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

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Thankful

It’s all well and good when things are going just dandy to post a daily, “I’m thankful for [whatever]”.

It’s another thing entirely when the bottom has fallen out or your world is turned upside down or your heart is shattered and you can’t find even the tiniest spark of gratitude in your dark world.

Yet the Bible clearly states I am to “give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

thanks in all things blackboard

REALLY?????

I am absolutely NOT thankful that my son is dead.

I am not thankful my family circle is broken and my living children have to carry the weight of sibling loss for a lifetime.

I am not thankful that there will always be an empty chair at every holiday gathering regardless of how many show up around the table.

But the verse doesn’t say I have to be thankful FOR all circumstances, but instead to be thankful IN them.

Even on the morning of the dreadful news, I was filled with gratitude for the knowledge that nothing can separate me from the love of God.  

nothing-can-separate-hands

As I held the hands of two of my living children, I was oh, so thankful that they were there and that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we would walk through this together as a family.  

When the sun came up, my heart reminded me that the world was still turning and God was still on the throne.  

sunrise trees

And while it was a long, long time before these feelings were more than faint whispers against a background of screaming pain, I could still hear them.  

Now I have learned that thankfulness and brokenness can live side by side in a heart and in a life.  One does not overshadow or negate the other.

I may not be thankful for what I’m going through (frankly, I’m not) but I am thankful I’m not going through it alone.

I can come into the Presence of my God any time I choose because Jesus has made a way. I can bring my petitions before the Throne of Grace because there is no longer any veil separating me from the Father.

And I am always, always thankful for that. 

you are not alone

Grief is Not a Hammer in the Hand of God

I may risk offending some of my fellow believers in Jesus but I will take that risk.

While scripture is plain that God uses the events in our lives to help fashion our hearts, it is also equally plain that God does not act cruelly or spitefully or wantonly.

What Joseph’s brothers did to him was evil.  God redeemed it.

What the crowd did to Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was evil.  God redeemed it.

What Nero did to the early Christians was evil.  God redeemed it.

Death is the ultimate evil, the last enemy. But Jesus overcame it and God will redeem it.

Yes, “all things work together for good for those that love the Lord” but not all things are good.

My son’s death is not a test, a lesson, a trial nor a hammer in the hand of God sent to pound me into the shape He desires for me.

It is an evil that He can and is using for good.

It will one day be absolutely, totally and irrevocably redeemed.

I can’t wait.

grief is not a tool

Something to Hold On To When You Feel Like Letting Go

I have to talk to myself all the time.

Literally.

There are some mornings I open my eyes and would do just about anything to be able to stay in bed, hide under the covers and wish the day away.

But I can’t.

So I recite truth until my heart can hear it.  I speak courage to my own spirit.

If you are feeling weak and weary today, may I share a few of my favorites?

 

blessed is the one who perseveres

I don’t have to arrive at the finish line cute and perky, I only have to complete the course even if I’m barely crawling or dragging myself the last few feet.

Endurance IS the victory and perseverance IS faith.

 

my grace is sufficient

God’s grace is enough.  Sometimes I don’t believe it but that doesn’t make it untrue.  God promises to provide the strength I need when I need it.  When I am weak, He is strong.

lamentations-3-22-23

Even the very WORST day of my life only lasted 24 hours.  All I have to do is live this moment, this hour and this day.  Every morning is a new beginning with new mercy and sufficient grace.  Every sunrise is a reminder that God is still on the throne and still in control.

you keep track of all my tears

What a precious promise that the King of the Universe, the Creator of all things, the God of Heaven is keeping track of MY tears!  Not a single drop hits the ground but that He scoops it up and saves it.  One day every one will be redeemed.

began a good work

God isn’t finished with me yet.  He is working in and through me to conform me to the likeness of Christ.  That work is often painful.  But He is going to use even this most awful, heartbreaking thing.

revelation-21_4

When all else fails and a day is full of tears and sorrow, I remember that there will be a Day-a glorious Day!-when every single tear will be wiped away and, in the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every bad thing will come untrue.”

Hallelujah!

Amen!

no evil can conquer grace forever

 

Prayer After Child Loss: What’s the Point?

One of the most devastating questions I had to face after Dominic ran ahead to heaven was, “What difference does prayer make?”  

I had prayed-diligently prayed-for every one of my children since before they were born.

Even Dominic’s name, which means “belonging to God” was chosen carefully to reflect my heart’s desire that this child follow hard after Jesus.

Dominic had served Christ’s church with his time, talents and resources his whole life.  Yet he was not quite 24 when he met Jesus face to face.

So why didn’t prayer “work”?  Why did my son die in an accident when others live?

I thought I understood prayer. 

I thought that if I followed the formula I’d been taught:

  • praise God;
  • confess my sins;
  • thank Him for the blessings He gave;
  • and then submit my petitions;

He would be obligated to grant them.

But I was wrong.  

Prayer is not a vending machine-put something in and get something out.  

I wrote this just a few months after he left us:  

Did the mother whose son died pray less or with less faith than the mother whose son lives?

We must be careful to remember that God is sovereign and while we are commanded to pray, our words do not dictate His actions. He alone knows the end from the beginning. He alone is the Alpha and Omega.

I now understand that prayer is privileged communication with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. 

It is an opportunity to align my heart with His.  

It’s a way to tap into the Living Water that Jesus promised the Samaritan woman He met at the well.

LivingWatersWallpaper

It’s two-way conversation where I need to do as much listening as talking.  

So I no longer come with a basket full of petitions, hoping they are granted.  

Instead I kneel, hands outstretched. longing only for His touch, His Presence, His grace, mercy and sustaining strength.  

woman touching his hem

I still pray but it is a simple prayer: 

“Lord, I need You.”

i made you and i will carry you

 

 

 

 

Is God Punishing Me? Theology Matters.

Even though I knew better, one of my first thoughts after I got the news that Dominic had run ahead to heaven was, “Is God punishing me?”

Because when something THIS awful happens, it seems logical to assume it is in response to a massive cosmic imbalance.

As a matter of fact, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s almost more comforting to believe there is a discernible reason behind my son’s death than to swallow the truth I may have to live the rest of my years not knowing.

I combed through my life-searching every nook and cranny-for what I did that deserved this kind of retribution.

And while I, like all of us, have a closet full of sin, I could not find a single transgression that rose to the ranks of demanding my son’s life in payment.

But then I realized that any of my sins-whether I counted them big or small-DID demand payment.

And God sent HIS Son to pay for them.

To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.

I John 4:10 PHILLIPS

They HAVE been paid for.  All of them.  Every single one.

There is no sin debt outstanding.

That’s an important concept to grasp.  It is absolutely critical that bereaved parents (and others who suffer horrible tragedies) get this theological point right. 

God is not out to extract payment for sin.

Now, He may well allow us to suffer the natural consequences of our sinful actions.  There may be things we must endure because of sinful choices we make.

But that is very different than suggesting God is visiting sickness or death or ill fortune on a heart because of unconfessed sin.

As a matter of fact, that was precisely the charge God Himself laid against Job’s friends when they simply would not let go of the idea that Job must have done something to justify his suffering.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job 42:7-9 ESV

Even Job wanted God to explain Himself.  

While the Lord showed up, He never did give Job an answer. 

Instead HE asked the questions.  

We like to think we can figure God out, dig up the reasons why this happens or that doesn’t.  

Truth is, we’d do better to follow Job’s example once he encountered the Living God:

Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
        I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.  (Job 40:4) 

Before I knew only what I had heard of You,
        but now I have seen You.
    Therefore I realize the truth:
        I disavow and mourn all I have said
        and repent in dust and ash.

Job 40:4 ; Job 42:5,6 VOICE

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, His ways are not my ways.  

But He is perfect. 

He is SO perfect that He has provided the once and for all sacrifice that satisfies the price of sin by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

I may not understand (DO not understand!) why He has allowed my son’s death. But is was NOT punishment.  God does not lie.

I can rest satisfied in that truth.

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