My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).
It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more. It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.
I have loved Scripture as long as I can remember. When I was in second grade I got the notion to read the whole Bible straight through-in the King James Version. I made it to Leviticus before I threw in the towel.
By the time my kids were grown I had read and studied Scripture for decades.
But three years before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I realized my reading had become rote-I felt like I “knew” all the stories. So I slowed my study to a crawl-only one chapter a day-and I usually copied the whole chapter plus my notes into a journal. I had just finished this time through the Bible in January before Dom was killed in April.
And all that truth stored in my mind and heart was what I “read” for months when my eyes were too full of tears to see print on a page.
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.
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. ❤**
As a little girl, temptation looked like cheating on a spelling test or sneaking a cookie from a tray that was supposed to be for after supper.
As a young adult temptation looked like going places and doing things I knew weren’t wholesome or savory.
As a middle-aged wife and mother of four temptation looks like blaming God and forsaking my faith because one of my children is dead.
But God is faithful.
At every step of my life, when tempted to do what I knew in my heart was wrong, He has provided a way out even when I refused to take it.
Little children are often constrained by the thought that their parents might find out and punish them. Teens and young adults might be afraid they will get a ticket or get kicked out of school or end up needing bail. By the time you get as old as I am, you’ve figured out that there are lots of things you can get away with and no one but you will know.
And He cares.
When the enemy of my soul whispers, “What good is serving a God who didn’t save your son?” the Holy Spirit answers, “Eternal good, even in temporary pain”.
When doubts creep up and flood my mind, truth steps in and pushes them back.
When I feel the pain of loss in every cell of my body, overwhelmed by the weight of it, undone by the thought of years and years to carry it, my Shepherd King reminds me that He bore it all-the sin, the pain, the shame and the awful separation from the Father-so that I could stand.
Am I tempted?
Am I doomed to give into that temptation and turn away from the only Source of strength and hope I have?
I can reach out (it’s really just a short distance because He’s never far), grab hold (He’s already holding on to me) and lean in to my Father’s arms as He carries me past the doubts, the fears, the worry and brings me Home.
Not always, or even often, because it makes me feel better.
Rather, like poetry, music distills deep emotions into few words that resonate in my soul.
This isn’t a new song and I have heard it many times. But just the other day someone posted it in a group where we were praying desperately for a baby with profound health issues. Barring a touch from the Father’s hand, there was little hope.
The precious little warrior went home to rest, healed and whole, in the arms of Jesus.
So I listened again. And I realized how unbearably true the lyrics are.
Two months is too little
They let him go
They had no sudden healing
To think that providence would
Take a child from his mother while she prays
Who told us we’d be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We’re asking why this happens
To us who have died to live?
Natalie Grant, This is What it Means to be Held
Appalling, unfair, why did this happen?
Oh, how those questions still rattle around in my heart and mind on some days. When Dominic first left for Heaven they were my constant companion.
“Who told us we’d be rescued?”
Certainly not Jesus.
He said we’d have trouble in this world. He never sugar coated how hard life could be.
But He left us with the promise that He would be with us no matter what. We would never be alone in the flood or the fire or the deep, deep pit of child loss.
This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held
Child loss shattered everything-my heart, my world and my understanding of how God works in it. The sacred was most certainly “torn from my life”.
My struggle with the God I thought I knew was as painful as the devastation of burying my son.
This hand is bitterness We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow
It’s so tempting to swallow bitterness when unending despair seems like the only alternative.
But it doesn’t numb the sorrow. Bitterness turns a heart so hard it can’t feel anything-not even love.
The wise hand does open slowly-oh, so slowly-to the beauty and promise of tomorrow.
This is what it means to be held How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life And you survive This is what it is to be loved And to know that the promise was When everything fell we’d be held
When we received the news that Dominic left us that early, still-dark morning, I looked over to a sculpture of upturned hands on my living room table and said, “I can’t open my hands to receive blessings if I don’t also leave them open for the bruisings.”
God is holding me still. He is blessing me still.
I will, undoubtedly, be bruised again in some way.