I picked this book up on a whim sometime last year not knowing how wonderful and insightful and helpful it would be as I hurtle toward the eight year mark of Dom’s leaving for Heaven.
Yet every single day when I turn the page to the next discussion and reflection there is a fresh awakening in my spirit to something I need to explore.
I understand how a heart wants to wall itself off after prayers go unanswered (please don’t regale me with, “But they are all eventually answered”); plans fall apart; others’ sinful actions pound a soul to dust; and lives sacrificially poured out on the table of service are abruptly and unceremoniously cut short.
Why hope if hope is never realized (on this mortal plane)?
In this, Jesus’ actions, words and attitude during Holy Week help me choose another path.
The crowd that welcomed Him turned against Him a few days later. The apostles that promised fidelity unto death ran away. Judas ate the sacred meal with betrayal in his heart.
And yet Jesus remained present to the moment. He accepted events as they came. He welcomed people as they were.
And He trusted His Father even when the cup was too bitter for Him to raise it to His own lips.
I have had to make the choice again and again to hold tightly to the Hand that could have saved my child but didn’t.
There may be some among my friends who never share this struggle-I’m genuinely happy for you.
But that’s not me. Some days I can pray with confidence.
Some days I can’t pray at all.
But I’m working hard not to let go.
Crazily enough, favor is not what frees us from self-protection: suffering is. Not suffering itself, but the choice within suffering to trust, to hope and to love….Today, ask the Holy Spirit to alert you when you are shrinking back from God.
Alicia Britt Chole
**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience.**
If you haven’t watched the body of someone you love lowered into the ground while holding your breath and praying, praying, praying that somehow, some way this isn’t real then maybe you can’t imagine what it feels like not to be spared.
Me? It doesn’t take but a single breath to go from “everything is alright” to “my world is shattered”. I feel every. single. death. added to the tally coronavirus or mass shooting or tornado destruction leaves behind.
So what do we do if we aren’t rescued? What do we cling to if our family isn’t spared?
What if all the prayers lifted on behalf of ones I love don’t stop death from claiming them?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem He was hailed as a hero. But when He didn’t perform as expected He was cast aside.
Will I choose to believe even when it’s hard?
So what if I’m not rescued?
What if my family isn’t spared?
What if all the faithful prayers lifted on behalf of ones I love don’t stop death from claiming them?
Will I still believe?
Will I still trust that God is a loving Father who is in control and working all things together for His glory and my good?
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.
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. ❤**
If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.
Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.
~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning
When I ponder the pain of child loss, it helps to remember that Jesus suffered too.
Not just at the end, when He allowed evil men to crucify Him, but throughout His life when friends abandoned Him, people tried to kill Him, religious leaders mocked Him and sought to destroy His reputation and work.
It helps me to know that my wounds and scars, like His, will be transformed from evidence of pain and loss into a testimony of grace and redemption.
The cross is both the symbol of our salvation and the pattern of our lives. Everything that happened to Christ in some way happens to us. When darkness envelops us and we are deaf to everything except the shriek of our own pain, it helps to know that the Father is tracing in us the image of his Son, that the signature of Jesus is being stamped on our souls. For Jesus, the darkness of night gave way to the light of morning.
~Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus
When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t perform another miracle or call down angels from Heaven to testify on His behalf. He said, “Here, touch my wounds.”
I don’t know what that felt like for Thomas, but it was the only proof he needed to believe.
And while Christ accommodated Thomas, He spoke a special blessing on those who would not have such proof.
I have doubts some days too.
There are moments when suffering washes over me like a flood and I am swept under with the tide.
It’s then I cling tenaciously to the promise that my wounds, like Christ’s, will one day not only be proof of pain but also evidence of God’s redemptive power.
Could it be that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, but not from our memories, that the renewed experience of the glorified saint will be to recall those sadnesses with the transforming joy which God’s presence and God’s disclosed providence will bring? Surely part of our praise in heaven will not merely be that we are now saved, but that we have been saved, that the very title of being those who have conquered means that our memory of victory will include a transformed awareness of what the whole battle meant.
What a difference this could make to my suffering. The scars I bear in my body, my mind, my soul, the adversities and setbacks, the pains that may yet await me before I get to heaven, the relational wounds, the memories from which I struggle to recover, the darkness of doubt and the battles with unbelief, will not necessarily be removed when I get to heaven, but they will be redeemed, they will be transformed by the long view that being perfected in the presence of my perfect God will bring. What an experience it will be to probe the scars, but to no longer feel their pain – to see them as contour lines of God’s grace by which I ascended into glory. What could it mean for my wounds to sing his praise, for my scars to record his perfections, for my memory of old pains to be set in the context of a new and never failing joy. That makes suffering sufferable now, and glory all the more glorious then.
What about signs from loved ones who have gone on to Heaven?
What about books that tell stories of people who have been to Heaven yet “allowed to return”?
What about cardinals and butterflies and feathers and dreams?
It would be so very easy to allow my feelings to rule my heart and to reject the truth of Scripture. It would be less of a struggle to walk this Valley of the Shadow of Death if I could “talk” to Dominic while waiting to join him.
But the Bible is plain:I cannot trust in anything or anyone but Jesus Christ. Every thing and every one else is fallible and will eventually lead me astray.
I wrote this a few months ago and hope it’s helpful to other grieving parents: