Today is the day my world changed and I didn’t even know it yet.
Childhoods end early for a variety of reasons and at a variety of times. This was mine: my father dropped dead when I was eight years old.
The thirty years since that day have included a variety of other challenges, lots more deaths, a whole bunch of family illnesses, some very great joys, and some really terrible realities.
I’m not going to lie – Metallica was right when they said that the light at the end of the tunnel is just a freight train coming your way. (Not always, but often enough.) And a whole lot of days are just vile.
I think sometimes people expect to hear me say that I’ve always known it would all turn out alright in the end because God is in control and God just needed another angel and God would never give me more than I can handle and all of the other ridiculous things that people try to say to us when we are in the throes of grief and they aren’t sure what to say.
I’m a pastor after all – isn’t my faith all perfect and everything?
Well, no. In fact, it isn’t.
Of course my faith has been tested. I actually left the church when I was in grade school because of all the well-intentioned and honestly idiotic things teachers in Sunday school kept saying to me. My mom let me. And oh how grateful I am that she did.
Even though I left the church building, God never, ever left my side. In fact, long before I even entered that building God had been with me and God will be with me long after I leave this world – of this I am sure.
Contrary to popular, even biblical belief, there is a second strand of biblical understanding that suggests something different about when bad things happen to good people. It is true that parts of the Bible suggest that God controls every single thing that happens – including genocide (which is pretty darn evil). However, there is also a counter-narrative that purports that while God does not stop the bad things from happening, God would never cause them. God instead walks with God’s people through them.
I personally ascribe to a belief in a God who would never cause harm or evil to any of God’s children and who walks with us. So if you want to comfort me in the throes of my grief, please don’t suggest that God is in control. Instead say, you know that God is right here with us, holding you right now.
As to the extra angels and the never giving us more than we can handle, neither statement is actually biblical. Angels are a different type of being entirely. And again, I do not believe that God intentionally causes harm.
God is always walking with us, helping us to carry the load.
If you’ve ever wondered what a lifetime of pain has taught me – it is that. A trust that is deeper than any other in my life that God is here and working all things into remarkable wonders. Yes, good – but it may take a very long time to see it.
We need to remember that death is not automatically evil. It simply is. It is part of life – neither good, nor bad. Some forms of death are certainly traumatic and caused by evil things, to be sure. But my father’s death simply was. My mother’s death simply was. My dad’s, my mother-in-law’s, my husband’s deaths all simply were. They were part of life. Some far too early. Nevertheless, none were caused by terrible circumstances beyond our control.
And here is something, too: in every case but my father, all of those other deaths, every single one of them was suffering. Terribly. Now, they are at peace.
So here is what I would say after all these years and a lifetime (albeit a relatively short one) of dealing with so much grief: it is a weight that never fully lifts and it is perfectly okay for your faith to waiver. Because God’s faith in you has absolutely nothing to do with your faith in God. You are safe. You are held. You are loved more than you can possibly imagine. And you are never carrying that weight alone.