Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trials & God: Holding Tight or Turning Away

Two women I know are going through difficult times. One (we'll call her Jen) lost her 32-year-old son to suicide, experienced the death of her beloved father-in-law and her husband of nearly 40 years, all within the past few month. Over the years she has known other hardships, including the loss of both parents and personal health issues.

The other woman ("Judy") has also known grief. She waited many years before finding "the right man" to marry but after fighting valiantly to make it work, her marriage ended. Single most of her life, she is a consummate career woman; battling for position, security and survival. She has endured a physical problem that causes her to feel self-conscious and she too lost both parents. Most recently she faced the death of a cherished pet.

So much in common, but their responses are polar opposites. Jen is sort of in a grief haze. She is desperately sad and lonely and is struggling to get through each day, but she keeps moving forward. She has invested in the lives of family and friends throughout her life and they are rallying by her side. While she doesn't understand how all this loss could come to her she doesn't blame God or turn her back on Him.

Judy bounced back from her latest loss fairly fast but doesn't have the same vast array of friends and family around her as Jen. She is often alone and lonely. She is angry in general and specifically toward God...even questioning whether she still wants to call herself a Believer.

Jen is taking her time as she processes and experiences the pain, allowing it to come in measured doses each day, then doing her best to take grief breaks.

Judy plunged into the pain and immersed herself there for a week or so, then got back up and is working at closing the door on her hurting soul. She puts on a happy face and appears to be coping well.

We all have tragedy invade our lives; big and small,short-term and sustaining. Our response to those awful times can define us and shape our future. If we don't properly deal and heal from a deep gash in our spirit, all our actions and relationships are impacted. We are less able to be honest and committed if we hold back and protect ourselves.

When crisis and pain hit, we need to walk through the fire instead of looking for a way out or around it, denying it or disguising it (alcohol, anger, etc).

  • Any tragic times where you've done a healthy job of facing it and recovering?
  • How 'bout times you've denied or disguised your pain?
  • Have you ever blamed God?
Diane Markins
Comment here.


Mark Ireland said...

Having lost my youngest son just over five years ago, I can relate to the circumstances involving your two friends. Neither my wife nor I ever felt angry and God, nor did we blame God, but we still suffered tremendous pain. And it was this suffering that served as a catalyst of sorts, as I encountered a series of remarkable experiences that I chronicled in a book entitled, Soul Shift. Writing was healing for me and the product of that expression has proven helpful to others struggling with grief. Sometimes people hurt so badly after such a loss that it's difficult for them to maintain faith in a blind fashion, but given a little supporting evidence it can help restore hope.

At first I wasn't sure how my book would be received within the mainstream Christian community—but I have been pleasantly surprised. A woman in Florida that had lost her son read the book and loved it. She shared it with her father, a Christian Pastor, but didn't know how he would respond to it, due to the inclusion of subjects like psychic phenomena, which some may consider controversial. A few weeks later, the woman asked her father if he liked the book. His response was, “Like it? I read from it on the pulpit last Sunday”

Then just last night, I met a woman who teaches my wife's Bible study class. The woman indicated that she “loved the book and shed tears while reading it.”

Now in saying this, I don't think that everyone will be comfortable with the book, because I'm stretching the boundaries in terms of how people think about certain things. But that is a risk that I had to take, because I was called to share my truth. I wrote the book in order to help others mired in grief and restore hope.

This world challenges us every day, in countless ways. People can easily succumb to the arguments made by people like Richard Dawkins, who say that the universe came into being by accident and that there is no meaning to anything. That is the predominant worldview held by most scientists today and the church doesn't always do the best job arguing the alternative perspective. With that said, there are other voices out there fighting that battle against such depressing ideologies and I'm trying to share that alternate perspective.

Regardless of people's stated beliefs, I've found that many folks have questions of an intellectual nature that need to be satisfied before their faith can operate at full-strength. Ignoring these questions and expecting these people to be faithful for the sake of faith alone doesn't always work. Jesus allowed Thomas to be a skeptic and he did not hold it against him. He answered his questions and satisfied his skepticism. I think it is better for people to ask tough questions and be honest about their doubts, rather than wear a “mask of faith” that fails to reveal the depth of what is in their heart and on their mind.

For those interested, here’s a brief video overview of my story and its theme:

Here’s a link to a synopsis of my book:

Mark Ireland

Diane Markins said...

your story (and your loss) was heart breaking. I know you have a very sincere and deep desire to encourage others. Your book tells the story of (in your words) "your truth" and you express it well.
I pray that God will use your tragic experience and your willing heart to bring peace to others as they seek the truth for themselves.

Anonymous said...

This topic has come up in numerous conversations I've had lately. I think God is trying to remind me of a few things...
In taking a class at my church a few weeks ago I was asked "when have you/do you feel angry with God?" Thankfully, I haven't lost a loved one, but I have gone through different points in my life that have caused me sadness and pain. After pondering over the question I realized that when I'm angry at God, it's usually my own fault. I found that I go through phases where I cut off my fellowship with Him by skipping reading my bible, praying, and filling my time with other "important" things. Then, when something bad happens, I get angry because I feel alone and like God has left me to struggle. In reality, He never left me and never will. It is my own fault for cutting him off and not giving Him the time to work in me or guide me.
Your friends stories break my heart. Judy sounds like she's in the predicament I've found myself in before. I hope she finds herself reassured and comforted.

Linda S Fitzgerald said...

When my husband died at a very young age (44), I thought I had it all under control. I had heard Kubler-Ross speak at the opening of Methodist Hospital's hospice unit. I had a degree in psychology & was an accomplished small group trainer who had helped others work through grief and loss. I knew all there was to know - intellectually - about loss and how to deal with it. And after, all 2 of the 3 daughters were still at home; I needed a job (I had resigned my position in a government program because of Alan's critical situation) so I simply picked up the pieces and went on. Nine years later, my beloved dad died and seven years after that, my mom. It was as though I got used to dying, death & grief. Ten years after Alan's death, I went through a rather serious depression. I worked, but was sad most of the time. It dawned on me that it was the 10th year anniversary and I was experiencing some of the grief that had pocketed itself away. Same thing the year he would have retired from elementary administration. And then what would have been our 50th wedding anniversary year.

What I learned through all of that and working with others going through the same life experiences, was that grief is like peeling an onion. One small, transparent layer at a time. Just when you think you've grieved the last - here it comes again.

And it's true - there's no other way through it than "through it". I believe that PAPA allows it this way because to experience it all at once would be more than we can humanly handle.

It was helpful during the 6 plus years I spent developing & managing a hospital social service department to work with families of the terminally ill; those who experienced the sudden tragic death of a loved on (oh the memories return). It was cathartic for me and was probably one of the best ways to handle the grief that sat underground in my heart through those years.

Finally let me say that it never totally goes away. As I've grown more 'chrono-mature' I find that I grief more. I let the tears come when I think of experiences we had as young parents - of the things that he missed - the grandchildren that he would so enjoy. My grief is less for myself than for my daughters and for Alan.

So any advice I would give is to know that those who grief will do so much like they peel an onion - one thin transparent layer at a time. And although it gets easier - it never goes away. The death of someone close to us changes us forever.