I saw a comment on Facebook the other day that wrenched my heart. Someone had re-posted a devotional thought from Lysa TerKeurst about how to deal with the question why. It’s a typical self-help kind of entry. You know the kind I mean. They sound something like this–here are some practical steps you can follow if you’re stuck in this place … Step 1 …
Lysa offers good suggestions to change your perspective. Alternatives to asking why could be, “What can I learn from or this? What was a downside to this situation that I can be thankful is no longer my burden to carry? What are some lingering negative feelings about this situation that I need to pray through and ask God to help me shake off to be better prepared to move forward? What is one thing God has been asking me to do today to make me more prepared for tomorrow?”
Helpful, right? Well, that depends.
The first comment visible to me on the Facebook post came from a woman who is in no place to hear advice. “What was a downside to my daughter being alive that I dont [sic] have to carry now?? I’d take her alive any day even with the downsides all us humans have. And there arent [sic] just lingering feelings…there are lifetime soul crushing feelings (sorrow, anguish, horror, perpetual sadness, guilt). I cant [sic] just decide to change my mind about this and think myself into a better frame of mind. Shes [sic] dead for God sakes! She dead!! My dear daughter is permanently dead!”
I’ve never had to bury my daughter. Perhaps I should say, I didn’t get to bury my daughter. Her heart quit beating in the womb, and if we had not opted for testing, I would not know it was a girl.
Though I’ve never met this mom, I know this mom–if that makes sense. I know the spirit of the woman in anguish, gushing out onto that screen. I can identify with the rant, the feeling that this post is laser pointed at me and my situation, even though it clearly isn’t. Wanting to confront the injustice of anyone implying that there’s an easy fix to pain because there’s no end to mine. Being so deep in grief and despair that everything and everyone whose world is still turning is an affront to you.
I remember looking out the window of a limousine, following a car which carried a coffin. I wanted to shake my fists at the people pumping gas into their cars. Stop! Just stop. Don’t you know my heart is with him in that box that we’re about to put in the ground?
I remember looking around a faculty workroom after miscarrying–again. Teachers charged in, greeted one another, grabbed this-that-the-other and charged back out again. The copier tossed paper, stamped staples and spat neat packets into a perfect stack on the tray. Leftover goodies from some school event littered the table, providing just the right temptation for hurried humans rushing through, trying to beat the bell. Letters and memos lay crammed in teachers’ mailboxes, waiting to be discovered, sorted, discarded. Christmas cards and birth announcements, taped to the cabinet doors right at eye level, beamed with happy faces, easy lives, and joy that seemed to be for everyone but me.
Stop. Just stop.
Your happiness hurts. My world broke free from its orbit and is hurtling off into space. Yours kept turning. Stop. Please just stop.
Does that sound irrational to you? If it does, then buckle up. Because some day that kind of pain is coming for you. When it does, you will find that advice, no matter how sound or sincere, is hollow or even a little preachy. The Sunday school answers sound formulaic and don’t at all satisfy, but it’s not appropriate for you to set everyone else straight. They don’t get it; you endure it. So, you suffer in silence–unless you happen upon a devotional thought on social media that pushes you over the edge, and all the toxins come spilling out.
I’m sure many of you have been there–where no advice is good advice. Rather than advice, you just need people to mourn with you. After my third miscarriage, a sweet friend told me to rest in the Lord, and it absolutely enraged me. Gah! I don’t even know what that means!! I actually do need to rest in the Lord. She wasn’t wrong, neither is Lysa TerKeurst wrong. But we can only take what we can take.
One day I was having such a hard morning that I wandered into a friend’s classroom and dropped into a student desk, a sloppy pile of emotion with no particular idea of why I went in there. My friend Jennifer turned from her computer and grabbed her bible. She read Psalm 13 aloud to me.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Not much remains in my memory from that conversation. What’s left is the powerful impression of a friend who acknowledged and validated all the harsh, horrible questions I might dump at God’s feet. Where are You? Have You forgotten me? How long will I suffer like this? Look at me. I need answers.
I’ve been thinking about the grieving mom ever since I saw the post. Many women followed up her comment, offering the same kind of comfort I received from my friend. She responded by grieving with other women who shared about their own devastating losses. Proverbs 31 Leadership Team also chimed in, assuring her that they were covering her in prayer.
Having seen this special example of ‘mourning with those who mourn’, I returned to Psalm 13 today. This time I saw more than just the questions David asks of God. In this psalm, as he does in many others, David pours out the mess first, but then he shifts gears.
But I trust in your unfailing love …
His life appears to be tied up entirely in those dire questions that we all have for God when we’re broken. Still, David returns to the thing that is the bedrock of his relationship with the Lord. But I know you love me …
Lysa’s post is not all that different from techniques I’ve learned from books or counselors. When you’re stuck in an unhealthy pattern of thinking, try coming at it from another angle. It’s a perfectly good strategy to find solutions for many problems–but perhaps not every problem. It suggests that readers shift from asking God the hard questions to asking ourselves questions that will adjust our thinking. I mentioned in the post I Held a Baby Today that at times I simply don’t want to stop grieving. Those feelings keep me connected to the child I lost. That’s why, particularly when you’re experiencing intense grief, it is offensive for anyone to suggest that you simply adjust your thinking. Don’t ask me to adjust my way out of missing my child.
Maybe you’re not ready to take three practical steps to stop asking why. Maybe you never will be. And maybe it’s because those practical steps are great for some problems, but not necessarily for dealing with loss. A counselor said to me a few months back, “You will, to some degree, grieve this for the rest of your life. The question is, are you OK with that?” It sounds like she’s telling me that I’m always going to have questions for God.
If I can’t adapt the questions as Lysa suggested–if ‘what can I learn from my 10 miscarriages’ is not a question that I can tackle in my grief–then I’ll keep pushing God for answers like David did. And before the end of the prayer, there can (and maybe should) be a little shift. A little but …
But I know you love me.
Maybe my one act of obedience during those times of intense grieving is to simply say, “It doesn’t feel at all like You love me …
But I’m going to trust that You do.”