November 15, 2013
Grief. You cannot prepare a plan for it. The feelings and emotions cannot be rehearsed. There is no getting it right. It just is.
The only choice you are given when faced with the death of someone dear to you is whether you will wrestle with God to work through it or whether you will go it alone. Because of my faith foundation, I chose to wrestle with my maker. It probably would sound better to say I chose to trust God, and I am sure that I verbalized that sentiment; but to me that makes it sound easier than it really was.
The book, Glorious Ruin, How Suffering Sets You Free, by Tullian Tchividjian was recommended by a dear friend, and it taught me more about this walk of suffering than anything else. It challenged my response to suffering and exposed my unfounded cultural beliefs. It truly did reveal to me how suffering sets you free.
The chapter titles hint at the deeper truths the author explores.
• Suffering Is Inevitable
• Suffering is Serious
• Suffering Honestly
• Moralizing Suffering
• Minimizing Suffering
• The Freedom of Defeat
• The Gospel of Suffering
I cannot read a book without dialoguing with the author. I do this through highlighting and making notes in the margin. As I look back through the book again today, its truths still resonate with my spirit; and I am thankful for the work the Lord did through it on my heart.
After the accident, many people tried to ease our suffering by trying to point out the good that was happening as a result of Nate's and Noah's deaths. We heard countless stories of people accepting the Lord and of how lives were being changed. I wanted it to make me feel better, but it didn't. I didn't really care about any good coming as a result of that horrible day. And then I felt guilty.
Tullian: One way to understand this dynamic is to look at the ways people talk about painful experiences. If someone has just undergone an ugly, protracted divorce, for example, he or she might say something like, "Well, it was never a good marriage anyway," or "But I've really learned a lot from this whole experience."
This kind of rationalization tries to make something bad sound like it is good. It is a strategy to avoid looking pain and grief directly in the face, to avoid acknowledging that we wish life were different but are powerless to change it.
I am now able to say that good things do, in fact, come after suffering and sometimes as a result of the suffering; but it never makes the suffering worth it. Nothing will ever make what we lived through that day and the tremendous loss we suffered worth it. Those memories will always reduce me to tears. And that is as it should be.
Tullian: We cling to our notions of a universe that runs on the instinctual system of punishment and reward, action and consequence, this for that. We desire a world that we can control, where suffering is a problem to be solved and everyone gets what he or she deserves; this is the gravitational pull of Original Sin. Like Job's friends, we prefer the safety of "if-then" conditionality. Suffering, however, often serves as an unwanted reminder that reality does not operate according to our preferences.
Before we can even begin to grapple with the frustrations and tragedies of life in this world, we must do away with our faithless morality of payback and reward.
Many, many times before the accident I tried to analyze and rationalize scenarios in order to make a tragedy more tolerable--for myself. I attempted to figure out what to do or not to do to protect myself and my family from experiencing something similar. In other words, I tried to assign blame to something I could control. I now realize that while we can make choices, like wearing seatbelts or life jackets, that leave us with less regret if an accident does happen, there are no guarantees. Life is unpredictable and totally out of my control.
Tullian: If you have suffered the loss of a family member . . . know that God is not punishing you. He is not waiting for you to do something. you don't have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and find a way to conquer the odds, be stronger, or transform yourself into some better version of yourself. The pain you feel (whatever the degree) may be a reminder that things are not as they should be, in which case it is appropriate to mourn the gravity of that brokenness.
Again and again, my family was commended for our faith and "testimony" in the face of such a brutal assault, but we were broken to the core. And we knew it. There was no comfort to be found in the compliments. At times the pressure of being a "good" testimony for Christ felt like a crushing weight. Our hearts literally hurt and just breathing exhausted us. So what if it looked like we were "handling" everything well. Was that really an indicator of the depth of our faith? What if we had fallen apart and kicked and screamed? What would people have thought if they saw us when we were alone at night wailing in utter misery? Our response mattered not to God, because He was in it for the long haul with us.
Tullian: . . . explanations are ultimately a substitute for trust.
The Lord mercifully put to death Job's final idol--the idol of explanation.
Ray Ortlund: When the righteous cannot connect the realities of their experience with the truths of God, then God is calling them to trust him that there is more to it than they can see. As with Job, there is a battle being fought in the heavenlies. Trust in God, not explanations from God, is the pathway through suffering."
Instinctively I knew better than to verbalize, Why us? But that did not keep me from trying to come up with an answer in my head. The only answer I got was Why not us? On whom else would I have wished this suffering, this pain? I did want to trust God. I had not realized that it was either or--explanation or trust--but when I did, I was relieved to choose trust.
So, I wrestled with God through my walk with grief, never really questioning the truth of the gospel for my salvation, but questioning how that truth related to my suffering. And in the end, true freedom has come because I have released not just the need to justify or understand the deaths of two young boys, but also the grip I had on this world.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Rev. 21:1-4