Trust After Loss: Acknowledge Doubt and Ask Questions

This is the third in a series of five posts.  If you haven’t read the first two, I encourage you to do so.

I am sharing from the perspective of child loss but the things God is teaching me have much broader application. If you are struggling because you feel like God has let you down, please read on.  And please read the posts that follow this one.

God welcomes us to the divine dinner table to talk things out.

Join us.

Grief forces me to walk Relentlessly Forward  even when I long to go back.

I can’t stop the clock or the sun or the days rolling by.

Those of us who are more than a couple months along in this journey (or any journey that involves tragedy and loss) know that it is ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE to feel worse than in the first few days.

Because as the edges of the fog lift and the reality of an entire lifetime looms before you the questions form and the doubt sinks in:

Where ARE You God?

Why don’t You DO something?

Are You even LISTENING?

So many of us who have been in church for a long time think that Wrestling With God or entertaining doubt  is sin-or, at best- unhealthy and proof of a weak faith.

faith is not an epidural

But Scripture is filed from start to finish with God’s people asking God:

“Why?”

“Where are You?”

“What exactly are is Your plan here?”

Truth is, you can’t hide it.  God KNOWS it anyway.

Some say faith precludes doubt but I say faith is exactly what you cling to in the margins of doubt-when you have exhausted all the possibilities that exist in the physical, you-can-touch-it world and yet you KNOW there is MORE.

Even in my most doubtful moments I knew God was there.  Even if I couldn’t see Him, even if I couldn’t hear Him, even if I couldn’t feel Him-I still knew He was there.  Somewhere deep inside me I knew He was still God. 

But I was trying to figure out how to re-engage with this God that wasn’t at all who I expected Him to be and didn’t act in ways I thought He should.  The relationship had changed because I was not the person I used to be before I buried my son.

HE is the same, but I am most definitely NOT.  

God invites us to bring Him our questions and our doubts.  He says, “Come let us reason together.”  Questions are how you mark the borders of what you know and find the edges of what you don’t.

God is not diminished by my desire to understand and make sense of my world-He doesn’t owe me an explanation-but He gives me freedom to ask the questions.

my-faith-is-a-wounded-faith

Wrestling is not UNBELIEF.  Wrestling is the hard work of true faith.

Walk through the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11-Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, David-every. single. one. had questions for God.

God is not threatened by my wondering.  His throne is in no danger due to my queries.

It is most often other believers who find the questions unsettling.  Doubters can be shifted to the back pew-not because people are mean but because our presence is threatening.  For someone yet to face the test of faith, our test can remind them that theirs may be coming.

I don’t want nor expect to have the last word, I believe that belongs to the Creator of the Universe.  But I think He will hear my pleas.

In my trouble I called to the Lord, I cried out to my God for help.  From his temple he heard my voice.  My call for help reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6 ICB

God is God of the day and God of the night-when I can’t feel Him, He’s still here.

He knows my frame-He made me.

He knows I’m strugging, I can’t hide it.

When I swallow my doubts instead of speaking them all I do is poison my own heart.

Lament is a biblical response to deep pain.

I have to exhale before I can inhale. 

If my heart is full of unreleased anger and bitterness, then it has no room for the Spirit of God to move.

If I want to keep my faith, I’ve got to acknowledge my doubts.  

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

 

 

 

Trust After Loss: Admit the Pain

Child loss is Unnatural-no way around it.

Out of order death is devastating.

When my perfectly healthy, strong and gifted son was killed instantly in a motorcycle accident on April 12. 2014 my world fell apart.  My heart shattered into a million pieces.  And after three and a half years, I’ve yet to even FIND all of those pieces much less put them back together.

So what does a heart do when that happens?  Because, try as I might, I cannot stop time. 

Even THAT awful day only lasted 24 hours.

When the sun rose again, the pain was still there.  And behind that pain and mixed with it was something else-disappointment, disaffection, distrust.

Where were You, God???

God is sovereign-He rules.

God is good-He loves.

How do those two truths live together in a universe that includes child loss? How can I trust the rest of my life and my eternal future to a God who lets this happen?

It’s a process.  And it takes time.  It involves purposeful choices by me to place my heart where it can hear truth even when it doesn’t want to hear and doubts every word.

The first step toward trusting again is to ADMIT THE PAIN.

You may be thinking, “Are you crazy?”.   

“Of course I know I’m hurting-my child is no longer here!”

But that’s the easy pain to recognize and own up to.  For those of us who have swallowed the western church model of “Sunshine Christianity”*, we will have a much harder time admitting our dismay that as victors in Jesus we feel discouraged, defeated and disgusted.

And should we dare to whisper it aloud we may well be shouted down by voices afraid to hear what they themselves sometimes secretly think but never speak.  So we convince our hearts these are phantom pains like those of a lost limb and try to ignore them.

But they will not be ignored.

The Bible is full of broken people bringing their hearts and their hurts to God.

  • He doesn’t despise my pain.
  • He doesn’t turn away from my tears.
  • He doesn’t hurry me through hearbreak.

Death is awful!  We dare not make it small!

It was the penalty for sin and the price of salvation.  To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.

I must admit my pain:

  • Own it.
  • Feel it.
  • Name it.
  • Speak it.

I’m not the first nor will I be the last to wonder about where God is and what He is doing.  Nicolas Wolterstorff’s adult son was killed in a climbing accident and his little book, Lament for a Son, was one of the best I have read in grief.

It struck a chord with me both because of the similarity of our loss and his honesty in exploring the edges of pain and doubt.

He writes:

Will my eyes adjust to this darkness?  Will I find you in the dark-not in the streaks of light which remain, but in the darkness?  Has anyone ever found you there?  Did they love what they saw?  Did they see love?  And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim?  Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?

Noon has darkened.  As fast as they could say, “He’s dead”, the light dimmed.  And where are you in the darkness?  I learned to spy you in the light.  Here in this darkness, I cannot find you.  If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence.  Or is it not your absence in which I dwell, but your elusive troubling presence?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, LAMENT FOR A SON

C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the loss of his wife, Joy.  And he also is honest and raw-asking aloud the questions that hide in our hearts, admitting the fear that the God we serve may not be the God we thought we knew.  

Giants in faith-both men. 

Yet they, like us, had to bring the shattered pieces of their broken hearts to the foot of the cross and beg God to put them back together. 

Admit the pain. 

God already knows.  

god shouts in pain cs lewis

*Sunshine Christianity is the notion that once one belongs to Jesus the road is smooth (God can make a way), the path clear of obstacles (if you have enough faith), and if I simply claim the promises of Scripture I have victory over every circumstance.  It does not square with either Jesus’ own experience nor that of the 12 apostles.

You Are Not Alone

Grief is isolating.

Even in our immediate family, differing grief styles, personalities and gender can separate us from one another in our sorrow.

And out in the world, well-THAT separation is as long and tall as the Great Wall of China.

But I’m here to tell you that you are NOT alone.

I felt so very alone after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  I only knew a couple of bereaved parents and their losses were many, many years prior to mine so they were at a different place.  Although they reached out, I didn’t have the courage or words to access their wisdom.

I live in a very small community and though I expanded my search to the nearby larger cities, there were only two grief groups I could find and neither exclusive to child loss.

In addition, I wanted a group founded on and looking toward the promises of God in Christ.  I was already discouraged, disheartened and on the verge of hopelessness-I couldn’t bear to have that part of my experience reinforced without the counterbalance of hope in Jesus.

I read, read, read.

And those books helped so much.  But they still lacked the give and take I needed.  I longed for a safe space to share my heart and have others share theirs.  I wanted to be able to ask questions and hear how other bereaved parents handled similar feelings, fears and situations.

I needed community.

It was 17 long months before I found it through While We’re Waiting support group for bereaved parents.

What a breath of fresh air!

Even though the closed group is peopled by broken hearts there is understanding and compassion and HOPE.  Those further along in this journey speak courage to the hearts freshly shattered.  Tender, vulnerable moms and dads know that HERE they are SAFE.

Last week I attended and spoke at the Through This Valley conference for bereaved parents held near the While We’re Waiting Refuge.

I got to meet some of the very special people who have helped me on this journey.  It was a preview of Heaven-hearts united in love for one another and love for our Savior.

Lots and lots of tears.  But lots and lots of hugs.  Lots and lots of sorrow over missing our children.  But lots and lots of joyful anticipation that we WILL be reunited.

You are NOT alone, dear heart.

There is a community of parents waiting to embrace you.

None of us would have chosen this painful path yet we choose to walk together on it.

Come, join hands with others who will speak courage to your heart.

while were waiting

Costly Obedience

If the only place you get your food is the grocery store with overflowing shelves and more choices than any one person truly needs, then this verse won’t mean much to you.

If you’ve never depended on a homemade pantry stocked with home-canned jars for your winter supply, it’s hard to understand.

But if you’ve ever had to choose between putting that last bit of corn into the ground or into your mouth, you won’t have any trouble imagining the tears that flow as you place each kernel beneath the dirt with a prayer begging for a bumper crop.

And then you wait.

Because only the planting in faith is MY business.  The growing is God’s.

Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears,
    will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared.
  Those who weep as they walk
    and plant with sighs
Will return singing with joy,
    when they bring home the harvest.

Psalm 126:5-6 VOICE

In dark and burdensome seasons of life, I am tempted to cling tightly to what I can hold in MY hand instead of clinging tightly in faith to the One Who holds me in HIS hand.

Sowing in tears is choosing to walk obediently even when obedience is costly and there is no visible evidence that it will produce a good result.

There may be a long wait-perhaps my entire lifetime-to see the harvest of choosing obedience in faith.

But there WILL be a harvest.

He guarantees it.

And then the tears will turn to JOY.

sow in tears 2

 

 

Lots of Questions, No Answers

After screaming, “Oh no!  Oh no!”  the next words out of my mouth were, “Why? Why MY son?”

Nearly three and a half years later I have yet to receive an answer.

And I don’t expect to get one this side of heaven although every fiber of my being continues to cry out for some kind of explanation.

But, really, what answer would ever satisfy my mama heart?

Even if God allowed me to see everything He is weaving together through my sorrow and pain how could I embrace it as fully as I embraced the little baby laid in my arms over 27 years ago?  My flesh would continue to yearn for the physical presence of my son,  my soul would continue to mourn his too-soon (from my perspective) departure from this mortal life.

I am convinced that the only answer that will be enough is Jesus Himself.

When I meet Him face-to-face, my fears, my questions, my tears and my pain will melt away in the glorious perfection of absolute joy.  No corner of my heart will remain unfilled, no aching longing will be remembered.

I will not shake my fist and say, “WHY???”

I won’t have to.

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?
― C.S. Lewis

those that wait in hope shall not be ashamed

Repost: Grace for Right Now

It’s funny-or maybe not-that God will weave a theme through a day or week or month.  

He will put the same word in front of me in multiple places, speak it through different people, sometimes even (literally) plaster it across a billboard.

This morning it is grace.

Abundant, sufficient, enduring grace.

Read the rest here:  Grace for Right Now

Repost: He Knows My Name

Grief can be isolating.  

It separates me as one who knows loss by experience from those who have only looked on from the outside.  

It opens a chasm between me and people who aren’t aware that life can be changed in a single instant.

And I can feel like no one sees me, no one cares about me and no one notices my pain.

Sometimes it even feels like God has forgotten me-that He isn’t listening, that He doesn’t care.

Read the rest here:  He Knows My Name