Is God Punishing Me?

I’ve heard it from more than one bereaved parent.  

I’ve thought it myself.  

“Is God punishing me?”  

Have I done something so terrible that it falls outside the grace and mercy of the God Who sent His Son and so I must pay for it with my own child?

My heart strains to make sense of things that don’t make sense and I sometimes reach for any explanation no matter how far-fetched or theologically inaccurate.

Because truly, child loss is sometimes only the beginning of the pain and sorrow and ongoing drama and trial.   Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, many, many things have gone wrong.

Many,  many things have been hard.  

After Dominic left, life just piled on like that childhood game where one person held the ball and everyone else tried to get it.

I woke up every day expecting another blow and it nearly always came.

I remember begging God to simply make it stop!

He didn’t.

So I began to wonder if I was being punished.  What other explanation could there be?  If God was allowing all these hard things, it must be because I owed Him something.  I hadn’t done enough or wasn’t doing enough.  My spiritual discipline was lagging behind.

Somewhere, somehow I was falling down in my faith.  

But those thoughts weren’t placed in my head by God.  They were fiery darts of the enemy of my soul trying his best to make me doubt and turn away from the Source of my hope.  

God is not punishing me.  

He made provision for all the punishment required when He sent His Son as a complete, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

My Heavenly Father is a good and loving God Who did not leave it to me (or you, or anyone else) to square that debt.  Because it is impossible for us to do it.  Even all the pain I’ve borne is insufficient to pay it.

Jesus paid it ALL.  The debt is no longer outstanding.  

john3-16-17

Now, I may very well (and often do!) have to reap the natural consequences of my own or other peoples’ sin. 

But that is very different than thinking God is doing me harm for the purpose of punishment.  

We live in a fallen world where things do not work as God originally intended.  Human hearts are callous at best and evil at worst and we do things to one another that should never be done.  Sickness, disease and accidents happen.

Sometimes all these things happen at once.  

God can and does intervene.  Sometimes He doesn’t.  I don’t know why in one case and not in another.  That is His wisdom and purpose and beyond my understanding.

But I know that He is not punishing me nor is He punishing you.  

Jesus Himself suffered greatly in His earthly life, yet never sinned.  

That made His sacrifice the perfect, complete and utterly final payment for my own sin debt.   Having received the gift of redemption by His blood, my life is free to be offered back to God as a gift of worship, reverence and faithful obedience.  

But it is not required as payment for sin.  

Neither was my son’s.  

i made you and i will carry you

 

 

 

Holding On To Hope With Both Hands

I confess that I have not had a wholehearted desire to study Scripture since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

Oh, I nibble on verses every day, but I’ve shied away from the feast that used to fill my heart and soul.  

This year, though, I’m committing to a more diligent approach-choosing to focus on one word per month and writing out corresponding verses.  I am studying them, looking up cross-references, considering context and making personal application in my journal.

So the first word I chose was “Hope” because I think of all the things I’ve struggled most to hold onto in this life I didn’t choose, hope is the hardest.  

In my flesh, I want to give up and give in. 

If Heaven is my ultimate destination and I can’t control the future, why not just coast until the Lord calls me home? Why work so hard to live up to a high standard when grace covers it all?  Why lift my head when head down or head up, I’m assured of eternal joy?

I’m just being honest here.  

But I know, deep in my spirit, that this is not the purpose for which I was created.  I was not made by a loving Father to plod hopelessly through this world.  He breathed life into my soul so that I could fulfill His kingdom purpose in this place, at this time.

So I get back on the proverbial horse every time I’m tossed off and try again.  

Here are just a couple of the verses that are speaking courage to me, helping me hold onto hope with both hands. 

I hope they whet your appetite (as they have mine) for finding more.  

O my soul, why are you so overwrought?
    Why are you so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again.
    I will believe and praise the One
    who saves me and is my life,
My Savior and my God.

Psalm 43:5 VOICE

“Despite all my emotions” I will hope in God again.  God created me with emotions.  They are a gift (even though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way!).  But I cannot be ruled by them.

Emotions are changeable. 

Truth is not. 

So I have to turn my heart by an act of will toward the truth that God is my Savior, He is my hope.  

We live with hope in the Eternal. We wait for Him,
    for He is our Divine Help and Impenetrable Shield.
Our hearts erupt with joy in Him
    because we trust His holy name.
O Eternal, drench us with Your endless love,
    even now as we wait for You.

Psalm 33: 20-22 VOICE

I love the phrase from Psalm 33:20 “our hearts erupt with joy” This life is hard and joy is often a distant memory or a fleeting moment, but there will be a Day when my heart will be so full of joy-when every hard and hurtful thing is redeemed-that the joy will overflow like lava from a volcano.

No stopping it!

Now that’s something to hope for! 

If your heart needs help leaning in and holding on, here’s a link to a month’s worth of short verses focused on hope: Think on These Things: Hope

Print it out and tuck it in a journal or your Bible.  You can even look up the verses online and check out different translations.  (Something I love to do because it often reveals things I might overlook!)  Copy them out.  It only takes a few minutes.  Then underline the phrase or phrases that stand out to you.

Make them your own. 

Hide the words in your heart. 

Let the Word of God speak life and love to your soul.  

put our hope in the lord he is our shield

 

Absolutely More Than I Can Handle

We’ve allowed a lot of common sayings to rise to the level of Scripture in everyday language and that’s unfortunate.

Because many of them are just plain wrong.

And some of them are dangerous.

One of those I consider dangerous is this:  “God will not give you more than you can handle”.

Why is it dangerous you ask?

For lots of reasons.  It implies that I am capable of “handling” my own life, my own problems, my own future.  If I find myself unable to handle something then I must be defective.  My faith must not be strong enough.  It becomes all about me.

None of that is true.

Without Christ and His strength, even many ordinary challenges would pin me to the ground under their weight. 

I most certainly would not be standing under the burden of child loss!

heals the broken hearted

This oft-quoted saying also leads a heart to embrace the idea that everything that happens is the result of God’s direct intervention in my life.  The Bible clearly teaches that we live in a fallen world where natural forces (weather, gravity, disease and old age) impact us in ways God did not intend when He created it perfect and good and placed man in the Garden.  We also know that other people’s sinful choices (drunk driving, murder, foolish behavior) can, sadly, result in bad outcomes for us and those we love.

Could God intervene?  Of course! 

But does He?  Not always.

I do not believe for one minute that He sends those things to taunt me, teach me or punish me.  He did not take my son’s life so that I would be a better Christian.  In fact, I don’t believe He TOOK my son’s life at all.

And finally, it is absolutely, undeniably counter to what Jesus Himself experienced and promised those who follow Him will experience.

 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  ~Jesus

John 16:33 NIV

We need to be honest about how hard life can be.

We need to stop saying foolish things that make hurting hearts hurt harder.

We need to admit that God allows much more than we can handle alone.

And then turn to the One that can help us handle the load.

do not want you to be uninformed

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

Willing Submission or Fatalism?

I have to be completely honest-I’m not sure at all that my heart is truly submissive.  It may just be that I figure, “What’s the point of resisting God?”. 

Paul told the Roman believers to “present your bodies as living sacrifices”. 

Trouble is, living sacrifices can (and do!) crawl off the altar.  

I’m trying to stay there, subtle and malleable under the hand of the God Who made me.  But unlike inanimate clay, I feel every pummel, slap and squeeze as He continues to mold me into the image of Christ.

potter-clay

Some days I’m better at it than others.  Honestly, I think I’m better at it when I feel it most.  Because then I recognize the bits that need changing, the attitudes that need adjusting, the habits that need to go.

But when it’s little things-judging someone by his outer appearance or demanding my “rights” as a customer from a tired store clerk or even impatiently charging through the house ignoring a phone call because I “have to get (whatever) done!”-that’s when I want out from under the hand of God.

Then there are the REALLY big things that I always balk at. 

Why do I have to be ill when I have so much to do?  Why my child?  Why do all the appliances need replacing at once?  Why are relationships so darn hard?  Why won’t my RA go into remission?  Why did the hurricane make its way right over my parents’ home?

Why, why, why?

And I find myself back at the beginning because truth told, I can’t do a thing about any of that. 

Am I willingly submitting to what God allows in my life or am I simply accepting it because there’s no use resisting?  

It’s a daily battle. 

Still, Eternal One, You are our Father. We are just clay, and You are the potter. We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth.

Isaiah 64:8 VOICE

 

 

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

Prayer and Child Loss: When I Don’t Know What to Pray

The Bible says that “The Name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved.”  (Proverbs 18:10)

Clearly that does NOT mean that every person who calls on the Name of the LORD will be kept physically whole.

Many, many believers have suffered and died while the name of Christ is on their lips.  

But I do believe that in a very real, very meaningful way, calling on the Name of the LORD has saved me.  

Read the rest here:  When I Don’t Know What to Pray: Praying the Names of God