Almost a year ago, Monty Williams was fired as the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans two weeks after his team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs. Many thought he had done enough to keep the job, having just led his team to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Reporters asked Williams about the somewhat surprising firing. He responded by thanking the organization and the fans, and then gave a reason for the surprising hope that was in him:
God has always been in control of my life. . . . Romans 8:28 is in my heart. All things work out for people who are called by Jesus Christ. . . . God’s brought me through too much to complain and be bitter.
Nine short months later, now an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Monty Williams found out last week that his 44-year-old wife had been killed in a head-on car accident. The other driver was driving 92 mph (in a 40-miles-per-hour zone) when she crossed the center line and careened head-on into Ingrid Williams’s SUV. Three of their children were in the car with her; each survived with serious injuries.
A week later, Monty Williams stood over the body of his wife of twenty years and mother of their five children — Lael, Faith, Janna, Elijah, and Micah — and delivered a powerful seven-minute eulogy.
Having only been a husband for ten months now, I watched with heartache and admiration. He seems to embody the promise of Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” In the end, I took away three lessons from Williams’s faith-filled words and example.
1. In every situation and circumstance, even the most serious and tragic, the most important things we can know or say are about God and his gospel.
What we’ve gone through is pretty tough, and it’s hard, and we want an answer, and we don’t always get that answer when we want it, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that God loves us, and that’s what my wife [lived to], and that’s what I try to, however badly, exhibit on a daily basis. . . . He loved me so much that he sent his Son to die for my sins.
Do you have news good enough to hold you when tragedy strikes? Will you have a tear-filled song of victory to sing when a wave of sorrow crashes into your life? Have you known a Love stronger than the worst grief this world might bring?
Williams went on to say,
The Bible says Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. America teaches us to numb that, and [says] that it’s not true. But it is true. This will work out. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard or painful. What we need is the Lord.
This man appears to have walked with God such that when his wife was suddenly ripped away, he had the resources not only to suffer well, but to summon the world to his Savior. His grief doesn’t resound with self-pity or bitterness, but with strong and resilient hope and selfless compassion.
As he clings to his God and to the gospel, his loss declares and displays the power and the beauty of the cross.
2. Those who have been forgiven by God are free to forgive in full.
Everybody’s praying for me and my family, but let us not forget there were two people in this situation. And that family needs prayer as well. And we have no ill will toward that family. In my house, we have a sign that says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” We cannot serve the Lord if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness.
Williams is living out the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21–35). The servant owed the king ten thousand talents (the equivalent of 200,000 years of work), and since he couldn’t pay, the king intended to sell him and his family into slavery. The servant pled with the king, and the king showed him mercy and forgave all his debt. Then the servant turned and refused to show mercy to someone who owed him just a hundred denarii (the equivalent of 200 days of work). The king heard of this and threw him in jail for his lack of mercy. Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
Monty Williams had been forgiven too much to hold even his wife’s death against anyone. How much could someone possibly steal from you today? In Christ, God has forgiven us a million times more. Therefore, having been showered with his undeserved love and mercy, we have been freed to dumfound the world and forgive any debt in full.
3. God miraculously works in our worst suffering to tell the world about himself and his love.
Williams ends by saying,
Let’s not lose sight of what’s important. God will work this out. My wife is in heaven. God is love. And when we walk away from this place today, let’s celebrate, because my wife is where we all need to be, and I’m envious of that. . . .
We didn’t lose [my wife]. When you lose something, you can’t find it. I know exactly where my wife is. . . . I’m going to miss her. Let’s not lose sight of what’s important. God is important. What Christ did on the cross is important.
In the midst of the most terrible tragedy and immersed in one of the greatest potential distractions from God in human history — professional sports — the gospel has suddenly and brilliantly emerged. The loss silenced the media’s obsession with scores, trades, and championships long enough for us all to hear that Jesus alone is Lord, Savior, and Treasure. A God worthy of trust and worship in the death of a wife is a God worth hearing about.
It’s another reminder that God relentlessly turns our tragedies of suffering into triumphs of his glory.
A Song for the Suffering
Williams’s resilient faith and hope reminded me of a moving song by Shane & Shane, Though You Slay Me.
Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need
At the 3:22 mark in this video, John Piper says,
Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.
I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.
When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.
Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.
Ingrid Williams’s death is not meaningless. We cannot now see all that God is doing, but I pray that he will sustain Monty’s faith in the difficult days ahead, reminding this bereaved husband and father again and again that he is infinitely loved and cared for by his Heavenly Father. May God protect Lael, Faith, Janna, Elijah, and Micah from the evil one as they mourn and miss their mom for years to come. And may God spread the beautiful testimony of this family’s faith throughout the NBA and throughout the world, bringing many to everlasting life through the tragedy and victory of this wife and mother’s death.
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