Finding Purpose in Loss
After George Barron's father was killed in a tragic accident when he was in fifth grade, he went through a season of questioning. Over the years, his mother's steadfast example helped him find purpose in loss. In this article from our series on The Gift of Empathy, he shares part of that journey.
It was early November when my fifth grade teacher asked our class to write about what we were most thankful for. Thanksgiving was coming, and she was priming our hearts for an attitude of gratitude. I remember it like it was yesterday. The opening sentence of my paper read, “I am thankful for my three brothers and my mom and dad.” Little did I know, in less than twenty-four hours my life would be changed forever.
That evening, as my family took part in our usual game night, one of the best players was missing. It grew late and my mother granted us boys one last game before bedtime. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. On the other side was a message that would shatter our family. My mother’s world came crashing down when she received the news that her husband of thirteen years and the father of her four young boys was tragically killed earlier that night, the victim of a hit-and-run driver.
Determination during Difficulty
Though the grief weighed heavily on our family, my mother knew she had to be strong for her boys. Over the years, she helped us become good men, carefully molding in us the strength of character my father had possessed. She challenged us academically by requiring us to read books and write about what we’d read. And she made sure we were active in sports because she believed being part of a team taught discipline and how to deal with adversity.
But perhaps the most important way she challenged us was in our faith. My mother lived by the phrase, “A family that prays together, stays together.” Every morning before school, my brothers and I prayed together, even though it often felt as if our prayers were falling on deaf ears. We thanked God for electricity, and the lights were shut off. We thanked God for water, and in a few days, the water would be shut off. One year our family went almost the entire summer without running water. My football coaches thought it was my commitment to the team that kept me consistent in my early morning workouts. In reality it was the promise of a hot shower afterwards.
I began to question if God was real. And if he was, I thought, he must be cruel and unkind. Why would he take a good man like my father when my family needed him so? I wondered if God took my father away as a punishment of some sort. But my mother was unwavering in her faith. She continued to take us to church every Tuesday night for Bible study, Thursday nights for choir rehearsal, Friday night services, and two services on Sundays.
Though my father was deeply missed, my mother was determined to honor his memory by leading us well. Many times her commitment meant working more than one job to support the family. Her work often included the morning shift as a childcare provider and an evening shift as a retail sales associate. When that wasn’t enough, she turned to social service agencies such as The Salvation Army to assist with putting food on the table, presents under the Christmas tree, and coats on our backs to keep us warm throughout the winter.
After many years of hard work and support from my mother, I was accepted into a university where I had the opportunity to play football and study public relations. During the spring semester of my freshman year, one of my coaches took a special interest in me. What I didn’t know was that he was a believer and part of a group called FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). One day during our one-on-one player/coach meeting, after I shared about some of the challenges I faced at home, he asked me if I wanted to attend an FCA meeting. My involvement in this organization strengthened my faith and challenged me to make Christ the number one priority in my life and ruler over all things.
Later that year, I decided to challenge my mom to further her education. For so many years she had put her life on hold to take care of the family. It was our turn to support her. This apprehensive yet optimistic forty-four-year-old mother of four boys accepted the challenge. Through dedication and determination, she received her undergraduate degree in human services at the age of fifty-two.
Purpose in Loss
Looking back over my life, I realize Christ was shaping me into the man I am today. I’m honored to serve as the major gifts officer for the Coalition for Christian Outreach—a college campus ministry dedicated to changing the lives of students so that they may change the world.
Every hardship I faced as a growing boy and young man uniquely prepared me for the work I do today. The losses and challenges I faced have given me empathy and insight into many of the lives I’ve been blessed to work with.
I still look back on that fateful night when I lost my father with sadness for the boy I was, but my sadness has been given a purpose. Through faith, I understand now what Romans 8:28 means. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Today, if you ask me what it is I am most thankful for, I will still say, “I am thankful for my three brothers and my mom and dad.”