While stationed at Fort Bragg with the Special Forces Group, Chaplain (COL) Blake Boatright suffered the greatest shock of his life.
He found the lifeless body of his 15-year old son, Reed. Reed suffered deep hurt and depression after a breakup with his girlfriend. As the pain prolonged itself, Reed lost all hope that he’d ever know happiness again. In one very dark moment, he committed suicide.
Chaplain Boatright’s heart-crushing discovery of his son’s body–and the events that followed–pushed his family to the breaking point. For, instead of finding consolation, this grieving family was forced to endure mandatory counseling, interrogations, “psychological autopsies,” and repeated invasions of their privacy. Chaplain Boatright’s most difficult moment came when he was called to the morgue to formally identify his son. A friend and fellow chaplain accompanied him to the Army hospital morgue. Now Chaplain Boatright had been in combat during Operation Desert Storm. He had seen many dead bodies in military body bags. But none of this could prepare him for watching his son wheeled out in a military body bag and unzipped in front of him. Chaplain Boatright turned away and wept. His friend embraced him as he cried inconsolably.
Facing the Grief
Chaplain Boatright gathered the strength to look upon his son’s face. Seminary training couldn’t prepare him for the breadth and depth of grief into which he plunged at that moment. He felt himself free-falling into an abyss of sorrow. Helplessly he spiraled downward, powerless to help himself. Then something miraculous happened. Chaplain Boatright felt the grasp of God, catching him and lifting him up from beneath. Immediately, the words of a survivor of the Nazi Death Camps, Corrie ten Boom, came to him, “There is no pit so deep but that God is deeper still.” “Even in my deepest grief and sorrow, God my Heavenly Father is here,” he thought.
Then another revelation burst upon Chaplain Boatright’s soul: “Surely the Heavenly Father knows what I am going through—He’s already been here. He knows grief through His own personal experience. His heart was rent and broken as He watched humanity abuse, torture, and murder His beloved Son.” That intense moment of suffering led to a divine encounter between Blake Boatright and his Heavenly Father. It was a face-to-face meeting that sustained his soul through the ocean of grief that awaited him.
During all the follow-on “forced help” and scrutiny from the Army, mental health professionals insisted that Chaplain Boatright’s calm demeanor was a sure sign of “denial.” But Chaplain Boatright was not in denial. He was never more in touch with reality. The reality was that Chaplain Boatright was being upheld in the hollow of God’s all-loving hand. Blake’s relationship with his Father would never be the same. Now he understood that his loving Heavenly Father knew exactly how he felt and that God suffered with him in his sorrow.
“In all our afflictions, He is afflicted,” wrote the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 63:9). “For we do not have a High Priest Who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who was tested in every way as we are, yet without sin,” says the Scripture (Hebrews 4:15). As the Scripture tells us, “Just as the afflictions of Christ are ours in abundance, so also is our comfort through Christ abundant” (2 Corinthians 1:5). In his most terrible sorrow, Blake Boatright felt God’s presence, power, and love in an amazing way.
Identifying with Others
And do you know what? God has used him in sharing this experience with many others to comfort them and bring healing to their broken hearts. Scripture has something to say about this. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Mercies and the God of all Comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort others in similar affliction with the very same comfort we received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
So do not fear the stormy times, the lean times, the times of sorrow, or the darkest of times. For in those afflictions you will experience God as never before. And the comfort, wisdom, and healing that you receive directly from God will not only breathe life and hope into your heart. They will equip you to do the same in the lives of others who are hurting and confused. And although you’d never want to endure the pain again, it will have so enriched your life. You will have drawn so near to God that you will eventually reconcile yourself to it. You’ll acknowledge God love, kindness, and wisdom through it all.
Dear Father in heaven, please meet with me as I trod the dark valleys. Please hold my hand as I pass through the deep waters. Through all my suffering, draw me closer to Your loving heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.