Five Lessons Learned in the Fire (About God)
Call it insecurity or avoidance. But there is a deep and honest part of me that wants to hide.
I am different. I have changed. Not everyone understands it or likes it.
I have walked through fire and it changed me.
I would love to turn back the clock to before it happened. I would block the doorway on July 6, 2006 to stop my 25 year old son from heading out on his bicycle for his normal fun training ride. It was the day he never came home. Ever. It was the day I was thrown into the fire. It was the day a criminal driver ran Ben down. He hit him from behind and my
son... was killed.
He crashed through the windshield fracturing his skull then was launched off the roof of the car before crashing to the ground. It was the day that he died in a huge puddle of his own blood on the black asphalt.
It tore me apart. I felt like I had been battered with a baseball bat. For weeks after, I moved in and out of a frozen daze. I misunderstood that daze, along with friends who patted my hand, “You are doing so well, you are so strong, you have such faith”. It was three months before I started to thaw from the traumatic shock. Then every night, I cried till there were no tears left in my tear ducts and yet I sobbed on.
I was a committed Christian but now wrestled with questions and doubts about God. How could a good God let this happen? When I voiced them in certain arenas, I got rote bible verses and nice pat Christian answers like “Have faith. Trust and obey.” That did not help, because my heart was broken, not my head and my head already knew those verses too. A hurting heart does not mean faith has died, it means it has been swamped by a Tsunami of pain. Deep down there still is solid ground but right then I was drowning in such black, swirling water that I could not find it.
Some people hinted that I was to blame. They cross-examined my prayer life, and concluded that I did not pray enough or didn't use the "right" ones to keep my son safe, as though God needed me to have "a formula" before he could keep Ben alive! Some friends avoided me, and looked at me from across the room, acting like tragedy and questioning God might spread to them like a disease. I am so very thankful for their kindness, sending meals and flowers but they hurried off before the conversation got too deep. Personally though, I had been thrown in a fire that I did not want. I had to walk through it. I had no choice but to wrestle with these huge doubts and questions, after all, I would not get to the other side of them unless I faced them.
As a result, I withdrew from unsafe people and places. Can you blame me? The deep honest part of me will tell you that I felt victimized and pushed away, even by God. But some fabulous friends who really understood kept me afloat. They really listened when I poured out my gut wrenching questions and accusations:
“God, why did you let this happen when you could have easily stopped this!”
“Was I being punished and you’d actually kill him to punish me?”
“Did I not pray enough, declare enough, walk closely enough to you God?”
“Are you a good God or really mean?”
“I can’t do this any more God, my grief is overwhelming!”
Okay, if you have not been there and your life is going according to our Western Ideal plan: 2.5 kids, a house in the suburbs, acquiring not losing, happy and comfortable life, then this may all sound blasphemous. But the Western Ideal is an illusion. So many of us cope with divorce, death, health or job loss. Look around the world at all the people struggling on one meal a day or less, and facing daily crisis. Our North American church culture has also slipped into teaching a formula to happiness: Read the bible + Pray + Serve = Happy Christian Life. I bought into the formula till, boom, my life was torn apart, and I was thrown into the fire. St Paul, with all his prayer and service still suffered too, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I suffered shipwreck…” 2 Cor. 11:12. What about Job, of whom God himself said, “There is no one on the earth like Job, blameless and upright,” Job 1:8. He lost 10 kids, his businesses and his health. Job was forced to ask the profound, hard, faith questions. While in the fires of overwhelming, emotional loss and physical pain, he accused God but he came out of it like pure gold, "he did not sin in all this," Job 1:22.
How do we make it through these horrific twists and turns of life?
1. First we face a crossroad of choosing to walk this messy life with him or without him. I remember my point of decision, and I echoed the disciples’ words, “To whom would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life” Jn. 6:68. I choose to trust that sometime, somehow, He will make it right, and that he will truly wipe my tears and change my mourning to dancing.
2. Realize that all the days of our lives are not arbitrary but written in a book. I slowly came to the realization that before Ben was sent from heaven, God knew him, Jer. 1:5. All the days of his life were written in a book, and Ben was willing to say, “Here I am Lord, I will lay my life down early”, even though God never wanted evil to happen. I realized that I was called in the same way, to be a Mom who looses a child. God is a Father who also had his son die young, he understands. This gives deeper meaning, purpose and victory in it all.
3. Release our ideal “Barbie and Ken life” expectations. I expected my life to be a happy tale where I saw Ben get married and celebrated his family and success and hugged his kids but that was stripped from me. Yes, I needed to express my anger for this loss and then “forgive God” all my disappointments. I had to give up my naïve church formulas and trust him to make it right in his time and his way but in the meantime, accept the new normal as hard as that was.
4. Learn gratitude even when it is hard - it changes your perspective. Being thankful allows us to be happy for what we are given even when we are in deep sadness. It lifts our eyes off the tragedy and gives us a mental break. We can be thankful for our ears that can enjoy uplifting music and our eyes that can see our family. I am thankful for the spectacular snow capped mountains out my window! I also live where winter temperatures drop to -40C and I am always grateful for my heated parking!
5. Rather then considering ourselves victims of tragic circumstances, look at it from the outside, from a bigger perspective. Then we see the circumstances as a servant that God will use for some unseen good even when it feels impossible and wrong. There really is an unseen and unexpected path rising up. Since our life now so changed, we can ask how can this new normal might bring some kind of new life or vision. Personally, I now live with one foot in heaven and one on earth, have studied heaven a lot since Ben died, I have fabulous new perspectives on eternity and on making my living and loving more effective here too.
"A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection." —Timothy Keller, The Reason For God
Fire purifies gold. Unrefined gold goes into the fire as a mixed substance and it is changed by the heat to come out refined and more beautiful then it went in. Tragedy, loss and trauma are the hottest of fires, and though we many not understand the process we can still agree to let it transform us so we can become pure shining gold. We will be changed. We come out different. “And when he tests me, I will come out as pure gold” Job 23:10.
One day He will say to us too, “Welcome Shining One” and we will finally and fully understand as we are understood.
Blessings, Big Hugs and Keep Moving Forward,
Helga Bender, MThS Loss and Grief Coach at www.helgabender.com
Check out other helpful articles on Helga's blog including: Birthday Parties in Heaven, He is not here, Just tell Me What Happened and The Worst Nightmare plus helpful Renewing Resilience Tips. http://www.helgabender.com/new-blog-1/
Ask for a no-obligation personal intake coaching session, "The Art of Findng Peace in an Imperfect World" with Coach Helga, MThS www.helgabender.com/resources/
You are welcome to use excerpts and links, provided full and clear credit is given to Helga Bender
By Helga Bender, Loss and Grief Coach at www.helgabender.com