Needless to say, 2020 has been a hard year.
It’s been just over four months since I lost my mom, and then a week later, my aunt. Just over a week ago, there was another sudden death in my community, this one particularly tragic. There have been other recent deaths in my wider circles as well. All this in the midst of a world that, I think many of us will agree, feels particularly heavy these days.
After all that’s already happened this year, I have to admit that I’ve found it hard not to wonder: where is God right now? What is the point of His acting this way? If He’s truly good, why doesn’t He intervene? Why doesn’t He answer our cries for mercy? Why does He seem so disinterested, so absent?
To be honest, it can sometimes feel difficult or uncomfortable to fully express the struggle of these questions to Christians experiencing happier times. Maybe not everyone finds this, but I do. Perhaps it’s at least partly because I now see how I’ve reacted to fellow Christians experiencing grief in the past before I knew better, and I’m afraid of receiving the same misunderstanding reaction I've had towards them.
This is not to say that my wider faith community and extended family haven’t been there for me – they’ve been amazing. I think grief is just a tricky and confusing field to navigate regardless of whether you’re the one grieving, or one of the supporters looking on. We don’t all come out of the womb knowing how to grieve, how to ask for help, what kind of help to ask for, or how to immediately decipher how each individual person we come across most needs to be helped. It’s all a learning experience, one that (I’m hoping) gets smoother with time.
There are, however, two places where I have found comfort. First, in the struggles of C.S. Lewis recounted in his diary, A Grief Observed:
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”
Almost all of the feelings Lewis expresses in his book are the exact same that have chaotically swirled about in me, including this one. Just having someone articulate them is, in itself, helpful; having someone who I know felt them deeply, made it through to the other side, and found profound meaning and joy in God’s presence once again is more helpful still.
“Not that I am (I think) in danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”
This is another quote from Lewis’ diary, and another that felt like it could have been lifted right from my own heart.
Death and profound grief have been more disorienting than I expected them to be. The questions I have are not ones that I can answer in a few short sentences. Admittedly, they’re not new questions; all have been wrestled with probably since the beginning of our faith. But while a past me was satisfied with easy, Christian platitudes anytime these questions came up, such easy answers no longer satisfy. I’m honestly not sure any answer will fully satisfy while in this life. But if any peace surrounding these questions can be reached, I think it is a work only God can do, only in His ways and in His timing.
However, a sermon I heard several days ago provided one helpful realization: while there are rarely easy answers to the questions I wrestle with, when I recognize the threat arising of a known untruth that’s seeming more and more believable, there are a few quick and easy reminders I can look to to disprove those. This has been helpful, and for me, a battle strategy that has proved more effective than most others.
When I start to think God is insensitive and unfeeling, I counter that by remembering Jesus coming face-to-face with the brokenness of everyday life here on earth. Experiencing the death of a loved one for the first time. Weeping over the loss of a friend. Facing the injustice of a system manipulated to condemn Him. Dealing with the heartbreak, betrayal, and abandonment by those He loved and trusted most in the world. The one they literally called the Man of Sorrows.
When I start to think that God is disinterested in the world, I counter that by remembering how He’s persevered with humanity for centuries. How He intervened in our time and space to make Himself known to us. How He left His throne in heaven to walk our dirt, breathe our air, and confine His senses to the same limited set we have.
When I think He is merciless or unloving, I counter that by remembering His mercy and compassion towards the shepherdless crowds that clamoured to hear Him speak. The concern He had for their hungry stomachs. The love He had when He looked at the rich young ruler who struggled with letting go of his earthly security. The gentleness with which He restored Peter after being deserted by him only days earlier.
And finally, when I feel abandoned and forgotten by God, I remember that even Jesus He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, and that even in my alleged abandonment, Immanuel shares my experience, my pain, and my company.
No, this doesn’t answer all my questions. No, this doesn’t stop me from having moments where I miss my mom so much that nothing in my head or in the world makes sense anymore. No this doesn’t immediately put my heart at peace and take away all the pain over losing her.
But it does help a little bit.
This grief thing is such an unpredictable beast. I wish I had more wisdom or confidence in a solution to share with those who may also be struggling with it at the moment. But if one of the most helpful things for me has been hearing the messy experiences of other Christians who have gone through it, I hope getting a front row seat to this Christian battling it provides some help too.
I know 2020 has been a year that’s been hard on many of us. My sincerest prayers for all of you who are also struggling. Know you’re not alone. Please feel free to reach out and share your heart and your experiences as well.
I just wanted to offer a quick thanks to those of you who have checked up on me throughout this time, and those who have so practically shown your care to me and my family through food, phone calls, and more. I know it can be awkward and difficult to know what to do or say when you’re an onlooker in these situations, but all of your gestures are very felt and appreciated, and often do far more than you could ever know. You are doing this support thing right.
So for all you do, from food to texts to simply reading this post, thank you so much. It does often feel like my family is navigating a minefield of grief, but knowing we have so many people rooting for us and praying for us really does help.
So until next time, thanks once again.