Can you imagine preaching the message at your own daughter’s memorial service? That thought for me is daunting and spine-chilling. What would you say? How would you say it? The most difficult message I ever gave was at the TD Banquet in ’08, four days after my “Mami’s” passing. It has since been useful to several others coping with the loss of a loved one. (Click here to listen)
Less than a year ago, RC Sproul, Jr. had the unenviable task of preaching at his precious special needs daughter’s memorial service. Jr. calls Shannon MacFarlane Sproul “the greatest theologian among all the Sprouls.” Like Keren is in many ways Eunice’s spiritual tutor, so was Shannon to Jr. I pray that you will read on, put yourself into Jr.’s shoes, and then watch in awe as I did, and let God strengthen your soul. – Arthur
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Shannon
It was always my contention, living with a special needs daughter who could be called home at any time, that it was not her health issues that determined when should go, but my spiritual health issues. When each seizure forced me to face her fragility, when each morning I checked first to see if she were breathing before trying to wake her, I comforted myself with this thought- God will not call Shannon home until Shannon is through with me. It was apparent rather early on in her life that she had a peculiar calling, that she was less the child I needed to teach, and more the child that needed to teach me. I was the student, she the master.
My mistake was in thinking that her being done with me and her home going would coincide. She is gone, but she is not done with me. She is still teaching me in her absence. She is teaching me how to deal with pain. Shannon’s seizures were not demure affairs. She fell to the ground. Her legs shook violently. Her upper body jerked back and forth. Her breathing became noisy and labored, and fruitless as her skin would begin to turn blue from lack of oxygen. It might last thirty seconds. It might last ten minutes. When it ended, however, it ended always the same- with deep, unshakable sleep. Immediately after being terrorized by her own body being utterly out of her control, immediately after the electrical waves in her brain became a violent thunderstorm, immediately after not being able to breath, she did not look to me for an explanation. She didn’t look in panic for a place of stability and sanity. Wherever she was, she just slept.
My home was convulsed nearly a year ago when my bride, the love of my life, went on to her reward. It was convulsed again six weeks ago when Shannon went on to join her. And I can’t sleep. For months the routine of caring for my wife was my sanity. For the months after she was gone, the habits of caring for my daughter were my sanity. Now they are both gone. And I have lessons to learn.
For Denise I could be grateful that she went on to a better world, that she would no longer suffer. For Shannon, ironically, I’m not so sure. Oh I am quite confident she is in the arms of her Lord. I’m certain she will have no more seizures. But the thing is, Shannon never felt the weight of her weaknesses. And Shannon had a faith that saw through the veil. She lived on earth as if it were heaven. She was so full of love, joyful, peaceful, so filled with patience and kindness, so good, so faithful, so gentle and so self-controlled that she bloomed, bore fruit in God’s own garden. When she woke up able to walk and speak, when she woke to feel our Lord’s hand on her head, it was no great change for her. She always felt His hand upon her. She always beheld His glory. The gap for Shannon between earth and heaven was just one small, unsteady step.
Which is just the lesson I need to learn. Neither my wife nor my daughter, though they are now a higher order of being, having been glorified, are far from me. My Lord is not with them in some distant dimension. Instead I am there with them, seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). I have been lifted up by His grace. Because He is with me, I make my bed not in Sheol, but in paradise. For wherever He is, there is my treasure. I will lay down and rest, for so He gives His beloved sleep (Psalm 127). And Shannon watches, to see if I breathe, as we both look forward to that day when I finally wake.
I pray you will take the time to watch the sermon I was blessed to preach at Shannon’s memorial service. My hope was to preach the grace of God in her life, and the grace of God through her in my life.
Joni and Friends also produced an award-winning TV episode featuring RC, Jr.’s family (both wife and Shannon have passed on since then). It’s a great episode. Here it is: