Tears of Confusion

My oldest son was just shy of three years old when I discovered that he was gone. In the distance I saw him riding on his little red tractor. Gathering up my 18-month-old son, I began the chase. The problem was, I was seven months’ pregnant. With the added weight of my second son, I couldn’t run faster than my older son was scooting. The best I was able to do was to keep him in sight.

The race had gone on for about three blocks when I saw my older son heading for the freeway. There wasn’t much else to do, but put my 18-month-old on a corner, tell him to “stay,” and ask the UPS driver parked on the side of the road to watch  him  until I got back. Then, with less weight I went  after his brother. I remember how my younger son started to cry. I’m sure he felt that I was deserting him. What he didn’t know was how much he was in my thoughts, as I pursued his brother. He had no concept of how hard it was for me to leave him there. He didn’t understand that I didn’t want him left by himself, even for a few minutes. Nor, could he know how very worried I was about him. He didn’t know that my heart was aching for him.

“Where is God anyway?” It comes, that question, when life deals us a bitter blow. “Why? Why didn’t God stop the drunk driver who killed my friend. . . .Or the spread of cancer in my child . . . why didn’t God make my marriage work, when I prayed so hard?” “Why did my child get mixed up in drugs?” “We loved each other, why did my spouse die so young?” Would that there were easy answers to these difficult questions. The more I experience of life, the more convinced I am that there are no easy answers to life’s griefs, disappointments, and sorrows. I am equally convinced that God cares, that God is with us in each and every tragedy, that God does not leave us comfortless. Believing that and feeling that are, of course, two entirely different situations.

What we believe in faith is that some day we will understand this life with all of its unfairness. To say that it is God’s will a child dies of cancer, a drunk driver kills someone, a marriage fails or that anyone gets messed up in drugs seems to me blasphemy. It’s equally evident that God doesn’t protect us from life’s hurts. I once heard the theologian Henri Nouwen say, “The good news of the Gospel is not that God has come to take our pain away, but that God has come to be with us in it.” The apostle Paul says it another way, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

No, I don’t have the answers for “Why.”  But this I believe  – that even as my heart ached for my younger son with his tears of confusion, even so, God’s heart aches for each of us in ours.

Grief’s Expression

Grief’s Expression

Grief catches us unaware. A sudden and completely unexpected loss in my extended family has left us all reeling. Grief’s expression comes in waves of sadness, the inability to sing a song, misplaced resentment. There is an emotional roller coaster which spins me on a ride I never intended to get on.

Grief usually sends us backwards to other losses and other times. Memories rise from an earlier heartache we thought we had worked through, only to discover remnants that shatter our illusion of control. Last fall I co-led a grief class. I feel a need to reread the text for the class, to remind myself that sorrow has its season, but joy will also have its time. The psalmist tells us that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) But how hard it is to remember, joy will come when the heart is broken and sorrow lingers far more than a single night. Grief is the unwanted guest, whose intrusion moves and rearranges life.

Revisiting previous griefs grounds us in the reality that healing is possible. Each loss has its time span. Our response to grief may be one of the most significant decisions we will make in our lives. We can close in on ourselves or we can reach outward. One direction will leave us letting go of people who care about us, the other will allow those same people an opportunity to love us with a friend’s love. There may be awkward attempts at comfort. They may say words meant to console which do the opposite. Our friends are unlikely to have perfect timing in what we need and when we need it. Still, recognizing the gesture of kindness for what it is, kindness, is important to our own souls.

As I’ve walked with people in times of grief, I’ve learned the greatest comfort I can give is in simply listening. No profound wisdom is needed. A simple ‘I’m so sorry,” means more than the perfect phrase we struggled to find. A hug can speak our love louder than words. In my personal life I keep a prayer journal, in which my own heart is poured out to God . . . who listens to everything I have to say and simply responds with love.

Hoping in God in the Midst of Discouragement

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?” These words have often come to me in moments of discouragement. I don’t remember ever committing them to memory, though I must have learned the verse in some early Sunday School class. My memory is set in the old King James Version of the Bible. The quotation, which is found in both the 42nd and 43rd chapters of Psalms, ends the question with this statement, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise God, my help and my God.” Discouragement may be a temporary condition, but when we are down, it is simply hard to remember better moments. We forget about the path God opened for us in an earlier day. We fail to remember that God has prepared a way for us on the other side of despair in previous eras of our lives.

Discouragement is a natural condition of the human spirit which is explored in several books of the Bible. The book of Job examines the question of suffering through the eyes of Job, who has lost everything – almost. His children, his homes, his cattle, his health and his place in society. Job is in such distress he asks God why he had been allowed to be born, if it was only to face the depth of suffering and heartache that was his. So vocal was he, in his complaints to God, that friends accused him of blasphemy. But God doesn’t. God understands his pain, his sorrow and his loss. God knows his broken and suffering spirit. God holds Job in hands of love and compassion. Eventually, Job discovers that God will not leave him in his suffering. He will never understand the why of pain, but he will learn that God is with him in the midst of it. There will come a day when joy fills his heart again.

So it is in our times of discouragement. You may be wondering if you will ever see light in the dark place you have landed in. You may be questioning today, the why of a difficult situation. You may be agonizing over a friend or family member. Know this . . . On the other side of despair lives joy. For now the words of the psalmist give wisdom. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise God. My help and my God.” Psalm 42:11