When my son, Cole, died . . .
When Gracen and Katie were diagnosed. . . and every fear filled moment prior to that . . .
When Bethany and Katie died . . . and Gracen was in surgery, then the ICU . . .
When David and I sat in courtrooms. . .
Every loss, every painful moment. . .
Was deeply personal . . .
Between God and I.
Between me and Jesus.
Between us—the Holy Spirit who resides within and the old and new man (the human and the holy) battling within.
If I believe that God has plans for me—that everything that happens to me is filtered through His hands first—that He allows and disallows things in my life—that none of it surprises Him—if I truly believe that then . . .
So, so very personal.
And that’s the hard part, you know, because I do believe all those things.
And while I immediately recognized those events as personal disappointments or tragedies, and I also recognized them as personal on a spiritual level, that truth (losses being spiritually personal) was a bit overshadowed by some well known scriptural references.
When we find ourselves in deeply personal situations we often try to step back so that we can see the big picture. Isn’t that our goal when we think about verses like Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11?
These are forward thinking verses. Verses that lead us to think far down the road; past pain and suffering. Let’s consider Romans 8:28 first:
“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28
A common interpretation of Romans 8:28 is that tragedy will be redeemed by testimony. You don’t testify to yourself. You testify to others. And as such Romans 8:28 becomes a call to ministry. And all of the sudden my personal tragedy is no longer personal as a corporate expectation forms in the minds of men.
The first Sunday I returned to church I heard how my testimony was already at work in the lives of others. A number of people have mentioned ministry opportunities to me. And really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I want to give back or I wouldn’t write a blog; among other things. It’s not a complaint. I’m just trying to use these examples as a means of helping you understand that the personal nature of my spiritual issues?, obstacles?, concerns?, frustrations? . . . whatever you want to call them, was lost and overshadowed to a degree as I considered God’s overall purpose for my disappointments and losses.
God’s purposes always seem to reach beyond a single individual. They are often His means of reaching the lost, conforming the saved into the image of Christ, gaining the glory He so richly deserves, and the culmination of all of those things in a multitude of believer’s lives leads us to the fulfillment of end times prophecy.
God’s purposes may be personal, but they are also corporate.
And Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11
Despite the individualized nature of Jeremiah 29:11, it somehow serves to depersonalize the events of life. Maybe it’s because I am fully aware that that verse was written to a group of people not any specific individual such as the biblical examples of God speaking directly to Moses or Joshua or the prophets. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the Babylonian exiles promising the return to their homeland—after 70 years.
70 long years.
Every single exile suffered individual and personal tragedies. But the message was for a group. . . all those plans for God’s people . . . plans for prosperity, for hope and a future . . . plans that weren’t harmful . . . were plans for the overall group of exiles—and very few, if any of those exiles, would survive to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. The message would have been passed down from parent to child to grandchild as the 70 year exile played out.
We apply Jeremiah 29:11 to individual circumstances, but I wonder if, like the Babylonian exiles, those promises for prosperity, hope and a future—for plans that do no harm, won’t be realized by the individuals we try to encourage in dark days. Maybe the New Covenant audience for that verse is for the Bride of Christ as a whole, more than it is for believers individually.
And that is why I was shocked to find myself telling my grief counselor so emphatically that every issue I am struggling to overcome can be categorized as personal spiritual angst.
It’s not corporate.
The body of Christ may benefit from the tragedies of my life but they don’t share my tragedies. They don’t experience my suffering.
Those standing on the outside looking in . . .
Are not standing in the crumbling ruins of their lives.
And talk (biblical or not) is cheap—it’s easy—when you are on the outside looking in precisely because it’s not personal.
That’s not to imply that others don’t sincerely care.
It’s just so much easier to offer advice—to take advice—when it’s not personal.
But it’s devastatingly personal for me.
It’s devastatingly personal for the young father whose wife succumbed to breast cancer. . .
For the parent whose child has committed suicide. . .
For the family whose home has been destroyed by a fire.
And each of those things are a bit deceiving because each one is merely a domino in a line of dominoes. Financial strain, mental health issues, etc., always follow.
Adding insult to injury, the believer often finds that God is silent. It may be that we are so desperately grasping for answers that we are unable to hear His voice, but sometimes He just holds His peace. Job knew something about that.
God’s taken what you knew or had and seemingly abandoned you.
And beneath the layers of grief and sorrow and loss lies the apparent betrayal of your closest friend and ally.
It is so very, very personal.
And you are left to chose to take His hand believing that He has something good for you ahead. . .
While fearing more of what experience has taught you . . .
Or choosing to stumble around in the dark at your own risk.
What is more frightening to a broken believer? To a believer who has experienced great loss not everyday hardships?
And while outsiders look in from the safety of their own relatively stable lives expounding upon God’s goodness, His plans, His working all things out for good, we, the walking wounded, are reminded of John the Baptist and John the Revelator and of Stephen. Not every saint is set free from the prison they’ve been cast into. Some die there after they have been exiled and tortured mercilessly.
Is it any wonder that some choose to sit still in the darkness instead of stumbling forward on their own—instead of taking the hand that led them to destruction before?
It’s not just about the circumstances or the situation you find yourself in, it’s about the personal nature of those circumstances—of that situation. It’s about knowing God allowed them, or didn’t prevent them from happening to you individually.
Talk to me when your world has collapsed around you. Talk to me when you are afraid. Talk to me when you can name your fears and when they are a vague Specter looming threateningly over your shoulder, unnamed but real nonetheless. Talk to me when you are afraid to take your Savior’s hand and when you are equally afraid not to. Talk to me when the ability to project a positive outlook has been striped from your arsenal of weapons. Talk to me when it becomes desperately and intimately personal. Then I will think you understand. . .
Because the fact that it’s personal . . .
That it feels like you’ve been blindsided by a betrayal of trust. . .
Makes all the difference in the world.
“God is good all the time” is not a flip statement you rattle off to project confidence in your Savior. It’s not a mantra you repeat hoping to convince yourself of its truth. Those six words are a sacrifice of praise that are torn from the depths of despair and lifted in defiance from the ashes of a life burned down around you.
They are costly and precious.
They are the widow’s mites.
They are absolutely all she has left.
“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”” ~ Luke 21:1-4
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” ~ Psalm 51:17
October 18, 2016 at 4:54 am
Once again you have laid it out perfectly, achingly beautiful and oh, so very true! Yes. To every word. yes!
You have drawn the contrast well between those who toss Scripture at us like confetti in a parade-like we are heroes who only have yet to take the podium and declare the victory. But what if, like you say, there IS no victory in this life for some of us? What if there is only endurance-which is a sort of victory but not one highly valued.
Thank you, my friend, for being honest. It matters more than you will ever know.
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October 18, 2016 at 1:58 pm
Gosh Melanie, I think you said it far better than I and a lot more concisely too. 😉
I love that confetti analogy! So a appropriately perfect!
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October 18, 2016 at 6:43 am
‘And all of the sudden my personal tragedy is no longer personal as a corporate expectation forms in the minds of men.’ This is so very true Janet. When my teenage daughter was first diagnosed and we suddenly found ourselves the focus of attention locally, this was a conversation that I had with her quite early on. She was agreeable to us being quite public and transparent about what was happening in our lives and how we were coping. I’ve also had to check with other family members at various times that they are comfortable with what I’m writing. However, I’m sure that for families who highly value their privacy and personal space, this aspect of ‘tragedy’ must add greatly to their stress levels.
It is something I’ve often thought about but I’ve never been able to verbalise it as well as you have in this blog post.
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October 18, 2016 at 2:11 pm
Thank you! I’m never really confident that I clearly express the message I’m trying to convey.
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October 18, 2016 at 7:29 am
Yes. So painfully personal. How do II pray for my family when God took one without reason, without warning. Maybe I am selfish because I can pray for others, but I don’t trust God with my family enough to pray for them on the daily basis I did before……… I look at others who have lost spouses, children and they look so strong in their faith. They claim my faith is strong but if they only knew the inner agony, fights, etc., that I have. Four years later, I no longer yell at God but I still dissolve into agony. Thursday is, would be, my son’s 29th birthday. I should be planning a special meal, should be shopping for a gift, not putting flowers in a pumpkin on his grave. I agree with your Agony, Janet. I feel, experience your personal agony with you. None of us want to be here. I am so sorry. Thank you Janet. I am sending Hugs, tears, and Prayers for you.
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October 18, 2016 at 2:35 pm
Prayer – supplication in particular- is very hard for me too. Like you, I can pray for others, but asking things for my own family – not so much. I can’t cope with more deferred hope! I prefer to skip the supplication and then if things don’t work out the way I want them to I can blame myself (You have not because you ask not) instead of God. It’s easier to be mad at myself than disappointed with God. I would in no way describe your issues with prayer as selfish!
Paul said he gloried in his weakness because God’s strength is perfected in our weaknesses. This strength your friends see, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit shining through in spite of your personal weaknesses. Think of a cracked pot with a candle inside.
And hey, from a less spiritual perspective, we can all benefit from Christopher Robins reminder to Pooh Bear . . . “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” A. A. Milne
Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s birthday. I too miss all the things I should be doing in order to celebrate the joy of Katie. This is the third birthday without her. I have not yet found a satisfactory way to observe the day – to celebrate her life – in her absence. I will be praying for you Thursday.
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October 18, 2016 at 7:45 am
“Talk to me when you are afraid to take your Savior’s hand and when you are equally afraid not to.” You have spoken exactly what I’ve been thinking. Your whole blog post is what I’m feeling but so afraid to tell others who do not walk this path of great loss because they don’t understand and I don’t want to deal with their judgement. I lost my son to suicide 18 months ago (he was 16), and my husband has been out of work now for almost 6 months-and I don’t have a career, so he is the only income provider. People outside of my little world keep telling me to “trust God, He will provide for you.” Yet, God also allowed my son to die, so I have some trust issues that I’m working through. Not to mention the deafening silence coming from Heaven as I plead with God to bring a job to my husband.
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October 18, 2016 at 9:14 am
There are no words that comfort. Hugs, tears, and Prayers, Karie.
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October 18, 2016 at 1:55 pm
I am so very sorry – for the loss of your son and the job loss that followed! Your words, they are like an echo of where I’ve been to a certain degree. Our circumstances are different. I don’t personally know the heartache of suicide – but I do know that it is a uniquely painful loss. I can only imagine the horror of it.
There is a faith-based bereaved parents organization you should check out if you are not already familiar with it. (With only your first name, I can’t tell if you are a member of our private Facebook support group). Please check out whilewerewaiting.org if you are not aware of this group. The members have all confronted the same issues you speak of and you will find there are many other parents you can freely talk about suicide with. You are not alone!
If you read my ‘About’ page, you are probably aware that my husband had been unemployed prior to the accident that took Bethany & Katie’s lives. The loss of a loved one, your child, is hard enough. Adding to that all the fears that go with unemployment has to feel overwhelming. Concerns about judgment (I fear that too) and your aversion to the ‘trust God’ admonition are all things I’ve struggled with as well.
As you have discovered, I am wordy, so please let me point you to a link on a blog I wrote on the subject of trust. We seem to think alike, and it might help to see another person’s struggle with the same issue. I’ll add the link below. Here is part of a statement from Promise Land’s Border. It doesn’t specifically mention trust but is certainly the underlying concept.
” . . . while God is in control, and I can trust in eternal security and that God will be with me through anything he allows to transpire in the future, I have also had to face the stark truth that God was also in control when Cole, Bethany and Katie died. His sovereign control does not shelter me or anyone else from the grief and sorrow the loss of a loved one brings. . . God’s sovereign control is not a consolation for me right now because I am well aware of exactly how much God’s good plans for me can hurt before the good part of his plans are realized in a believer’s life.”
Praying for God’s provision for your practical needs and your spiritual needs as well. It’s lonely out here!
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October 18, 2016 at 3:08 pm
Thank you so much for the link. I am a part of the group you mentioned. I have read your story and keep up on your blog. I’m thankful for all of your “wordiness” as you so often are able to put into writing what I am feeling.
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October 18, 2016 at 7:06 pm
I can connect you with a woman or two I know of that are grieving the loss of a child via suicide if you’d like. Just say the word!
October 18, 2016 at 7:24 pm
Janet, thanks for the offer to hook me up with some other parents of suicides. I’m a member of a few closed facebook groups specifically for parents of suicides and sadly, I also have several friends I’ve made in my own community whose sons have all died by suicide within the 6 months of my own son.
October 18, 2016 at 7:26 pm
I’m glad you have support, especially local support, but I hate the reason why, and hate that you all need it.
October 18, 2016 at 8:57 am
I echo your thoughts. When I heard right away that God was going to use this tragedy and my testimony to work in the lives of others, it overwhelmed me. I was so deep in my sadness and grief, that I couldn’t think of helping others. I was so needy myself. I really resented that people would say that to me. As if that would make the happening all okay. That it would have a positive result in “A ministry.” I know they didn’t realize it, but it was too early for me to hear that!
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October 18, 2016 at 2:40 pm
Yes! The idea that our loss was justified or deemed okay because a great testimony or a ministry springs from it is offensive. I personally think Romans 8:28 shouldn’t be quoted to a grieving believer for years after the death of their loved one. We “hear” a message that verse is not intended to convey. God works to redeem what’s been stolen from us but He doesn’t condone the loss of life to justify that which He redeems. He’s fixing wrongs, not using wrongs to create right things.
Hugs, Nancy! Sorry I missed you when I was in town last!
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October 18, 2016 at 3:50 pm
Agreed! This verse has given my a lot of pain. In light of our losses and our understanding of a loving God, it doesn’t make sense in its normal interpretation. The other verse that gives me a lot of pain is I Thessalonians 4:13, “Bet we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” ESV I don’t believe it means that we have less pain for less time but I have had that quoted to me implying my faith must be weak or I would not be in so much pain. Knowing we will join our children in heaven, knowing they are whole and wonderful in pain does NOT lessen the pain of not having them with us. I am not sure what is meant in this verse. I just know it does not mean we suffer any less.
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October 18, 2016 at 7:04 pm
Oh Nancy, the messed up theology implied to you makes me so sad! I think you have wrestled needlessly over 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Looking at the last half of verses 13, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”, notice that it indicates that both the saved and the lost grieve, but the saints grieve with hope – the hope of our eternal future – of eternal life with our Savior and reunion with the believing loved ones who proceed us in death – and the lost grieve without hope. This is a portion of what R.C. Sproul said about hell (You can find the article in its entirety here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell6.html)
“A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares, “Hell is a symbol for separation from God.” To be separated from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person. The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God. Their problem in hell will not be separation from God, it will be the presence of God that will torment them. In hell, God will be present in the fullness of His divine wrath. He will be there to exercise His just punishment of the damned. They will know Him as an all-consuming fire.
No matter how we analyze the concept of hell it often sounds to us as a place of cruel and unusual punishment. If, however, we can take any comfort in the concept of hell, we can take it in the full assurance that there will be no cruelty there. It is impossible for God to be cruel. Cruelty involves inflicting a punishment that is more severe or harsh than the crime. Cruelty in this sense is unjust. God is incapable of inflicting an unjust punishment. The Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. No innocent person will ever suffer at His hand.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of hell is its eternality. People can endure the greatest agony if they know it will ultimately stop. In hell there is no such hope. The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment is eternal. The same word is used for both eternal life and eternal death. Punishment implies pain. Mere annihilation, which some have lobbied for, involves no pain. Jonathan Edwards, in preaching on Revelation 6:15-16 said, “Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God.” (John H. Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell [Orlando: Ligonier Ministries, 1991], 75.)
Hell, then, is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Understanding this is crucial to our drive to appreciate the work of Christ and to preach His gospel.”
Keeping in mind the way in which Sproul described hell, particularly the awareness that there will be no end to suffering, the fate of the lost sounds completely hopeless. And frankly, the Bible tells believers that they will share in the sufferings of Christ. Suffering is painful. The idea that a Christian with adequate faith will not experience the pain and sorrow of loss and separation is contrary to Biblical teaching. Faith does not anesthetize pain, faith makes pain bearable because we have the comforter residing within us.
Nancy, I hope this helps to lay to rest the idea that you hurt because your faith was weak. Feel free to run it by Pastor Scott to get his take on that verse. He’s trained!
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October 18, 2016 at 7:16 pm
Yes, Janet. Lots to think and pray about. Thank you.
Shari Weckerly Arnold
November 17, 2016 at 10:01 am
Our 19yo son passed away 3 years ago. Thankfully I am rooted in the Word of God…and before he passed I never thought of those verses in context of Deep grief. I believe…especially the Romans one is for our son….this making those scriptures “personal”. For whatever reason God needed him for a job in heaven, or maybe it was to save him from further pain here on earth, but whatever reason…I do trust God had and has his back that night and now in heaven.
As I continue to grow as a believer …I look to do His will for my life. I have learned much through this experience of grief but having a child die …it does not feel redeemable for me. I do not want our sons death to give me my purpose here on earth. I feel a bit rebellious writing that…not sure I’ve even said it outloud Let alone “writtenl it. Perhaps God does and will use it for His good…when I’m not looking. Thanks for your words to get
Me thinking about this side of it.
November 17, 2016 at 10:53 am
Thanks for stopping in to read my post and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate hearing what others think. Iron sharpens Iron and all that, you know? I wrote in an earlier post about how I feel about a purpose or a ministry arising out of my losses – and I was afraid to say it out loud – to put it in writing for fear of criticism, rebuke or correction. But I think believers need to be open with their struggles so we can learn from each other, so I bit the bullet and put what I was feeling – not so much what I believe to be true – into feelings. You can find that post at: https://boxxbanter.com/2015/10/22/uncovering-unknown-issues-of-the-heart/
if you’d like to read it.
I am sincerely sorry for the loss of your son. It is a heartbreak like no other. A fellow parent-in-loss shared Isaiah 57:1 at the last support group meeting I attended. I thought it might give you comfort the way it did me. “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” (NIV)
It will be three years for us the day after Christmas. Sometimes I’m shocked to realize that much time has passed. In many ways it feels like that terrible day never ended, in others it feels so much longer since I’ve seen, touched, and heard the voices of my daughters. You probably understand this well, even if your experience is personally different. I find bereaved parents have a unique understanding and affinity for each other.
I know God still has purpose for you – but it may have nothing whatsoever to do with the death of your son. Regardless, the light of the Holy Spirit residing within you is seen by others through the cracks of your broken heart. You might be unaware of it, but it’s still happening. I have a blogpost that talks about that very thing scheduled to post late November 28th called “Inspirational Faith?”. You should be able to find it Tuesday the 29th if you are interested.
I hope you will stop back in and continue to banter with me! May God bless you and yours this upcoming and challenging holiday season!
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November 17, 2016 at 11:27 am
Thank you for pointing out Isaiah 57:1. It looks like a voice I need to study. The holidays are so hard. Thank you, Janet.
November 17, 2016 at 11:42 am
I was so glad someone brought that verse to my attention, Nancy. I hope it blesses you too!
November 17, 2016 at 6:03 pm
I forget who mentioned the Isaiah verse to me but I agree. That is a very comforting verse.
And yes…you said it very well about how God calls us all to different ways of helping others through the loss of a child. I do actually have a mom that I help via text since her daughter went to heaven. I do want to be there
for parents as I really had no one that first year except this While your waiting group. I thought several times how I wished another mom had been strong enough to reach out. So that is one thing I do. And I do hope others can see Gods Glory through me…His Glory gives so much strength and courage to we humans.
And I love to have someone to banter with…helps work these thoughts out! And we all know how difficult that can be most days. 😉
I didn’t realize your two went to heaven the day after Christmas. I’ve read your story and “feel” the burden you have to bear. Our son passed on our 31 wedding anniversary. I certainly never knew how all these dates affected parents until it happened to us. Special prayers for you over the holidays.
January 31, 2017 at 4:32 am
That is so much to deal with.What i am getting from your piece is strength that lies in weakness. i haven’t gone through as much as you have but i have seen God come through for me in those moments that i felt i had lost it all. You are right its personal.
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January 31, 2017 at 10:20 am
You definitely got it. And you are inspiringly concise! I’d need a brain transplant to become so concise. I certainly appreciate it when I see it!
November 19, 2018 at 7:49 am
Yes, for sure the pain is personal and Thanksgiving and praise are definitely sacrifices. This is so minor compared to what you’re going through but I remember consoling a distraught missionary wife in a dentist office years ago. They were struggling financially and she was certain she needed a root canal. I had all sorts of verses to encourage her that the Lord would provide, that this didn’t take God by surprise etc.ect. When she came out of his office she was elated as all she needed were minor repairs. She thanked me profusely and I felt quite pleased with myself for quoting just the verses she needed. I then went into his office to have a crown glued back on and came out very distraught as it was more serious than expected and I was the one that needed the root canal at a whopping price of about $1,500. Somehow all those verses that I had quoted to her like a saint of great faith didn’t seem to do me a bit of good. In this case, one could smile and see a bit if humor. But there was a lesson learned. Just quoting a verse from the sidelines and actually applying them in tough situations are a world apart.
November 19, 2018 at 1:41 pm
I commend you for doing your best to encourage a fellow believer. We all need encouragement! And yes, you learned a valuable lesson . . . because you are teachable! That’s huge! Many would have missed the lesson you learned in the midst of their new trial. Heaven knows I’ve been known to do just that.
Today I was catching up on my scripture writing plan (again!) and wrote Galatians 6:1-6 in the Amplified version. I love the AMP! That passage of scripture is about sin (which definitely doesn’t apply here) but I took note of a few things. Carrying the burdens of others requires that I am, 1) “. . . responsive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit”, 2) without “a sense of superiority or self-righteousness”, and 3) “keeping a watchful eye on yourself, so that you are not tempted as well”, so that I am truly exhibiting Christian love.
I don’t want to deceive myself but I do want the personal satisfaction and inner joy of doing something commendable without comparing myself to others who are either more or less spiritually mature than I am. Lord knows that neither comparison is beneficial to me!
I need to do what you did – examine my actions, attitudes and behavior realizing that whenever I fail to examine myself that I am prideful and self-deceptive. I also need to live with acute awareness that I will bear the burden of my own faults and shortcomings of which I am solely responsible.
That experience years ago obviously made a profound impact on you. I bet you are far more aware when encouraging another believer that the true application of scripture is frequently a process of wrestling the old man into submission that requires that we acknowledge either our resistance to God’s ways or our inability to force ourselves into obedience; not a simple one and done decision we make. So many times I fail to realize that I am trying to do something under my own power that requires the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in order to be accomplished. The longer I live the more aware I am that knowing what I need to do doesn’t make doing it easy or even something I am actually capable of accomplishing. Maybe I am not only learning to ask for God’s help sooner but also to realize that He rarely speaks immediate change into the lives of believers. I think He is meticulous in changing us and that takes time. I think I have more compassion and patience for both myself and for others. I hope so!
Thanks for reading and for sharing your personal experience. I want to be teachable like you!
November 19, 2019 at 2:50 pm
I understand the emotions in this. They are real and valid. However, I emphatically disagree with this part: “Those standing on the outside looking in . . .
Are not standing in the crumbling ruins of their lives….And while outsiders look in from the safety of their own relatively stable lives expounding upon God’s goodness, His plans, His working all things out for good, we, the walking wounded…” Those buried in their crumbling ruins have a difficult time seeing that most others are staring up from their own piles. I don’t know if most people have “stable” lives, and perhaps they expound on God’s goodness as a way to affirm to themselves that it is a possibility. I, personally, have never met anyone who is not walking wounded. I think in religious communities we do a disservice to ourselves and others when we say things like, “I know I was spared that day because I said my prayers”, or “I know I was blessed because of (take your pick- some action of righteousness).” I think somehow that creates in our subconscious the idea that if we just DO enough or be righteous enough, we will win the reward- the safety, the spared loved one, the answers, etc. Yes, it’s personal, but I don’t believe “it” was created by the Creator. He knows, before we do, but He does not allow or disallow. He watches with us, he cries with us, and he loves us regardless of how we allow ourselves to experience it. To think that God is some celestial slot machine in which we can drop enough coins into, and once in a while hit the jackpot, is just setting ourselves up for abandonment issues. And to make your pile of rubble to be bigger than another’s, who in their weak attempts to be compassionate while giving failed comfort or advice, just keeps you buried and makes those whose rubble seems so insignificant feel they have not suffered enough to earn the confetti. And that perpetuates the illusion that they are not wounded. By claiming yourself as more wounded, and others as not understanding your pain, you ask for the confetti.
November 22, 2019 at 9:26 pm
Thank you for reading my blog post and taking time to thoughtfully reply.
I agree with several of the points you made in your response. I agree that everyone has been wounded to some degree in this life. I also agree that God is not a celestial slot machine and that works of righteousness don’t guarantee a believer will be blessed with worldly rewards such as safety, financial security, prayers answered according to OUR personal will, etc. Scripture doesn’t teach that. In fact scripture teaches that believers will share in Christ’s sufferings. One need look no further than the book of Job to see that righteousness doesn’t ensure the safety of our loved ones, financial security, or good health. Additionally, Job provides a good example of the fact that God allows suffering (not that He causes it) in the lives of His children. It also demonstrates that God prevents some things from happening to us. He allowed Satan to touch all Job owned, but originally not to touch Job himself. Later He allowed Satan to afflict Job but drew the line at ending Job’s life. So I have to disagree with your conclusion regarding whether or not God allows or prevents circumstances. Yes, I believe that God watches us, cries with us and loves us regardless of how we respond to our trials, however, I believe that God is an active participant in our lives, not just an interested observer. There are many biblical accounts of both God’s intervention and forebearance in people’s lives. He knew in advance that Joseph’s brothers would sell him into slavery. Joseph testified that what they intended for evil God intended for good in Genesis 50:20. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. God didn’t tempt Jesus, Satan did, but God did allow His son to be tempted – He didn’t prevent it from happening. Christ’s death was appointed before his birth. God exercised forebearance in allowing his son to be arrested and crucified. Personally, I don’t think God treats us differently than he treated his son, Joseph, King David, Job or others in the Bible.
In 1 Peter, the book that teaches believers how to cope with trials and suffering, chapter 1 verses 1-2, Peter addresses his letter to the Jewish believers who had been dispersed (living among strangers) and referred to them as “chosen according to God’s foreknowledge”. The Greek word for foreknowledge means “previous determination” and that the word stems from the word meaning forethought. Ellicott’s Commentary says of their election and God’s foreknowledge, “Their election is not accidental, nor yet something done on the spur of the moment, an afterthought of God. but “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”–i.e., in execution of His fore-arranged scheme. The word implies not simply a perception of the future, but the forming of a decision. (Comp. the same word in 1 Peter 1:20, and in Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2.)”. The Pulpit Commentary states, “the foreknowledge of an Almighty Creator must imply the exercise of choice and will”, while the Matthew Henry Commentary says, “The Lord does not willingly afflict, yet his wise love often appoints sharp trials, to show his people their hearts, and to do them good at the latter end.”
It was not my intention to imply that the suffering of others is in any way insignificant, or that they have not suffered as much as I, or don’t have wounds. Truthfully, I have no desire to win the award for having the most pitiful life. My goal is to educate and my intention was to point out that in the midst of trials, personal suffering is generally not alleviated by reminders that others will benefit from our trials as well as to remind others that praising God can be costly – a sacrifice.
Furthermore, I think you and I can both agree that there are people who suffer more than others in this world. Some injuries, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, are painful and others are traumatic. As my friend Melanie would say there’s a big difference between a stubbed toe and an amputation. That in no way minimizes or dismisses the wounds of others. However, traumatic injuries are treated far differently by the medical community than non-traumatic injuries. Shouldn’t believer’s recognize and minister to the traumatized according to the depths of their wounds as well? Shouldn’t believer’s understand how the traumatized think and common ways they work through their faith in times of trial? I invite you to read the article entitled Trauma, Spirituality & Suffering which contains a link to a professional abstract on the subject.
I really appreciate your feedback. I hope my words give you food for thought just as your words have me.
November 30, 2021 at 8:12 am
I have so many questions. My only daughter, our youngest child was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 15. She died 13 months later. Since my children were born, I worried incessantly. But, the one horrific thing that I didn’t even consider was brain cancer. I was shocked by her diagnosis. When she died, my brother in law suggested that God took her to spare her (and all of us) from something worse that was coming. What could be worse than losing a child to brain cancer?…watching her slowly lose her ability to talk, walk, eat, breathe?
I lost my faith when she died. How could God allow her to suffer? She was an innocent, loving child. She had no enemies. How could God allow her to die? She was loved and cherished by her family. She had dreams to become a teacher. I wish I had some answers to these questions that haunt me every day. It’s been 6.5 years since we lost her. I have to believe that I will see her again.
November 30, 2021 at 3:57 pm
Jill, I am so sorry for your loss—so very sorry for all the awful things you witnessed your daughter go through and had to facilitate in caring for her. It’s truly horrifying to watch your children suffer and be unable to prevent or cure it. I am heartbroken for all you have suffered and continued to suffer. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. It takes great courage to be allow yourself to be so openly vulnerable. I fear I am poorly equipped to reply with the knowledge and sensitivity you are so deserving of, but I will do my best. Please give me a bit of time to formulate a reply that I pray will meet your needs and lead you to the peace and comfort I fully believe God has prepared for you. I promise I will get back to you soon!
December 1, 2021 at 11:08 pm
I wish I could answer all your why questions in such a way that would enable you to find peace and comfort. What I can tell you is that I too have been plagued by numerous why questions and almost every bereaved parent I’ve ever met has been as well. What helped me lay those questions to rest was the realization that God Himself could not give me an answer that would satisfy my broken HUMAN heart. There simply would never be an answer good enough because I will probably never be spiritually mature enough, this side of heaven, to share God’s thoughts and ways.
What if the deaths of my children brought someone to salvation? Would one person’s eternal soul satisfy me? Would 10 or 100? 1,000 or even 1 million. Probably not because people aren’t interchangeable. Which is why God’s willingness to sacrifice His own son to save you and I, your daughter and my children is so remarkable. It’s completely unnatural—it’s supernatural. It’s what makes Jesus’ willingness to suffer incredible pain for our salvation so amazing. Scripture tells us that He endured the pain and shame of the cross for “the joy set before Him.” The joy of you and your daughter in heaven with Him eternally—where no sin, sickness, suffering and tears exist—was the thing He deemed worthy of suffering. That was a pure and righteous desire and Christ was able to make that sacrifice only because of His determination to fulfill the will of God regardless of the cost to Himself.
I am so very thankful for that because without it I would have no hope of ever meeting my son who was stillborn and I’d never be reunited with my daughters.
I believe more than answers the bereaved desire to have their pain embraced and validated. We don’t want fixed we want to weep and for others to feel as devastated as we do. We want others to acknowledge that we’ve lost something precious, irreplaceable and invaluable. We want our children to be deemed FOREVER relevant and worthy. Explanations are human attempts to control the uncontrollable aspects of life. They offer only an illusion of control deceiving us into believing that if we can understand or explain things we can control them.
But somehow every explanation seems to strip our loved ones of value. I’ve wondered if that’s one reason why God doesn’t answer all our questions. He won’t devalue His children the way the world does! To say, “This is why . . .” makes something more important, more valuable, than the individual lost or martyred. The world wants us to forget and move on but that’s not the example set in scripture. If it was Jesus would still be in the tomb. We wouldn’t be asked to take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the high price Jesus paid for our redemption. We remember because He is worthy. And that’s exactly why it’s so offensive when others push the bereaved to forget or to move on. Our loved ones are worthy of being remembered, talked about, continually loved.
I don’t get the impression that you’ve lost your faith. It appears to me that your trust in God has been damaged because your faith is strong and you can’t reconcile what you believe to be true about God, His loving and righteous character, with His actions or failure to act according to your expectations. The very question, “How could God . . . ?” reveals an assumption of expectation based upon your personal beliefs.
When we hurt, especially when we feel utterly shattered by life’s circumstances, what we believe about God’s character and how He acts in the world at large and works in believer’s lives matters greatly. It either builds us up, tears us apart, or motivates us to search scripture to find the answers we crave. Frequently, in the search for answers we realize that some of our beliefs are not completely accurate or may even be entirely wrong. And because what we believe to be true about God is so very important the accurate quotation of scripture and the context in which it is presented are critical.
Believers are continually encouraged to trust in God in scripture, from the pulpit and from fellow believers, and rightly so. However, it’s equally important to know exactly what God has told us that we can trust Him for. If we trust Him for things He never promised us we are destined for disappointment. I for one have been hurt by unrealistic or incorrect expectations. Scripture doesn’t tell me that believers will be exempt from the troubles of this world or from suffering. In fact the Bible tells us the exact opposite. What it tells us is that we won’t experience anything alone and with God’s help we will be victorious over our troubles. We are more than conquerors, not through our own efforts or force of will but through Jesus Christ our Lord. A friend shared this quote by George Matheson with me today. “We conquer—not in any brilliant fashion—we conquer by continuing.” Continue seeking!
Faith isn’t the absence of doubt, Jill. By definition faith requires believing in something we don’t have all the facts to support. But it also doesn’t mean we have zero facts either. Faith grows as we gain biblical knowledge and exercise trust in God. In scripture Paul spoke of baby Christian’s who needed fed on the “milk of the Word”. He was saying they were still learning the elementary doctrines of the Christian faith. But believers should grow to the point that they desire deeper understanding and knowledge. That’s what Paul called the meat of the Word. Those kinds of doctrinal truths aren’t as easy to swallow. We need to chew on them a bit before we can digest them. And often the desire to understand more is driven by confusion over our circumstances.
The answers to the questions you are asking aren’t easily found or even easily assimilated. You may want to know why your daughter suffered and died but dare I say that’s not really what you want? You want her back. You want cancer to have never happened. And since that isn’t possible what you are really desperate to know is if God is fair. If He is really good. If He’s deserving of your trust. You are reaching to understand the doctrines of His justice and forbearance. You are struggling with the meat of the word. Please don’t give up! You might not find all the answers you want but I know that you can find peace with the mysteries that remain. I believe your questions haunt you because the Holy Spirit is drawing you back the Him. Only He can truly meet your needs but I would be happy to talk through your questions and point you to resources.
In fact, might I suggest that you look into Jennifer Rothschild’s study Missing Pieces. She addresses the questions that commonly arise when the bottom drops out of your world. I can’t say it was an easy study but it was enlightening and Jennifer is no stranger to suffering herself. Her study really helped me process God’s forbearance among other foundational doctrines.
Please message me if you’d like to continue this conversation. I’m praying that God will minister supernatural healing to your hurting heart.
Nancy J Mihich
December 2, 2021 at 1:37 pm
I am so glad to have your posts again. What helped me the most is answering this question: If all my “why questions were answered to my satisfaction” (yes, I do realize this is impossible) would I have my son back? The answer is, ‘No!” I would still be missing my son. So, I return to mourning his not being here and stop wrestling with the impossible and try to return to full trust in God. Nothing is going to make the pain go away, ever. I am just waiting for my turn to join my son in heaven.
December 2, 2021 at 10:57 pm
I’m glad to hear that you found words that help! I’m so grateful for the people who have spoken words that have helped me. Remember that old saying, each one reach one? I know you will minister help and hope to others you meet on your journey until you have fulfilled your purpose for this generation and your reunion day arrives. Until then, one step at a time.