Well With My Soul?

If you have been in a church that sings hymns, I’m pretty certain you’ve heard the backstory to the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”.

Or at least the most popular version–Horatio Spafford lost four daughters in a tragic accident.  Only his wife survived the sinking ship on its way to England.   Once there, she sent a heart-rending telegram, “Saved alone” to Spafford who had not accompanied them on the voyage.

As the story goes, Spafford, upon crossing the Atlantic to meet his wife, passed over the spot of the sinking and the words to the famous hymn came to mind:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

But, as Paul Harvey was famous for saying, here’s “The rest of the story”.

Spafford belonged to a congregation that staunchly believed difficulty and tragedy were divine chastening for sin or lack of faith.

Apparently, in the minds of at least some of his friends, the awful things that happened to Horatio and his wife were their own fault. Eventually, Spafford and his family removed themselves from the church and created their own fellowship.

Tragically, it seems that Spafford died confused, dismayed and perhaps, disbelieving.

Why is this important?

Because the support (or lack of support) bereaved parents receive from their fellow Christians can make all the difference between losing sight of Jesus and finishing well, with our eyes fixed on the “Author and Perfector of our faith”

We love the shortened version of the Horatio Spafford story because it ends with a triumph of faith, a crescendo of hope and a tidy finish to a messy story.

But the same reason the broad sweep of Spafford’s life is rarely brought to our attention is the same reason many find it difficult to walk beside grieving parents in their journey–even sincere, committed Christians can have doubts.

Even those who have read and believe the Bible can take longer than anyone would like to settle firmly on trusting God again after tragedy.

And even when we who struggle because of deep grief reach the place where our hearts can again rest in the sovereignty and goodness of God, we may always have unanswered questions.

Believers in Christ are called to minister to the members of His Body.  We are commissioned to encourage, uplift, care for and help each other.

It often involves more energy, time and effort than we are willing to give.

But if we believe, as Paul said, that every single member is called by God to serve a specific purpose then can we afford to ignore even one of them?

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

I Corinthians 12:25-26

 

 

Perspective is Everything

NOTE:  I’m including links to another blog and an old post of my own.  You’ll see that I am unskilled at inserting them smoothly. Yet another in the list of losses–Dominic was my tech advisor…

When my husband and I visited the Sequoia National Forest, we were overwhelmed by the enormity and beauty of the trees.  Even standing beside them, it is hard to realize how very huge they are.  But when you are able to drive your car through one of them, that gives you  some perspective.

Losing a child changes your perspective.  Some things look bigger than they did before and some much smaller.

And some things I thought I understood, I find I don’t understand at all.

Lately I have been challenged to re-read Bible stories I once blazed through like a novel and pay more attention to the people in them and their feelings and lives.

I was reminded of the story of Hagar by fellow blogger Janet Boxx [Boxxbanter.wordpress.com] when she commented on my recent post Sparrows Do Fall:

(https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/01/12/sparrows-do-fall/)

And I am ashamed to realize that until now, I saw Hagar’s story as a kind of minor corollary to the over-arching and “more important” story of Abraham.

But to Hagar and Ishmael, this was THE story–it was THEIR story and it was as important as any other story that was happening at the same time.

Perspective is everything.

Eye-witness testimony is often touted as the most solid proof when presenting a criminal case.  But those who study eye-witness accounts know that there can be as many versions of a story as there are people who see it.

What stands out to one person will be ignored or misremembered by another. Different witnesses focus on different aspects of the same scene because their individual experiences make them vulnerable to having their attention turned to various details.

I know that before I lost a child, I was more likely to focus on the “good” that came from the child’s death:  testimonies of lives changed, people coming to Christ, community activism on behalf of a cause or a condition that contributed to the death.

But now, I’m consumed by thoughts of the child’s parents.  I think about the siblings left behind.  I know by experience that they are just beginning a life-long journey that will be so very hard.

When others view the lives of bereaved parents, it is easier for them to place the narrative that consumes the attention, energy and passion of the parents within the larger story of “what God is doing in the world” because they (the non-bereaved) can see the panorama while we (the bereaved) are looking through a keyhole.

And no matter how you twist and turn to try to expand your view when it is limited by physical facts that defy alteration, you just can’t do it.

Hagar called the LORD, Jehovah-Roi,” The God Who Sees”.  

As a slave, no doubt Hagar was often overlooked and undervalued.  But the God of the Universe, SAW HER.

I know in my bones that God does see.

I don’t know or understand what He’s doing, but I know He sees. It is both comforting and disturbing–part of my ongoing wrestling.

Being seen is powerful.  When another comes alongside as witness to my journey, it is helpful.  It speaks courage to my heart to keep on walking and to continue to trust.

 

 

 

 

 

Reminded to Rest

I was reminded in the past few days that I am oh, so vulnerable to attack when I am already wounded.  And that even when I see it coming, I am often unable to fend it off successfully.

The enemy taunts me and encourages me to compare my life with the lives of others.  He stands on the sidelines and calls out, “Your Father loves others better than you!”  He accuses in the shadows, “You are a failure.  Your faith is pitiful.  You will not persevere to the end.”

But he is a liar and the father of lies and deception and untruth are his native tongue.

I have to go back, again and again and again, to the Truth and recite it, write it, declare it and hold fast to it.

I must remember that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I must remind myself daily that victory has already been declared even when I can’t see it or feel it.

And when I am too tired to fight, I must allow myself to withdraw and catch my breath-extending the same grace to me that I would extend to another in my place.

It is o.k. to draw boundaries and to create safe places where I can recuperate and regain my strength.

I am not in competition with anyone else.  God has marked my course and He will lead me home.

 

But I stand silently before the Lord, waiting for him to rescue me. For salvation comes from him alone.

Psalm 62:TLB

 

 

Coming Soon! (slowly)

About a week ago, I promised a series of posts highlighting the time “after” loss–and I have had some amazing responses from grieving parents willing to share their experiences.

But the number of responses has made it challenging to distill the different voices into a collective and representative picture.  So it’s taking a little more time than I thought it would.

I hope to begin the series early in  February.  A good time to start sharing how others have loved us who walk this path in the valley of the shadow of death.

It won’t all be sunshine and roses.  Valleys have dark places and the sun is often hidden by the high mountains on each side.

There are times when the Body of Christ and our own families have failed to show up or minister in meaningful ways.

But there are so many good stories of faithful friendship, encouragement and genuine compassion!  

Thank you to all who have shared with me.  And if you have thought about it, but let it slip your mind, it’s not too late–send me an email, comment on this post or message me on Facebook.

I look forward to hearing from you.

the cost of compassion

I can’t help it.

I think too much.  I wonder too often.  I work too hard to make sense of things.

And the thing that is puzzling me right now is why people pull away from those experiencing deep and lasting pain.

Like the pain of burying a child.  Or the burden of chronic physical disability.  Or the unceasing struggle of overcoming addiction.

I think I’ve hit on a few possibilities:

  • There is no end in sight.  None of these scenarios offer a tidy final chapter that wraps loose ends into a comfortable narrative.
  • It challenges what we believe about God.  It’s one thing to consider the problem of pain and suffering in the world from a theoretical perspective and quite another to experience it in real time.
  • Our days are too full of “busy work” to leave room for real ministry. Overscheduled and frazzled,  we don’t have the emotional, physical or psychological energy required to stand with someone while they battle.

So we trade pity for compassion.

Pity says, “I’m sorry for you.  Let me do something for you that makes me feel better.”

We offer platitudes and prayers from afar as a substitute for presence and personal interaction.

And when our attention is turned elsewhere, we drift away–abandoning the broken to sit alone with their pain.

Most of us don’t mean to do it–we just move on, leaving the limping behind.

But the cold shoulder wounds as much as hurtful words. Acknowledgement is as great a blessing as an extended hand.

Compassion says, “I see your pain.  I hurt with you.  Let me stay with you until you feel better.  And if you never feel better, I’ll still be here.”

Compassion requires conscious commitment to push back against our tendency to forget those who live with things they cannot change and will never forget.

God Himself stepped into His creation to feel the pain of brokenness, to bear the price of sin and to open a Way for restoration and redemption.

Jesus came to make the Father known.

There is no substitute for walking with the wounded.  It is costly, it is painful, it is hard.

But I would argue that when we do, we are most like our Savior.