Sometimes, if I allow my mind to wander and migrate untethered into the future, fear seeps into my heart. And sadness creeps in, holding fear’s hand. I could tell you that’s because I fear for the world, with the current state it’s in, or for the effects of global warming on the Earth, or because we, like so many others, have often been lousy stewards of the gifts God has bestowed upon us. Or, like President Thomas Jefferson, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
No, my fear is more selfish, and, if I allow it to, it would haunt and drive every decision I make. Because I know the devastating emotional pain and internal terror that entwines and smothers you when you lose a child, I recoil at the thought of walking that path again. It’s one of the reminders that dogged me when considering another pregnancy, constantly nipped at my heart through the follow-up pregnancy, and shadowed me right into that pregnancy’s traumatic birth. If I untether my healthy imagination, I can envision what the death of my husband might feel like. (I’ve even had dreams about the event, and it leaves me sweating and hyperventilating in heart pounding panic. I find myself searching endlessly for him; wishing, aching to go back to the day before he left me, or to relive weeks, months and years. Even in my dreams, I feel utterly lost and hopeless. So disoriented. So…alone.)
Succumbing to the haunts of future loss would drive me to sit home holed up in my safe, darkened cave, unscathed by the world. It would make me shout, “No!” to every physical risk my children or husband want to venture forth into.
When you lose a child in childbirth, or lose a young child, you tend to love a little harder, hang on a little more to the remaining offspring or your other loved ones. Or you hang on with a vice-like clasp. You sometimes even smother. You imagine horrible things. You let tomorrow’s un-materialized worries swallow the day’s joys, and you often don’t allow the joys to happen. You suck all thankfulness out of your heart and brain. You make your and everyone else’s life dull and colorless.
But that’s love’s side affect, isn’t it? Loss, and the pain of it? Love leaves you vulnerable. Because you love, you can hurt. When you put yourself out there, make yourself vulnerable to love, you take that risk. Joy and pain run together, like confluent rivers. Everyday holds a chance you will lose something, or someone. As you read this, somewhere in this world, someone has just lost someone.
For me, it’s a two-edged sword, because while I know God’s grace and trust in Him, I also know that He both gives and takes away.
And it’s the taking away that scares me. But taking away is sometimes part of the grace.
Trusting Him doesn’t mean everything will turn out to my liking. It means believing, knowing and living like Someone greater than you knows what’s best and may decide to allow or cause something to happen that sucker punches and suctions the joy right out of you. It’s knowing that the sin that brought destruction and pain into the world lives on and flourishes, so I cannot be immunized against that pain and suffering. (And I need to stop living my life like it can be.)
It means believing, knowing, and living like that Someone still sits on the throne, has everything under control, and has already conquered the world, along with its loss, pain and suffering so that I might enjoy an eternal life free of it. I just want the eternal promises to kick in now, on my time schedule. In this life.
But I’m not special. Like everyone else, I have to wait. I need to live right here, in the middle of love and grace.
I also need to live like I know He knows what I’m going through. In order to live that way, I need to know Him. To know Him, I need to experience Him. To experience Him, I need to know His Word and open myself up to Him. To know His Word, I need to be reading it, saturating myself in it. You don’t get to know someone without spending time with him. And the more time you spend with Him, the more you come to understand and feel His unconditional love for you, and the more you feel His grace that transcends loss, pain and suffering. That grace that draws you in and gives you a different perspective on life.
Yet, even though I feel that love, I sometimes find myself praying in a choked whisper, “Please, God, don’t take my husband or sons from me. Not even one of them. I can’t go through that again.” I pray it even though I know it may happen.
And so does He. And even though He may not protect me from it, He will protect me in it. I know that fact because I have lived it and can testify to it. Many of you have also lived it and can testify to it. Because of that testimony, I can read my world differently than others read it. I read the Word (Jesus) and point to His promises that have been lived out in me, in others. I can sit down with you and show you my travel log of the miraculous journey He’s taken me on. You have your own you can show me, only you may not have realized Who the travel agent was who planned and booked your trip.
As Ann Voskamp says in her book, One Thousand Gifts: Finding JOY in What Really Matters, “Only the Word is the answer to rightly reading the world because the Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, ‘I know. I know.’”
It’s that “I know, I know” that keeps me clinging to Him. He knows, and He knows what I can take, even when I don’t think I can take it. It is the new eyes of my new heart that see the world through a new perspective, through His eyes. It’s that love and facing the future through His eyes that drives away the fear and keeps me living wholly in this life.
So, ultimately, I have a choice. I can stand with my face turned toward the fear of loss, massaging it, examining it, becoming friendly with it; or I can turn my back to it and refuse to give it time or energy. I can lay aside my old eyes and let my new eyes see the world the way He sees it.
While I was in the middle of writing this post, I received a message from a friend sent through her Word for the Day email/prayer list email. She included this quote by the author Donald Miller, the author of the semi-autobiographical book Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality:
“The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is, “Do Not Fear.” It’s in there over 200 times. That means a couple of things, if you think about it. It means we are going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around. Before I realized we were supposed to fight fear, I thought of fear as a subtle suggestion in our subconscious designed to keep us safe, or more important, keep us from getting humiliated. And I guess it serves that purpose. But fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”
I guess I’m not the only one who struggles with fear and needs to do a better job at fighting it. Since I cringe at the thought of having anyone say about me after I’m gone, “She was nice, but she sure lived one heck of a boring life,” I’m determined to shine my fear-fighting boxing gloves and go into battle with that emotion.
“Stand firm, stand firm, stand firm!” Dr. Charles Stanley so often instructs.
Standing firm is so much easier to do when you know you have the world’s Overcomer holding you up from the back, or standing in front of you, taking all of those arrows for you.
After you weigh your options, you can cry out like the character George Bailey cries out after weighing the pain of loss and disgrace with not living at all in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life: “Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, I want to live again.”
My prayer for you is that if you have suffered the pain of loss, that you are at the point where you can utter, “Please, God, help me live again!”
Until next week,
Thanks for joining me!