Right now friends are gathered at a church in Hermitage, Tenn., to celebrate the life and to support the family of Elijah Dunaway. I wish I could be across town with them, but alas the office keeps me busy. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Elijah just turned five on July 10 and, in His knowledge and wisdom, God allowed him to leave earth on July 20.
Elijah was a sweet boy. He loved the movie Cars like quite a few 3, 4, and 5-year-olds that I know do. A cowboy at heart? I got to paint his room, oh, a year or so ago, with the words “Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.” I believe the introduction his parents gave him to Jesus allows him to be His presence now, and perhaps to Elijah it looks cowboy-ish, where he sees something like “home on the range.”
It’s hard to understand or comprehend the death of a child. Though I’ve not had children of my own, I have enough important, dearly loved children around me to sympathize and grieve with Elijah’s family and friends. And the loss is sad and painful for me in relation to my friend Jeannette, Elijah’s mom. Loss hurts. Death hurts. The empty place left hurts.
I can honestly say, if I could have made a bargain with God to switch places with Elijah, I would have. I’ve lived 31+ years and have enjoyed life, though there are still things I’d like to see happen, but to give my life so he could see more, I’d do it. Besides, there are days I can’t wait to leave this mess of a world behind me.
It’s likely many of the same thoughts and questions would be posed for Elijah and myself, “A life was cut short. There were many things to look forward to. Why would God take that life away?” Any life of someone you love is precious, no matter the age. But day after day, people of all ages, races, shapes and sizes face this loss, face death. Some have faces we know, others are faceless and nameless to us, but it happens nonetheless. Most of us will not know when the bell will toll for us. It was a surprise to us last week with Elijah.
It’s all in the perspective, yes? I have to look at a larger picture. I believe that nothing surprises God. He lives outside our time limitations and sees the beginning and the end. Though he gives us free will to make choices in the middle, he has a multi-generational plan working through the ages in between (Ps. 33:11) that will not be foiled by man’s plans (Ps. 33:10, Pro. 19:21). He knows the plans that he has for his children, and since ultimately He wins in the end, the plans he has for his children, followers of Christ, lead to good. Evil and suffering and loss and death in this world are necessary because without them, we wouldn’t know what good and peace and hope and life are.
Am I sad about Elijah? Does it seem unfair? For sure. Why was Elijah taken now? Why only five years? God only knows. But I trust Him. God knows each life’s timeline and we’re not exactly privy to that information. God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die on a cross, at about 33 (less than two years away for me); why should my life’s timeline automatically be assumed to reach 80 or 90? Was Christ’s life cut short? Was He cut down in His prime? Was God surprised by that turn of events?
This loss still hurts because we live in a hurtful world with a space in each of us that longs for peace and eternity and fullness in God. We’ll only feel complete when we are fully satisfied in God, our Creator, in whose image we were created. When we are filled with Him, reflecting His image to the world, that’s the closest we are to knowing God and His presence and eternity – at least while we’re on this planet, in this lifetime.
I trust that God wouldn’t let anything happen beyond what I or Elijah’s family and friends could bear. I believe that Elijah is much better off now – trained in the knowledge of Christ thus far, he gains God’s presence in death. We take hope and find peace in that. And we realize once again how precious life is. But trusting that God has a bigger story unfolding in the world and we’re a part of it, some for longer, some for shorter spans of time, it means we need to each find our deepest satisfaction in Him as He works out His purpose for us now – each day taken with equal parts gladness and sobriety.
Romans 5:3-5, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
Elijah, you will be missed, but Little Man, we’ll see you soon.
Elijah Grady Dunaway
Age 5 of Mt. Juliet, TN. July 20, 2007. Survived by parents, Keith and Jeannette Dunaway; sister, Grace Dunaway; brother, Josiah Dunaway; grandparents, Bill and Carylon Pentecost; great-grandmother, Cletha (T.T.) Triplett; 9 uncles and 8 aunts.