Facing the Death of a Spouse with the Hope of the Gospel

By Ashley Stanley

Dear Dr. Keller,

In my husband’s passing, I have run into so many people that tell me they wished they would have told my husband what he meant to them. It has made me more aware of those who have had an impact on me. I wanted to reach out and let you know the impact you are having on me and the impact you had on my husband. My husband knew about your preaching and writing before I did and he read several of your books. They shaped his views of God and of marriage.

I really felt compelled to reach out after I listened to your sermon, “Marriage as Friendship.” In the first five minutes of that sermon you shared about how your congregation had just lost a young person and it reminded you of a dear friend that passed in his early 30s leaving a wife and two kids–and that he was a man of enormous potential. I heard that and felt as if you were talking about my husband.

My husband, Thomas Stanley, went to live with Jesus September 28, 2019. He was struck by lightning one quarter of a mile from the finish of a 50k race. He leaves behind me and our three kids, ages two, four, and six. He worked for the Kansas Leadership Center and during his time there, a portion of his job was to work with faith communities to make progress on issues they care about. He applied what he knew from work to every church we were ever involved in. He cared deeply about seeing churches and people be more effective followers of Jesus. When I heard your sermon and what you described, not only in those first five minutes about your friend but also what a marriage as friendship looks like, I felt like you were talking about us.

In that sermon, you talk about a quote from D.L. Moody where he tells people that when they one day in the future read about his death in the paper, they should not believe it. Instead, he says, at that time he will be more alive than he has ever been. That is such a beautiful truth.

As I saw my husband at the funeral home, I was overcome with such a grief. But a beautiful thing happened. As I looked at him, it was as if a switch flipped and I knew for the first time in such a profound way that we are eternal beings. Our bodies are not, but our souls are. Just as we hope that when we ourselves die we will indeed have eternal life — and we count on it — I was able to look on my husband and truly know that what I saw was just his body. That he was indeed alive at that very moment.

Hearing your sermon further explained and put words to what I had been feeling. And when grief tries to take hold now, I have to slip on my eyes for eternity. And when I do that, I know so deeply that he is more alive than I am and that this life is just a breath.

What I have described is the work that God is helping me to do to process this pain. But I also believe he used your work to prepare me in advance for this as well. A whole series of things from February 2019 up until my husband’s accident, ranging from going to a new church to healing from past church wounds, happened to prepare me in advance for this.

…I was able to look on my husband and truly know that what I saw was just his body. That he was indeed alive at that very moment.

I believe the most significant preparation began in August after a past church acquaintance of ours was in a terrible car accident. The whole family was in the car, but the husband died leaving behind his wife and three kids. We barely knew them, but their story affected me so deeply. I started to feel depressed about it and finally I had to tell my husband that I wasn’t sure how to get out of it. In talking, it hit me that I needed to renew my mind and guard my heart in Christ. To dig deeper in him and surround myself with the things of Christ.

The next day, my husband sent a link to the sermon, “Befriending Grace.” Listening to that helped me to not give up on people, but to see the acorns of potential that each person has. I then listened to the next one in that series called “Forgiving Grace,” which helped me to better know how to forgive. Both of these sermons further carried on the work God began in me in the previous months to cleanse my heart of anger and bitterness that had taken root. All of those sermons put my mind back on God and and helped me to see people as I should.

Working on forgiveness allowed me to receive without bitterness after my husband’s accident. After his accident, people that had caused me pain from previous church experiences came around and I was able to receive them in true Christian fellowship rather than in bitterness. If God hadn’t begun that work, their help would have been near impossible to receive.

I was given a beautiful gift to be able to process the death of a spouse, with my spouse, only five weeks before I experienced it first hand. Colossians 3:1-2 talks about setting your heart and mind on things above. Your sermons helped me to do that. They became part of a process God was using to show me how to handle pain–dig deeper into God to learn more about him and draw near to him, setting your eyes on eternity and fixing your eyes on Jesus.

I know this is a long-winded way to say it, but thank you. Thank you for being faithful to Jesus and his calling on your life. In doing so, you have helped me know Jesus more and you have unknowingly helped prepare me for the toughest road I have ever walked.

The Stanley Family

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