Doubt Is Not Denial: Journaling My Way Home

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.

That is untrue.

When my son ran ahead to Heaven, I reexamined everything I believed.

But I did not “lose” my faith.

I never once doubted that God was still working, was still loving and was still in control.

But I most certainly had to drag out every single thing I thought I knew about how He worked, loved and superintended the world and examine it in light of my experience of burying my son.  It took a long time to work through all the pat answers I had been offered and myself doled out to others for years that didn’t fit with my new reality.

One of the ways I did that was to journal my questions, complaints, anger and disappointment.  I wrote it out.

Many of the Psalms are precisely that-David and others crying out to God, begging Him for understanding and for a sliver of hope.  As the Psalmist breathed out his doubts and fears, the Spirit of God breathed fresh life into his soul.

i wait for the lord

My journals are filled with strong words and strong feelings.  They are also filled with, what I believe, God spoke to my heart in response.  Sometimes it was in the form of a Bible verse, sometimes a memory, sometimes song lyrics or a prayer.  And sometimes the pages are simply a record of how my Shepherd gently led me through a particular hard moment or day or week.

So if you are struggling with doubt-let yourself off the hook. 

You can’t deny it. 

And you don’t have to. 

You’re in good company.

Grab a notebook and pen and start writing.  Just begin.  Don’t edit yourself in fear someone may read it one day.  God knows anyway.

When you’re done spilling, sit quietly in the Presence of your Shepherd.  Listen to what He may be speaking to your broken heart.

I have done this for decades through many hard things- child loss being the hardest.

The Lord is faithful to meet me right where I am and fill me with His Spirit.

He’s never leaves me without hope when I turn my heart toward Him.

but the lord stood with me and gave me strength

 

Thoughts Matter

So much of this battle has been fought in my mind.

Really, even more than in my heart.

Because you can’t argue with sad or shock or missing or disappointment.

But you can absolutely argue with hopelessness (there is nothing to live for), apathy (there is nothing to do) and distrust (there is no one who can help me).

So I spend a lot of time filling my mind with truth and doing the best I can to empty it of lies.  Some days I’m more successful than others, but I battle on regardless.

dont let anyone rent space in your head toby mac

When hopelessness tries to take up residence I say:

Remember the word to Your servant upon which you have caused me to hope.

~Psalm 119:49

AND

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

~Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG

Apathy sits heavy on my chest and makes me want to give up and give in.  Why try if life is random and chaos is rampant? 

I push it off with:

28 We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. 29-30 From the distant past, His eternal love reached into the future. You see, He knew those who would be His one day, and He chose them beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of a new family of believers, all brothers and sisters. As for those He chose beforehand, He called them to a different destiny so that they would experience what it means to be made right with God and share in His glory.

~Romans 8:28-30 VOICE

I remember that I still have work to do:  

“For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. “

~Ephesians 2:10 AMP

The enemy of my soul whispers the same lie he told Eve in the garden, “God really doesn’t have your best interest at heart.  He’s holding out on you.  You can’t trust Him.”

I shout him down and declare:

all the promises of god are yes in christ

The God Who sent His only Son to save me will not let me go.  He will uphold me with His Righteous Right Hand.  Even in the flood of grief, the fire of trial and the darkness of despair, He is with me.  

carry you old age

I have verses and quotes and hymn choruses posted all over my house so that everywhere I turn, my eyes can land on encouragement.

I won’t win any awards with my decorating scheme, but I don’t care.

All of this will be dust one day. 

I’m building an eternal future that won’t rot, rust or decay.  

“3 Blessed is God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope— reborn for an eternal inheritance, held in reserve in heaven, that will never fade or fail. Through faith, God’s power is standing watch, protecting you for a salvation that you will see completely at the end of things.”

~ 1 Peter 1: 3-5 VOICE

Hallelujah!  Amen.

 

 

 

Christmas Drama

We’ve whitewashed everything about this scene:  beatific Mary gazing serenely at a cleaned up baby cozy in a cleaned up manger towered over by Joseph and surrounded by adoring shepherds and freshly groomed, sweet smelling animals.

It was nothing like that.

Birth is pain and sweat and effort.

And messy.  So, so messy.

I like to think more clearly about what that night was like.  It helps my heart to know that even while God was being birthed as a man into the world He created, He didn’t hide the hard.

The world was a mess on the first Christmas night, but Jesus came. He came wearing a name of endless hope and promise: ‘God with us.’ God is with us when the money runs out, with us when the bad news comes, with us when the holiday isn’t happy, and with us when everyone else disappears. The question this Christmas is not, ‘Will Jesus show up?’ The question is, ‘Will I receive Him, even if He’s all I have?’

Today is a good day to give yourself permission to be the real you in front of the real God. You don’t have to hide your hurt or sin away. He comes to heal, to save, and to rescue. Let earth receive her king.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

There’s no evidence that Mary was spared labor pains or all the usual difficulty of bringing forth life.

And poor Joseph!  In a culture where women helped women he was alone and lonely with his young bride in a place hardly appropriate for birthing a baby much less for protecting her modesty and reputation.  He was unwitting midwife to the most important birth in history.

I’ve often wondered whether Mary and Joseph were relieved to see the shepherds who confirmed again the truth that their Son was Savior or if they were thinking the visit might have been better timed a few days later when things were tidier and the idea of parenthood had settled in.

Drama. 

All of it.

But the biggest drama that night was this:  Darkness was overcome.  Once and for all.  Never to reign again.

When He created the heavens and the earth, God declared, “Let there be light!” Physical light entered time and space.  Darkness was pushed back and limits set on its power and dominion.

Yet sin marred the light of God’s love, provision and perfect creation.

And from that moment on, darkness crept forward through the actions of men whose hearts were hard and by the designs of the evil one who has no heart but only destruction in his bosom.

But God….

He would not leave us this way.  He did not allow the darkness to win.

We were not abandoned.

We are not abandoned.

Emmanuel is here.

And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

manger empty

Repost: Trusting God After Loss-Why It’s Hard, Why It’s Necessary

This time of year when broken hearts are surrounded by happy hearts it can hit hard.  

“Why, oh why is MY child not here?”  

“Where were You, God?” 

Believe me, more than four years later and I fall right back into the same questions I thought I had asked and answered (or become satisfied NOT to answer).

So I have to return to the basics of walking my heart through the steps of leaning into trust.

I wrote this awhile ago-combining in one post all the posts in this series.  I pray that if you, like me, need a refresher course in trusting God after loss, it helps your heart. 

One of the greatest challenges I faced this side of child loss was finding a space where I could speak honestly and openly about my feelings toward God and about my faith.

So many times I was shut down at the point of transparency by someone shooting off a Bible verse or hymn chorus or just a chipper, “God’s in control!”

They had NO IDEA how believing that (and I do!) God is in control was both comforting and utterly devastating at the very same time.

Read the rest here:  Trusting God After Loss: Why It’s Hard, Why It’s Necessary

Book Review: Joy in the Mourning

My friend and fellow bereaved mom,  Leslie Lamm Harder, has published a book chronicling the first months after the sudden death of her son, William.

I’ve not met Leslie face-to-face but have had the blessing of her long distance friendship for over a year now and am constantly and consistently encouraged by her words.

I believe you will be too.

Leslie has written a memoir that takes an honest yet hope-filled look at life after child loss. I appreciate that she chose not to edit out the questions, the hard days, the words that reveal the struggle a heart has to go through when tragedy strikes.

While always clinging to and pointing the reader back to her hope in Christ, she doesn’t hide the truth that hope cannot take the pain away.

It makes it bearable, but it does not remove it.

faith says i will sit with you in the pain

Many books about child loss are written so long after the event that some authors’ words are inaccessible to the parent who has just started down this path.  The author has reached a point of healing that a freshly broken heart can’t comprehend.

Healing does happen.

But it is very slow and incremental and not without setbacks.

Leslie’s book is an excellent aid for any heart seeking to hold onto hope in the dark Valley of child loss. She walks us quietly, gently down the path without insisting on an early declaration of “victory in Jesus”.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

It will be on my shelf forever and I will be giving copies to parents for years to come.

(Available at Amazon.com)

Between Sleep and Wake: Speaking Peace To My Heart

When I was a little girl, I struggled mightily being afraid of the dark.

Sometimes I could barely close my eyes because I was scared something terrible would happen between going to sleep and waking up.

I outgrew that as I grew into my faith.

go to sleep in peace

But after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I found myself again afraid to go to sleep.  

Not because of “monsters” hiding beneath the bed but because it was between sleep and wake that he left.

I fell asleep with four living children and woke up with three.

I’m still not so good at falling asleep or staying asleep-just another change child loss has wrought in my life.  Most nights I have to talk myself into it.  

I recite truth to my spirit, sing songs to my soul.  

trust god in the light

I remind my heart that God was with me and was with Dominic the night he was killed. 

He was with me the morning I got the news and Dominic is with Him forever in Heaven.

I’ve learned that leaning into Him, I can find rest and wake to a new day, confident that whatever the sunrise brings, I am not alone.  

and when I wake up you are still with me

Anchoring Our Hearts In Christ: Faith That Endures

I don’t wish storms on anyone.

They are frightening, often life-shattering and terrible.

But nearly every heart will be battered by the waves of life eventually.

Illuminated Splash

And if a heart isn’t anchored firmly in the promises and Person of Jesus Christ, there’s no telling where the waves might toss them.

Even anchored, I’m battered and bruised, worn and weary, struggling to endure.

The book of Hebrews can be challenging.  It’s full of imagery intended to help early Jewish Christians understand that they no longer needed to cling to the old sacrificial system in addition to believing in Messiah.

But it’s also beautiful-because it weaves a tapestry that helps a heart see how God was working His plan of salvation all the way from Adam through Christ to us.

I love these verses:

16-20 Among men it is customary to swear by something greater than themselves. And if a statement is confirmed by an oath, that is the end of all quibbling. So in this matter, God, wishing to show beyond doubt that his plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world might have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.

Hebrews 6:18-20 PHILLIPS

The hope I have in Christ is an “utterly reliable anchor” for my soul!

Let the waves come! 

Let the winds blow! 

I am assured that nothing and no one can rip me from the ultimate safety of my Savior’s arms!

hope the anchor for your soul