hoard our remaining valuables.
Yet if we are willing to hear, God speaks to us in death, reminding us that all things — even people we love — are gifts from Him. When we placed Rob’s body in the ground, life compelled me to give the hardest offering I’ve ever had to give. I could shake my fists and rail in anger that God had taken what was mine. Or I could open my hands to see they held only air. I could no less own Rob’s life than I could prevent his death. He had never been mine to keep.
To remind me of this truth, I chose these words for Rob’s commendation at his memorial service. “Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.” I needed to remember that Rob belonged to God every moment that he lived. He was not mine. He was Christ’s own — redeemed, beloved, priceless. For all those who loved him, Rob was, as the old hymn says, “a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”
When I put my money into the offering plate each week, I willingly (or sometimes unwillingly) let it go, to be used in God’s great wisdom for His good purposes. I trust that the same thing happens when I, in sorrow, offer Rob to God. Each day I grieve, I must unclench my grasping fist, a good and necessary habit to stave off bitterness. And I must acknowledge that Rob’s life was first and foremost a gift to mine. Like the envelope I place into the plate, I can entrust my precious Rob back to the good care of the God to whom he rightfully belongs. In the face of death, I choose to live with open hands.