Dedicated to the Glory of God
Ryan Clark Hastings
Pastoral Word in Remembrance of Ryan Clark Hastings
|Mercy. Mercy. A thousand and one
mercies to you from God our Comforter and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The presence of our Ryan’s absence is everywhere. "Pour out your hearts." Psalm 62 names our task today. "Pour out your hearts, O people, for God is our refuge." Our gathering today has been an outpouring of all that is within our hearts. We have spilled out our sorrow. The rivers have overflowed their banks with our grief.
We have slid over the slippery rocks of "what if," "what if." We have screamed into an echoing canyon of "if only", "if only," "if only."
Yes, dear family and friends, we have poured out our hearts… and we find that still, today, with the storms of sorrow still raging, we can proclaim together under the canopy of this bright day—God is our refuge. God’s steadfast love endures forever.
But let the record show… it was not supposed to be this way. Young men are not supposed to die… and especially young men so full of gift and promise. When the old die, they pack up so much of our past and take it with them. When the young die, they snatch away our future. And, oh, what a future Ryan had! He died with so much of the music he was meant to sing still within him.
As a young child, Ryan was a spinner of many tall tales. His remarkable imagination could take us on wild and daring journeys. His precocious language convinced us that he was the little professor housed temporarily in a 6-year-old body. We remember him as a 4-year-old going over to his grandma and saying—"Grandma, we need to talk." And he would put grandma on a small stool while he climbed into a big, wing-back chair with his feet barely touching the end of the cushion, and he would talk and talk and talk. I am sure that you have noticed by now that talking is a predominant gene in our family! With his language skills, we were certain Ryan would be a famous novelist or a great actor or a powerful politician someday.
Oh, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way! With his keen mind for facts and figures, he could retain astounding amounts of information. Unlike some of us who can talk on and on and say nothing, Ryan could talk on and on and say something. While other kids his age watched MTV, Ryan watched the History Channel. And he actually remembered events, places, names, and dates. Like his mother and dad and other relations in his life, he was already the budding teacher.
But, oh, it wasn’t supposed to be this way! As Ryan grew up, sometimes he was a loner, hovering on the edge of a group. But we were not fooled. Those big sable eyes were taking it all in. Nothing got past his deep gaze. He absorbed all the confusions and contradictions and questions of his life, and found creative ways to make sense of his world. He was a strong warrior, just like his sister Sara, through all the burdens and challenges of his young life.
Oh, but it was not supposed to be this way!
Ryan was our mischief-maker. As a small child, he had bouncy curly hair, giant gorgeous eyes, and a mischievous smile. Remember how he could cut his eyes to the side, and give us that unforgettable slightly, crooked smile? And you knew the wheels were turning in his head. And he would hold that pose until we all got the joke and laughed and laughed. We were convinced he had a circus going on in his head all the time. His dry wit and zany zingers never failed to crack us up.
Oh, it was not supposed to be this way. He was already a leader—named to the Congressional Youth Leadership Council and just a few weeks ago attending the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C.
His great skills with language and his natural ability to argue about most anything made him an excellent debater. He was already winning in the top ten in competitions and his debate teacher said he was "incredible." He was on his way to the Naval Academy. We were supposed to be gathered at his graduation, seeing his tall, handsome self in his naval uniform, saluting, and marching off to a life in service.
As one neighbor observed, Ryan already had caught the family’s "service heart." Ryan was already passionate and committed to giving his life in service to his country. His deep convictions led him to vision his life in service to others. He wanted to do it right, get it right. He was curious and determined to find answers, and then he looked for an audience to share those answers. He wanted to win every game, every competition and every argument. He loved to play chess with Pops. We’re not sure Pops ever won!
He was competitive. He wanted to be taller than his dad…which, by the way, was not too hard to do. He wanted to be taller than his cousin, Trevor, which was going to take a little more time. This past summer Ryan threw himself into a daily attempt to beat his dad in tennis, which was going to take a little more time. But time ran out. The one competition Ryan never wanted or imagined winning was beating us in death.
But though he beat us to the grave, the finish line was not on a rain-soaked San Antonio road in the dark of night. A light went out on November 2, but Ryan met the dawn of a never-ending life in God’s love.
It was not God’s will that this tragedy of Ryan’s death happened. No. Never. Not our God.
Our God would never will for a car to slide into disaster in a horrible rainstorm with two vibrant teenagers. No. Never. Not our God.
God does not sit at a master control switch pushing buttons for tragedy. No. Never. Not out God.
Ryan’s death is a stark reminder that heaven has not come on earth. When the car swerved into death’s path, our God was the first to cry out, "Oh, no, not my beloved son, Ryan!" "Oh, no, not my dear one, Erin!" God’s heart was the first one to split open with sorrow. God’s arms were the first ones to reach the scene, scoop up his children, and embrace them in his everlasting arms.
Then, death’s messenger, Sister Sorrow, busted down the doors of our hearts and stormed into our chambers, unwelcome. In one moment, the world changed. Nothing will ever be the same. On Thursday night, hearts were broken into pieces with the news of Ryan’s death. Parents, step-parents, grandparents, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. Can these shattered pieces ever be mended?
Friends in Christ, we are here to say—the healing has begun. May there be no "closure" to this death. The shattering has left cracks in our hearts through which the mercies of God are flowing through. Seeping into the broken places is a love without end.
Love is the fountainhead of this sorrow. In this life, God does not save us from sorrow. In this life, God upholds us through the sorrow. God cannot take away the suffering of this world. God cannot spare us from cancer or car crashes or catastrophes. In the absence of our losses, God offers his presence. For God knows. God knows. God lost his only Son too. God enters the pain and suffering with us as a Loving Parent who knows the agony of our grief. God knows. This One who is the lover of our souls knows.
God’s presence has walked through the front door with hugs and tears from friends and family. God’s presence has been served on platters of food and vases of flowers and calls and notes from caring friends. God’s presence has been felt in stories told and laughter shared and pictures held. God’s presence has sustained us through hard decisions, tense times, and utter confusion. God’s presence has been known in companions on this rugged journey—those who are carrying the hope for us until we can carry it again ourselves.
God’s presence has hovered around us all with blessed assurance… with the blessed assurance that Ryan knew he was loved. Oh, how he was loved! "We have already crossed from death to life because we love one another. (1 John 3:14)
We have the blessed assurance that Ryan is with God.
We have the blessed assurance that we will meet again on that distant shore.
We have the blessed assurance that death is not the final word. Resurrection new life in Christ is God’s promise. We lean into this hope with all that is within us.
Ryan was promise, but let us never forget—he has always been gift, as all of our children are gift. God, in God’s great mercy, granted us 16 years to walk this earth with Ryan.
Helen Keller said: "What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us."
My dear, dear family, now we do not fully understand what Ryan’s leaving this earth will mean to us. But we can know with gratitude that God gave us Ryan to make our lives richer and deeper and funnier and more magnificent.
May the memories stay strong and the stories of our life together enrich our days. May our love for each other grow stronger. May we cherish the short time we have on this earth, "gladdening the hearts" of those who travel the way with us. May we be quick to love and make haste to be merciful. May we remember how good it once was when we were all together… united by a merciful spirit… struck by how our ever-so-imperfect love could be made so perfect.
And may we walk from this place this day in God’s peace, "convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
Let us lean into this hope.
Nancy Hastings Sehested