It will soon be seven years since Dominic stepped into Heaven.
It’s really hard to write that and harder still to live it.
In those years I’ve spent a great deal of time dragging out what I thought I knew about God, about how He works in the world, about how we take Scripture and wrap it around preconceived notions to make us feel safer and more in control.
I’ve had bad days and better days. Days of doubt and days of faith.
But every day I’ve felt assured of this truth: Even when my grip on Jesus is slipping, He holds me fast.
I’ve mentioned it before.
I’ve encouraged others not to resist.
But I want to be absolutely clear: Losing my son made me doubt EVERYTHING.
Old Elizabeth, young Mary-both bearing sons. Zechariah’s doubts, a young maid’s submission-he was supposed to understand God through study and practice, she was the ignorant one yet trusted.
Priests within a Sabbath walk from the manger slept on unaware that God had broken forth into their world while outcast shepherds got a personalized and most glorious birth announcement writ large across the sky.
Perhaps the most poignant contrast of all is a tired young mother pondering quietly what this might mean for her and her newborn Son and shepherds telling everyone they meet what they saw and praising God for giving them the privilege.
Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
Luke 2:19-20 VOICE
My heart beats with Mary’s. She knew and understood part of what was going on but had no way to anticipate or comprehend precisely what it meant to be the mother of Messiah.
She pondered the shepherds’ visit and their story.
I’ve pondered too.
“Ponder” means “think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.” (Oxford Dictionary, online).
When Dominic was killed I dragged everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world into the glaring light of child loss. I examined and turned it over. I compared my notions with Scripture and with my ongoing experience.
I was forced to make a decision.
I had to reach a conclusion: Was God who He said He was or was this all a made up, feel good story I told myself? Is the Bible true? Is Jesus real? Was His sacrifice sufficient and does it guarantee eternal life?
After long and careful thought I decided that my Heavenly Father was faithful, His character is trustworthy, every promise He made is “yes” and “amen” in Christ.
I imagine Mary had many moments when she wondered what God was doing in and through her. I suspect she had her doubts.
I think often of the ultimate pain and horror she endured at the crucifixion.
But she held on.
And the Lord called her blessed.
I am holding on to truth and hope with both hands.
Sometimes my faith wears thin.
But I know, know, know that my Father is trustworthy.
We really don’t know how much Mary understood about what was happening in and through her. Gabriel visited her, yes, but even his message wasn’t comprehensive. Have you ever thought about what or how much Mary knew? Does it give you courage to trust God as things unfold in your own life?
How has child loss impacted your faith?
The shepherds praised the Lord because everything the angel told them was accurate. Has your personal experience affirmed the truth of Scripture?
Can you find reasons to praise the Lord even here, even now?
You are the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of life. You know the end from the beginning. You are working all things for my ultimate good and for Your glory.
But it’s hard to walk along a path when I can’t see far ahead. Sometimes it’s a struggle to trust and not be afraid. I do ponder things in my heart. I want to make sense of what You are doing (at least what I think You are doing) and what I’m feeling.
Help me lean into your truth, to trust your heart even when I can’t trace your hand. I believe, help my unbelief!
Thank You for every evidence that points my heart in the right direction. Thank You for showing me more of yourself. Teach me to praise You for all You are and not only all You do.
It’s easy to imagine when sitting in a safe place surrounded by other believers that if tragedy should visit my home, my faith would remain rock solid and unshakeable.
After all, I stuffed my head and heart with truth, kept a prayer journal, wrote out Scriptures and jotted notes and dates in the margin of my Bible.
I put on the full Armor of God and raised my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Our family didn’t just attend church, we served the Body of Christ inside and outside the four walls of the building.
But when the knock came and the words from the deputy flew at me and pierced my heart, I unraveled.
Not at first, mind you.
Oh, I screamed and couldn’t catch my breath. I fell to my knees and barely made it to the sofa where I had to make phone calls. I was shaking and crying.
Still, a blessed numbness fell over me and my first Facebook posts and my first words to friends and family affirmed my belief that God was still in control and we would somehow make it through. It was reflex to lean in and take hold of the faith that had carried me that far.
I clung to the only life raft I could see in that awful storm.
It really wasn’t until a few weeks later, when my heart and mind began to fully comprehend the neverness of Dom’s return that the questions started.
I soon realized that if my faith was to endure, I had to examine everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world in light of child loss.
Platitudes and hand-me-down interpretations of Scripture were not going to be enough.
So I brought the questions to God Himself in prayer and pleading, in whispers, shouts and writing. I sat silent waiting for His response and I searched the pages of my Bible looking for new insight into old, familiar passages.
I got some answers.
But not all of them.
And I had to decide what to do with that.
My heart isutterly, absolutelyconvinced that God is a good God, a faithful Father and the trustworthy Savior of my soul. He is all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present. He knows the end from the beginning and I can trust Him to work all things (even child loss) for good.
So I’ve learned to still my spirit, to quiet my heart’s restless quest for answers and abide in the arms of my Shepherd.
I will live in the mysterious space between what I know and what I can’t comprehend.
I will wait patiently for the answers or until eternity when my pain is redeemed and what is lost restored and the answers won’t matter.
Because they who wait on the Lord will never be put to shame.
I have loved Scripture as long as I can remember. When I was in second grade I got the notion to read the whole Bible straight through-in the King James Version. I made it to Leviticus before I threw in the towel.
By the time my kids were grown I had read and studied Scripture for decades.
But three years before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I realized my reading had become rote-I felt like I “knew” all the stories. So I slowed my study to a crawl-only one chapter a day-and I usually copied the whole chapter plus my notes into a journal. I had just finished this time through the Bible in January before Dom was killed in April.
And all that truth stored in my mind and heart was what I “read” for months when my eyes were too full of tears to see print on a page.
When I was asked several months ago to speak to a group of hospice care workers, I titled the presentation “Lifting the Veil on Grief”.
One of the topics I covered was how experiencing the death of a loved one-especially out-of-order or untimely death- can cause even the staunchest believer to doubt.
And the first thing I said was, “Doubt in the face of overwhelming sorrow and hard circumstances is absolutely normal. But doubt is NOT disbelief.”
So often friends, family, clergy, social workers and others want to steer hearts away from doubt because they are afraid that entertaining questions or expressing disappointment in God will always lead to someone losing faith.
The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.
Somewhere in the pursuit of truth and light, the Protestant reformation embraced at least one of the very practices it sought to discard.
I absolutely believe that by the time Martin Luther tacked his theses to the door the church needed reforming.
Men’s traditions and human “wisdom” had adulterated the pure truth and freedom of Christ’s Good News. No longer a source of liberation, it had been transformed by those in power into a form of bondage.
But humans are a stubborn and prideful lot and it wasn’t long before the liberators became slave drivers.
“Sola Scriptura” didn’t allow for any deviation from the accepted interpretation of those Scriptures. And the interpretation often went past the text and included making absolute assertions about how God works in the world.
Men began to once again place God in a box.
My intentions are not always yours,
and I do not go about things as you do.
9 My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you,
just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth.
Isaiah 55:8-9 VOICE
So much of the “faith” handed down today through Sunday School lessons and sermons is one that simply doesn’t leave room for mystery or for doubt or, honestly, for many of the actual Bible stories if you read them straight from the Book and not get them second hand from a loose retelling .
Jesus Himself-the exact representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3)-didn’t greet skeptics with absolute proof. He pointed to the work He was doing, the truth He was telling and the miracles He performed but He left it to the audience to decide if that qualified Him as the Christ.
Yet we treat those who bring questions to the table of grace at best as immature and at worst as apostates or faithless wannabes.
How far we have fallen from Paul’s declaration: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Worse, we often condemn those who want desperately to come trembling to their church to seek other people and spaces outside the community of faith where their questions will be tolerated.
I love how Philip Yancey spoke of this in a recent blog titled, “A Time To Doubt”:
Jesus had the opportunity to subdue doubts for all time. He could have appeared with a choir of angels on Pilate’s porch the Monday after his resurrection and triumphantly declared, “I’m back!” Or, he could have staged a spectacular display before thousands in the Roman Forum. Instead, he limited his appearances to small groups of people who had already demonstrated some faith in him—which tells me something about the kind of uncoerced faith that God values.
In one of those small gatherings, the apostle who would earn the nickname “doubting Thomas” confronted Jesus. I love that scene, for two reasons. First, it shows the gentle way Jesus treated a doubter, when he had a perfect chance to scold him or pile on the guilt. Listen to Jesus’ approach: “What proof do you need, Thomas? Want to touch my wounds? Shall I eat something for you?”
Second, I note the poignant fact that the other disciples, who had already encountered the risen Jesus, included Thomas in their midst. To them, Thomas was a heretic: he defiantly refused to believe in the Resurrection, the cornerstone of Christian faith. Even so, they welcomed him to join them behind closed doors. Had they not, Thomas may never have met the resurrected Jesus.
Perhaps that gives a model for how the church should handle doubters now. Can we provide a safe, welcoming place for those who need more light?
Philip Yancey, “A Time to Doubt”
I know so, so many people who suffer greatly-often through no fault of their own and sometimes due to the fault and sin of others-who struggle to square their experience with all the declarations they’ve heard about “how God works”.
I know others who have crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” on the long list of “what good Christians do and God rewards” and are living a life of desperation and sadness because life hasn’t turned out anything like what they thought they were promised.
Is it any wonder they are trying to figure things out?
Doubt is not denial.
If someone is asking questions, they are still seeking.
John Drummond points out that Jesus consistently made a distinction between doubt and unbelief.“Doubt is can’t believe; unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness.” (quoted by Philip Yancey, A Time to Doubt)
Jesus invited honest questions.
He only chastised the religious leaders who thought they knew it all.
Perhaps we could do the same and make space for those who are walking through a desert place to refresh themselves, renew their hope and restore their faith.
**If anyone is honestly searching, they are welcome to use the “contact” option to send me an email and begin a dialogue. ❤**
As a little girl, temptation looked like cheating on a spelling test or sneaking a cookie from a tray that was supposed to be for after supper.
As a young adult temptation looked like going places and doing things I knew weren’t wholesome or savory.
As a middle-aged wife and mother of four temptation looks like blaming God and forsaking my faith because one of my children is dead.
But God is faithful.
At every step of my life, when tempted to do what I knew in my heart was wrong, He has provided a way out even when I refused to take it.
Little children are often constrained by the thought that their parents might find out and punish them. Teens and young adults might be afraid they will get a ticket or get kicked out of school or end up needing bail. By the time you get as old as I am, you’ve figured out that there are lots of things you can get away with and no one but you will know.
And He cares.
When the enemy of my soul whispers, “What good is serving a God who didn’t save your son?” the Holy Spirit answers, “Eternal good, even in temporary pain”.
When doubts creep up and flood my mind, truth steps in and pushes them back.
When I feel the pain of loss in every cell of my body, overwhelmed by the weight of it, undone by the thought of years and years to carry it, my Shepherd King reminds me that He bore it all-the sin, the pain, the shame and the awful separation from the Father-so that I could stand.
Am I tempted?
Am I doomed to give into that temptation and turn away from the only Source of strength and hope I have?
I can reach out (it’s really just a short distance because He’s never far), grab hold (He’s already holding on to me) and lean in to my Father’s arms as He carries me past the doubts, the fears, the worry and brings me Home.
There’s unique beauty in crafting an argument so it crescendos to an irrefutable conclusion.
For the the master orator, nothing is more satisfying than watching her audience lean in and anticipate the glorious finale.
Paul has been leading us to these verses since he began laying the foundation in chapter one of Romans.
So what should we say about all of this? If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? 32 If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? 33 Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty”verdict is already declared. 34 Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. 35 So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing.
Romans 8: 31-35 VOICE
In today’s vernacular (Melanie’s paraphrase):
“So here’s the deal, guys. What else is there to say? If God has provided for our salvation through His own Son-bought and paid for us-who else can make a claim? And if He was willing to pay that high a price for us, what is He going to withhold from us? No one can overrule God. No one can deny the evidence that the sin debt has been paid. The only thing that could separate us from God’s love is sin and that’s been handled. So, yeah, life can be really hard. We might even have to face death before we come into our full inheritance. But we don’t have to worry. It’s handled. It’s settled. It’s done.”
Paul’s closing argument is simple.
Remember, this is no contest of equals. There is no yin/yang dual universe where darkness has power enough to overcome the light. God has the devil on a chain. Sin mars creation and wreaks havoc but even all that awful is being woven together into a tapestry of beauty and usefulness that one day will display the glory of God and His love for us.
God is for us. REALLY for us.
So who can be against us? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)
What does it mean to you that “God is on your side”?
Are you ever afraid? Why or why not?
What do you do with that fear?
Consider writing these (and any other verses we’ve looked at) in your own words. When we make them personal, they are easier to remember.
Do you agree that Paul has made an iron-clad case for the supreme authority of God? Why or why not?
What makes it hard for you to believe that nothing separates us from the love of God? Can you bring that to the Throne of Grace and lay it down?
Too often I think the world is like a giant tug-of-war and I can only hope and pray You win. It’s hard to remember that You are still in control when so many things seem out of control.
Help my heart rest on the rock of Your sovereignty and goodness. Open my spiritual eyes to see how You are working all these things-the good, the bad and the heartbreaking-into Your plan of redemption and restoration. Give me strength to believe when my own is fading. Make Your Word my guide. Thwart the schemes of the enemy to tear down my faith and breach my wall of hope.