This article by Nicki Koziarz was originally published in the August 2018 issue of Mature Living.
What will it take for you at the end of your life to be able to say, “It is well with my soul”?
I’ve been thinking about those words from that old hymn a lot lately. Because a few months ago, at the age of just 62, my mom slipped into eternity with Jesus.
My mom, Luann, was a four-time survivor of breast cancer, so when those words came up again — “cancer … brain tumor … stage four” — I really thought she would beat it. Again. Because she always did.
But sometimes life isn’t fair. And no matter how hard we try, pray, believe, and trust, … things just don’t turn out the way we had hoped.
The doctors told us we had six months at best. And her timeline of declining was almost exactly as they had predicted. Slowly, each day as this incurable tumor spread, we lost her a little more. And a little more. And a little more.
We tried our best to make the most of those six months. Dance parties around her bed, birthday celebrations while she slept, movie marathons, and just being together. It was what she wanted. And it was what we all needed.
But on a very ordinary Friday morning, as the sun was shinning and all across the United States people were beginning their day, my mom was ending her last here on this earth.
I had been by her side around the clock those last few days she was with us — begging the Lord to give me that last moment with her here on this earth. I think I knew that would be the closest to Jesus I would ever get on this side of eternity. Being with her while she took her last breath. Transitioning from here to there. What an honor that would be.
But I wasn’t there when she took her last breath. My dad, her faithful husband of 42 years, was. And maybe that’s how it was supposed to be.
Honestly, I felt like God was so distant in that season. Every prayer I prayed seemed to go unanswered. And now that there’s been some time since her passing, I can see just how unwell my soul was becoming.
And as I watched others both close and far react to her passing, I noticed a few differences in reactions. Some were sad. Some were rejoicing she was no longer suffering. And some were angry. But ultimately, people just wanted things to be well with their souls and with her soul.
When I think about all the things in this life that have the potential to make our souls unwell, I often think about these two sisters in the Bible. Rachel and Leah. They were thrown into a very unfair marriage situation, tricked by their dad. (See Genesis 29.)
It was a lifetime of competition, comparison, and compromising words between these two sisters. And as Rachel was giving birth to her last son, it became the last day of her life here on this earth. But she left this baby and Jacob with a message wrapped in a name: “As she breathed her last — for she was dying — she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin” (Gen. 35:18, NIV).
That name Ben-Oni means “son of my sorrow.”
And one does not name a child something like that without a place of great pain in her soul. It wasn’t fair that she was dying. It wasn’t fair how this baby-marriage-battle between her and Leah had ruined their relationship. We never saw them make peace, and we never saw them stop striving.
But whatever the circumstances were, there was a great place of unwellness in her soul, reflected in this baby’s name.
But what I love about this story is the true ending of Rachel’s journey. She thought that was the ending. But it wasn’t.
Because Jacob listened to Rachel name their son. And then there’s a but: “But his father named him Benjamin” (v. 18).
The name Benjamin means “son of my right hand.”
And there is someone else who is described as being seated at the right hand of His Father: “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt. 26:64, ESV).
God took Him from that painful position on the cross and placed Him right next to Him in the highest place.
And I love that Jacob gave this baby this new name. A new meaning. A new hope.
No son of his would be defined as sorrow.
Sometimes when I think back on that incredibly long and difficult season of saying goodbye to my mom, I felt like it was a punishment. A season of sorrow. But as I was reading these words from Jacob, seeing him give this baby a new name, I felt this tugging in my heart.
At any point in each of our stories, we have the power to rename things. And I knew it was time to give my own season of sorrow a new name.
Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was unfair. And yes, I miss my mom so much.
She called me almost every Saturday morning to check in. And sometimes on Saturdays, I look at my phone just to see if I missed her call. But there are no more calls coming. And yes, that aches.
But what a privilege it was to have those six months with her. They were a gift tucked away in the hard. And even though in the midst of it all, it did feel like a punishment, today it feels like a privilege.
I don’t know what life looks like today for you. What’s been a season of sorrow, heartache, or feeling just broken. Loss is loss. No matter what.
Maybe today God wants to rename your situation. Not to try and wrap a pretty bow around life’s hard struggles, but to show us that through Jesus, there’s always a hope beyond what we can see today.
And God wants our souls to be well. Not perfect. But well.
Nicki Koziarz is a wife, mom, author, and speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and her husband own a fixer-upper farm just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, where they are raising their girls and a barnyard of misfit animals. Nicki speaks nationally at conferences and retreats. She is part of the First 5 writer team at Proverbs 31. Visit her website nickikoziarz.com to connect.