A Sobering Moment: What Do We Do in the Face of Real Grief?

Those of you who are Wheaton friends are already aware of the sudden loss of 2011 alumnus Josiah Bubna on Saturday. For my non-Wheaton friends, Josiah was a year behind Jonathan and I at Wheaton, a big, strong guy who had grown up as a missionary kid in Africa and played on Wheaton’s football team.*

I am sure that some of you reading knew Josiah better than I did, and I won’t try to claim that this loss is greater for me than for any of you, but Josiah’s death has touched me in a profound way. While we in the Wheaton community have suffered several tragic and difficult losses in the last few years, this has been the one that has hit closest to home for me.

I worked with Josiah in the nursery at Blanchard Alliance Church. He was this huge, strong man with such a gentle heart. I can vividly picture the way he looked with a toddler up on his shoulders. His parents are missionaries supported by Blanchard Alliance and we often spoke of them and prayed for them in services. Josiah also often hung out in the office for the Wheaton Record where I was an editor. While we didn’t have the same group of close friends and didn’t hang out outside of our mutual activities, he was a familiar face to me and he was almost always smiling.

Beyond the grief I feel over the loss of someone I knew and the collective grief of our community, I have been overwhelmed by compassion for his fiancée. How do you go from planning your wedding and your future with someone one day to planning their funeral the next? I know that God is mighty to heal even this depth of hurt, but if I were her I don’t think my first reaction would be to turn to Him. If God had taken my fiancé or my husband now, I can’t honestly promise that I would respond with grace. I have been praying that God would give her a supernatural peace and surround her with people who can support her.

Jonathan wrote an article for Relevant magazine’s website recently that discussed the complexity of the problem of evil and how impossible- and even inappropriate- it is to give a simple answer to the question of why evil exists, or why bad things happen. It’s situations like these that really make you ask those questions. And it’s situations like these that leave you without answers other than  to accept the truth that Christ on the cross means that God is good, even – impossibly – in this.This has been sobering for me. It is an all-too concrete reminder of how little control we have over our lives and how none of us are promised a long one. Josiah was 22, but he did more with those years than many people do with 80. He played college football, got his degree, made many friends, helped in the nursery, moved to Japan to work with Samaritan’s Purse, fell in love, asked a beautiful woman to marry him and she said yes. He was a wonderful son and grandson and brother and friend. And even having lived so fully, it feels so wrong that he should just be gone. That a man who had that much to give should be taken. Beyond the sadness that I feel for his family and friends there is the grief of the wrongness of the whole situation and the deep conviction that things like this just shouldn’t happen.

I think it’s only right that we should feel this way. And I think that Jesus, too, felt this way. I am reminded of the famous story of Jesus weeping at Lazarus’ tomb. We use this story to point to Jesus’ compassion and his love for Lazarus and his sisters. But I think this is also instructive for us. I think that we forget sometimes that Jesus already knew the outcome of this situation. And not just on a grand universal scale. He not only knew that death would ultimately be defeated and that there would eventually be eternal glory. He also knew that in literally 5 minutes he was going raise Lazarus from the dead. So how could he get so worked up over this guy being dead? I think it’s this exact feeling we have when things like Josiah’s death occur. We are wracked with grief because the world is not as it should be. Our hearts are torn because, even though we have the hope of eternity, in the present things are broken. I think Jesus shows us by example that it is appropriate, even correct, to grieve for the brokenness of the present even as we hold the hope of the future. What is more horrific  in the present than the stark contrast of the way the world is now against the glorious way it was meant to be and will be in the future?

For me, this has also caused a lot of personal reflection about how I spend my time and what I am doing with my life. I have a lot of dreams. A lot of things I want to see and do in my life. When I express frustration with my job being something I don’t care about or with my present inability to pursue some of the things I want to, people often say to me, “But you’re only 24. You have your whole life to be able to do those things. Just because you can’t do them now doesn’t mean you’ll never do them. The things you don’t like about now are just a season. You won’t be in this same place forever.” I’ve always tried to see things that way. Not to live dissatisfied with where I am and always be looking for the next thing. But Josiah’s sudden death screams at me the opposite reality. That there is no guarantee. Perhaps today will be the end of my “entire life.” Perhaps today is all that I have. How can I know that this isn’t, in fact, my final season.

I don’t think the answer to this is fear, and I am trying not to respond in that way. But I do feel deeply convicted that I want to spend as many days as I can doing things that matter to me and that matter in eternity. I can’t spend any more time doing things that aren’t life-giving. I’ve been in my current job for almost a year. That’s over 2,000 hours I’ve spent doing something that holds little value or joy for me. I don’t want to spend my next 2,000 hours this way. Whether that means finding a job that’s more fulfilling in itself or simply finding a job that will give me more time and energy to invest in the things and the people I do care about.

I would ask all of you to sincerely join me in praying for Josiah’s family and especially his fiancée. I would also challenge you to consider, as I am, the reality of how fragile and fleeting our lives are and the importance of how we spend them. Josiah knew Christ and he loved and served people. It was apparent, even to those of us who didn’t know him that well. I want to live that kind of life, every day, for as many days as I am given.

One day I hope I can truly look at this, and things like this and say, “O Grave, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” But today I am still feeling Death’s sting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

*I know for me, it’s painful to have to go through the details of what happened over and over much less write them down myself, so I’m just going to paste the official email from Wheaton here for anyone who doesn’t know the details.

It is with deep sorrow that we report to the Wheaton College community the sudden and unexpected death of Josiah Bubna, class of 2011, who died Saturday afternoon (July 7).

While exercising at the Wheaton College track, Josiah sat down to rest and then collapsed. He had been running with his fiancée, Rebekah Falcone. CPR was administered immediately at the scene before the arrival of paramedics. Josiah was transported by ambulance to Central DuPage Hospital where it was determined that he had not survived.

Josiah and Rebekah were in the midst of planning their wedding set for August 11. They had met a year ago in Japan where they were both serving with Samaritan’s Purse.

Josiah’s parents, Joel and Elin Bubna, and his sisters, Angele (age 15) and Nadia (age 13) were all in Wheaton preparing for the wedding. The Bubnas are a missionary family ministering in Senegal, Africa. Rebekah is from New York state.

Pastoral care for the Bubna family is being provided by the staff of the Blanchard Alliance Church. Visitation will be held on Wednesday, July 11, from 5—8 p.m. at Hultgren Funeral Home, 304 N. Main Street, Wheaton, IL. A memorial service will be held on Thursday, July 12, at 12 p.m. at the Blanchard Alliance Church at 1766 S. Blanchard Street, Wheaton, IL.

A complete obituary can be found at the Hultgren website.

Please uphold the Bubna family and Josiah’s fiancée, Rebekah, in your prayers in these very difficult days.

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8 comments

  1. Thank you for bringing Josiah’s life to those of us who did not otherwise have the privilege. His loved ones are in my prayers. Thank you too for being bold enough to remind me of the importance of every single moment.

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  2. I am Rebekah’s mom. She is pressing into the Lord for His comfort. She is very sad at Josiah’s death but knows that God’s plans are always good. She is a VERY strong Christian and has also been blessed with many faithful friends and four Christian siblings that are bonded to her tightly. There are always many things accomplished at once in God’s economy. We all need to walk with Him every day, listening for His voice, reading His word, which is a lamp unto our feet, and He will show us what’s next. There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother-and His name is Jesus. So very real! Who else can we turn to? She is now here with us to heal for a while and then hopes to return to working for Samaritan’s Purse.

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    1. Sandy,
      Thank you so much for this comment. I am so glad to hear that Rebekah has such a loving and supportive family and community to surround her. I’ve never met your daughter, but she sounds like an amazing woman. We continue to lift her up, as well as your family and Josiah’s family. I also believe that God’s plans are always good and I am so grateful to hear how God has been active in your lives through such a difficult situation. Grace and peace to you, Sandy. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. By the way, I liked your blog.post. I found it as I decided to see if there was any Wheaton area news about Josiah online. We are friendly, in case you ever need/want to talk about this. I see you already have taken steps towards change. Listen for God’s voice as you move forward; He has this wonderful Big Game of Timing and Connections. I love it. Declare divine favor over your life; it is a tangible quantity. We have 5 children in their 20’s and they have seen amazing doors open.

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  4. Hey Lily,

    Thank you for writing such a lovely note. I am the Rebekah in this blog post. I just wanted to praise God for His faithfulness. Four years later, it is well with my soul. God’s goodness never changes. I have felt His goodness tangibly in the valley.

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