Last year I was asked by a precious fellow bereaved mama to write a guest post for a new and exciting ministry her family is launching in honor of their son, Rhett.
It was an interesting and challenging assignment to create a single entry that might give enough background to make my voice an authentic source of hope based on shared experience.
I spent over a week working it out but settled on what you have below: The essence of my story is I am a broken, fragile vessel whom God chooses to use to share His light, life and hope in a world full of searching hearts.
Child loss is MY cross. Yours may be something else.
But our great and faithful Lord can and will use us, if we let Him.
“But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us. 8 We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair. 9 We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well. “
~2 Corinthians 4:7-10 VOICE
As a young mother of four stairstep children I copied out these verses and taped them to my bathroom mirror for encouragement.
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. ❤**
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.
For those of us who carried a tiny life inside as it grew larger and larger and thought we might just burst open before he or she made an exit from the womb into the wide world, we know exactly how hard waiting can be.
We also know how fast waiting goes from “I’m not sure just when” to “it’s happening RIGHT NOW”.
Some of the most painful waiting is the hours of intense labor.
Before the blessed culmination, it hurts! A lot!
And then the beautiful fruit of all that pain, struggle and patience is in our arms.
Paul says that the whole creation (every single thing on the planet) is waiting in much the same way. Waiting, waiting, waiting for God’s perfect plan to reach fullness and be revealed in all its excellent glory.
It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.
Romans 8: 22-25 PHILLIPS
Just as a pregnant mama feels first the tiny flutter and then full-forced kicks of the baby in her womb, our spirits feel the promise of life as it should be. The closer we walk with Jesus, the more we fill our hearts and minds with His living word, the more our lives diverge from the world we see and long for the one we haven’t yet laid eyes on.
Yearning is the word.
It can make my heart impatient.
Sending one of the precious lives I’ve carried inside me on to Heaven makes me even more impatient for the perfect promise to be made perfect reality.
Paul is right-knowing and tasting is both a blessing and a challenge.
I know, know, know that this life is not all there is. I am utterly and irrevocably convinced that one day the broken world I live in will be recreated into the perfect world God intends it to be. So I hold onto hope with both hands like the lifeline it is.
Sometimes I get tired of holding on.
Sometimes I want to let go and just say, “What difference does it make?”
But I don’t.
Because at the moment of my weakness, the Spirit speaks courage to my spirit. Jesus whispers, “You can do it” to my heart. The Father sings sweet consolation over my soul.
So I tighten my grip and wait. ❤
What evidence do you see that “all creation” groans? (If you back up a couple verses, Paul goes into a little more detail.) Does it encourage your heart that the whole world is somehow waiting too?
If you’ve carried a child, think back to how quickly (assuming you weren’t scheduled for delivery) things went from “I’m not sure when” to “We need to go now!”. Does that help your heart imagine how very quickly all this waiting might end?
What part of waiting is hardest for you? (Any kind of waiting.)
How do you help your heart hold onto hope as you wait?
People say don’t pray for patience because the only true path to patience is trial. Are you more patient now than you used to be? Why or why not?
Waiting is hard. No way around it. And waiting in painful anticipation of blessed relief is even harder. So, so many things are not right in this world. Death is everywhere. How I long for the Day when death is a totally defeated foe! How I long for the Day when all things are made right!
Thank You for the witness of the Spirit who continues to speak courage to my own spirit. Thank You for your word which breathes life into my soul. Thank You that no matter how hard it is to hold onto hope, You will give me the strength not to let go.
You have not abandoned me or the world You created. Your plans are sure. I will wait with hope because I know You never fail.
If there is one phrase that describes child loss it’s this: Utter destruction.
When that deputy showed up at my door and the words he spoke sank into my brain, my world imploded and exploded at the same time.
There was nothing left that made sense except the hands of the two children who happened to be home that night.
I held on for all I was worth because I was certain if I let go I’d float away into nothingness like an astronaut whose spacesuit tether is cut in two.
Living this side of 2000 plus years of Christianity, it’s easy to forget that Paul probably felt much the same way when the religion he had embraced, had vigorously defended (to the point of putting “heretics” to death) and had trusted to frame his life and understanding of the world was swept away on the Damascus road.
Not only did he endure three days of blindness, he endured three years in the desert as the Lord helped him connect the dots between what the Scriptures (remember-there was no New Testament yet) said and what He was doing in the world through Jesus, His Son.
Then as he took this Gospel-the Good News- to others, he was subjected to prison, beatings and more. Often he despaired even of life ( 2 Corinthians 1:8).
Yet Paul kept on going. He clung to the promises of God that no matter how much he suffered, the comfort of Christ was enough to help his heart hold onto hope.
All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. 4 He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. 5 For even as His suffering continues to flood over us, through the Anointed we experience the wealth of His comfort just the same. 6 If we are afflicted with such trouble and pain, then know it is so that you might ultimately experience comfort and salvation. If we experience comfort, it is to encourage you so that you can hold up while you endure the same sufferings we all share. 7 Remember that our hope for you stands firm, unshaken and unshakable. That’s because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so you will also share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 VOICE
Paul doesn’t simply receive the comfort God offers and hoard it. He doesn’t pile it up in a corner and keep it to himself. No! He declares that the comfort he receives is meant for sharing!
A pastor friend says, “Your misery is your ministry.”
I think he’s right.
Child loss has been my greatest challenge, my deepest pain and my most profound misery.
But is has also been the very place God has met me with the greatest comfort, the deepest compassion and the most profound revelation of Who He is.
So it is with suffering; it never leaves you the same. You run into the traps of temptation that greet every sufferer and are left with a cruel harvest in your heart and relationships, or you run toward the comforts of grace, which shine most brightly in the darkness of suffering, and reap a harvest of blessing. Yes, you may continue to suffer, or its effects may remain, but you now live with a changed heart, a sturdier faith, and a joy that suffering cannot take away.
Paul David Tripp, Suffering
The comfort I have received is now mine to give to others.
In spite of everything I’ve endured, my hope remains unshaken and unshakeable.
What specific comfort have you received that you could share with others?
Is God placing people in your path who need that comfort?
How might you do that? Where can you share your story?
If you are already sharing, do you edit yourself so that the hard places don’t seem so hard? Why or why not?
Are you afraid to share the darkness you felt/feel because you think it undermines God’s reputation?
Father God, open the eyes of my heart so that even in the darkest place, the most desolate path, I see Your light and feel Your Presence.
You don’t ask me to deny pain or to pretend that things are “just fine” when they aren’t. You only ask that I bring all my broken bits and heartache to You. When I choose to do that, You are faithful to minister love, grace, mercy and comfort to my spirit and renew my strength.
Help me hold onto hope. Help me to lean into love. Teach me to trust Your truth even when it’s hard.
Take my life and turn it into a testimony of Your faithfulness. Make my misery a ministry to others. Give me beauty for ashes.
Today’s verses are ones often read at funerals and memorial services to remind those left behind that for believers in Christ, death does not have the last word.
What a comfort!
But it’s also a reminder that the world as it is right now, is NOT the world God intended. He made everything perfect and perfectly alive.
Sin brought death.
Death brought heartache.
And for those of us who have too soon been separated from the child of our heart, we know how very much a heart can ache.
I absolutely rest on God’s promise that there will be a Day when everything is redeemed and restored. Christ’s resurrection is proof that His sacrifice is sufficient.
But even Jesus does not yet (in time) possess the full reward for that sacrifice.
So it’s no wonder we often struggle walking in the here and now while waiting patiently for the perfect hereafter.
We are not the first to wonder just how long we might have to wait! Paul was writing to comfort the church at Corinth. He reminded them of truth. He encouraged them to take hold of it and hide it in their hearts as ammunition against the lies of the enemy of our souls.
Stay close because I am going to tell you a mystery—something you may have trouble understanding: we will not all fall asleep in death, but we will all be transformed. 52 It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed! 53 We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life.54 And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says:
Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death.[a]
56 Sin came into this world, and death’s sting followed. Then sin took aim at the law and gained power over those who follow the law.57 Thank God, then, for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Liberating King, who brought us victory over the grave.
I Corinthians 15: 51-59 VOICE
Look at that first verse, “I’m going to tell you a mystery…”
Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us!) that what he’s about to say doesn’t necessarily “make sense” in the way a math equation does. In order to lean into the truth to follow, I have to become comfortable with the space between what I can see, taste, touch and feel and what may very well be true but not accessible by my limited physical senses.
That can be hard and uncomfortable.
So often I want tangible proof.
But that’s not how God works.
He asks me to step out in faith and trust His heart even when I can’t trace His hand.
The good news is that the world is not being tossed about in a battle between equals.
There’s no doubt that the final victory belongs to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of my faith.
So how can I arm my spirit against the wiles of the evil one? By studying the Word, hiding it in my heart and choosing-as an act of willful obedience-to believe.
Questions to ponder:
Do you believe that Death is defeated? Why or why not?
Obviously people still experience physical death. How does that fact impact your understanding of how God works in the world today?
What about the mystery Paul reveals is hardest for you to accept or understand?
How does the promise that these bodies we inhabit aren’t the last word encourage your heart?
What does it look like to live confidently in the hope of redemption, restoration and resurrection?
It’s not always easy to choose life, Lord
Because then we have to struggle with who we are
and why we are, and who you are,
And what to do with who we are,
and why we are, and who you are.
We have to let you make us new,
and being made anything always hurts.
Let the morning come in our hearts,
So morning can come in our lives,
And the world that needs a word of hope can hear
‘Death has lost, and life has won.’
Verdell Davis, Riches Stored in Secret Places
Please join the conversation as we encourage one another, discuss Scripture and ask questions.
Just remember that THE BLOG site is PUBLIC. My own Facebook page post is set to PUBLIC. So any comments you post there will be visible to ANYONE.
All of the closed groups for bereaved parents are PRIVATE.
Only members can see your comments there.
I don’t want anyone to accidentally post something publicly they would rather remain private. ❤
It is kind of a catchy saying to plaster across a Christian school’s gymnasium wall.
I know the one who decided to put it there meant well. But “I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength” is absolutely NOT about lifting weights, running an extra lap or hitting a ball out of the park.
Can we just look at it in context, please?
I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.
Phillipians 4::12-14 MSG
Paul was thanking friends for their concern and aid. But he didn’t want them to think he was desperately needy. He was assuring them that because he had found utter fulfillment in Christ and through Christ he could be content no matter his outward circumstances.
But there is something else here too-another tidbit overlooked in our desire to lift verses out of context.
While Paul was content in his circumstances, while he was at peace and settled in his soul, he was also deeply grateful that his friends had remembered him.He was encouraged that they had sent aid and lifted prayers and inquired as to his well-being.
Being content does not preclude discouragement.
I can feel both deep peace and experience confusion over my present circumstances.
It’s just then that I need faithful friends to remind me that I’m not alone and I’m not abandoned. That is precisely the moment my spirit cries out for compassionate companionship.
This life is not meant to be lived alone-even in a prison cell.
It’s meant to be lived in community with others who come alongside and call courage to our hearts.
Bifurcate: 1. to cause to divide into two branches or parts; 2. my life.
Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I led a fairly unified life.
Our family was unusually close, our goals closely aligned, we shared the same faith, had developed routines and even all liked creamy peanut butter.
That changed when Dom left us-suddenly I was forced to live with one foot HERE and one foot THERE.
I didn’t get to choose, it was decided for me.
Paul’s words took on new meaning and great relevance:
We know that if our earthly house—a mere tent that can easily be taken down—is destroyed, we will then live in an eternal home in the heavens, a building crafted by divine—not human—hands. 2 Currently, in this tent of a house, we continue to groan and ache with a deep desire to be sheltered in our permanent home 3 because then we will be truly clothed and comfortable, protected by a covering for our current nakedness. 4 The fact is that in this tent we anxiously moan, fearing the naked truth of our reality. What we crave above all is to be clothed so that what is temporary and mortal can be wrapped completely in life. 5 The One who has worked and tailored us for this is God Himself, who has gifted His Spirit to us as a pledge toward our permanent home.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5 VOICE
Deep longing can only be expressed with low, gutteral sounds-there are no words!
I am in this earthly tent but wantdesperately to be free of it and clothed with the eternal-where joy unspeakable will reign and sorrow and death will be no more.
So this Lenten journey is helpful to me-it acknowledges the struggle between flesh and spirit.It encourages my heart to walk by faith and not sight, to grab hold of that which counts forever and let go of that which is doomed for destruction.
The truth is, all of us who follow Jesus lead a bifurcated life.
It’s simply that some of us can ignore that truth. Until death touches our bodies or our families, we can pretend that the earthly tent’s not so bad, that it might be somewhere we’d enjoy staying quite awhile.
I am not at all thankful for Dom’s death. I will never be thankful my son left us in the prime of life, full of promise and without saying good-bye.
But I am thankful that I am unavoidably confronted with the truth that this life is fleeting, this world is only a moment and this body temporary housing for my eternal soul.
Paul goes on to write:
In light of this [our understanding that our life here is temporary], we live with a daring passion and know that our time spent in this body is also time we are not present with the Lord. 7 The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. 8 There is no doubt that we live with a daring passion, but in the end we prefer to be gone from this body so that we can be at home with the Lord. 9 Ultimately it does not matter whether we are here or gone; our purpose stays fixed, and that is to please Him.
2 Corinthians 5: 6-9 VOICE
My eyes see one thing, but my heart knows another.
I don’t expect to win and I don’t think I’ll get an audible answer, but I will tell you I’ve had some rip-roaring, humdinger arguments with God.
Now the pious among us will probably be shocked. They may tell me I’m pushing the envelope of grace or even sinning by asking God what exactly He is doing in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.
That doesn’t deter me-there are plenty of scriptural precedents for asking God, “why” and begging Him for an answer to the pain of this broken world.
Moses wanted to know how come he got stuck leading a bunch of whiny migrants tramping through the desert.
Paul begged God to take away the thorn in his flesh.
Jesus and Job both asked the question.
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
Job 13:15 NASB
We usually don’t quote the last half of that verse, do we?
We stop at the affirmation and leave off the doubt-Job’s desperate desire to understand just what God was doing when it seemed unfair and capricious.
Most of the book of Job is full of questions. Job asking why he was targeted and his friends asking him what sin he was hiding.
Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18 NRSV
God invites us to ask.He opens the door to questions.
He is willing to “talk”.
But He doesn’t always answer every question.
In the end, Job’s mouth was shut not by God giving him assurance of anything except His “otherness” and the fact that He IS God.
A difficult truth to embrace.
One I ponder often.
I hurt, I sorrow, I agonize over the loss that has come into my life. A precious life has been taken away. I feel great grief and pain. It sears my every waking hour and casts a puzzling dreary shadow across my life’s journey.
At a time like this, it is imperative that I remember that God has not promised to keep my life bubbling with pleasing sensations. I must not prostitute God by giving Him the responsibility of being an indulgent Santa Claus in the heavens. God is not my servant. I am His servant.
As I come to grips with my grief, I reject the sentimentalized, sickly religion so popular today. God’s comfort is not insulation from difficulty; it is spiritual fortification sufficient to enable me to stand firm, undefeated in the fiery trials of life. God’s provision is not always green pastures and still waters. Sometimes God leads into the valley of the shadow, but I may walk there with confidence, assured of the love and presence of God.
No longer can I offer a mindless, frivolous assertion that God always measures up to my every expectation of Him and always gives His children goodies. I must declare that some things are beyond my human understanding in the ways of God. Those mysteries have destroyed my comfortable existence, but I proclaim: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I will hurt for years to come. A hundred times a day I feel keenly the void left by death’s cruel blow. That pain, however, must drive me to stronger trust in God whose providence is not always compatible with my desires.