A Crisis of Faith

As most people know, it’s not uncommon for a parent to have a crisis of faith following the death of his or her child.

What is a crisis of faith? One definition is “periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs*”. The key words here are “intense doubt” and “preconceived beliefs.” Basically, it’s when we thought we knew something for certain (or perhaps took something for granted) in the realm of our faith in God (what we “see” with our spiritual eyes or experience and understand in our spiritual lives or believe to be true in the spiritual realm); but when it differs so drastically from what is the reality of our lives (what we “see” with our physical eyes or experience in our physical world), we question everything we believed. Our preconceived beliefs don’t jive with what we’ve just experienced. Trying to reconcile the two opposing concepts when they are at extreme odds with each other can lead to a crisis of faith.

One of the things I miss most since Jason died (besides Jason and my life as I knew it before my world was shattered) is my unquestioning faith in God. I remember times when my heart was so full with love for God that I thought it would burst. I don’t feel that way any more, at least for now. I remember standing by the cassette player (yes, cassette player) with my eyes closed, singing my pledge of devotion to God along with Andrea Crouch or Clay Crosse. I remember being so moved by a song as I sang in the choir that I could hardly get the words out. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15) was my anthem. I would have died for my faith, for God.

But what happens when it’s not you who are “slayed” and it’s your child who dies? What happens when you have to face life without your child, when you have to figure out how to go on living without your child? Then it’s not quite so easy to say, is it? I doubt that there isn’t one parent whose child died that gladly wouldn’t have taken his or her child’s place. I would much rather take the brunt of something awful FOR my children than it happen TO any of them. I would gladly have died in Jason’s place.

There are parents who seem to find a “greater good” or a “higher purpose” or find solace that God is in control of their child’s death. I just haven’t been able to do that. I woke up nearly every night, went downstairs to kneel in front of the couch and pray for my family, for my kids and their friends. I prayed with all my heart and all my being for my kids’ lives and their protection. And still Jason died. And still our family has had to walk through so many hard things, just a fraction of which I would tell most people. How do I reconcile those two?

I have had a crisis of faith. Does that mean I don’t believe in God? No. It just means it seems that what I thought I knew about God wasn’t accurate. It means that what I thought God would “do” for me, He wouldn’t or didn’t do. I thought that if I prayed for my kids that they would be protected. I thought that if I served God with all my heart and tried to do the right things God would make things right for me. I believed that God heard my fervent prayers, that my prayers “availed much” (James 5:16) in the kingdom of heaven and on earth, and that God answered my prayers. I believed God protected my family. I guess I sort of saw God like my own personal genie who could grant me whatever wish I wished for if I wished hard enough for it. That’s not faith; that’s wishful thinking.

Right after Jason died, I remember praying and praying that God would make something good come out of Jason’s death. I didn’t want Jason’s life and death to be for nothing. Both my husband and I felt, from the moment Jason was born, that God had great plans for his life. We felt that he was to do something great for God. And then God didn’t protect Jason and he died. After he died, I prayed that Jason’s life would be like a pebble dropped in a pond, that the ripples of his precious life would be like concentric rings and reach far and wide. Surely, there had to be more to Jason’s life and his living than he would die at the age of 19 before he barely was into adulthood. Surely, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28),” don’t they? I guess I’m still looking for the “good” to come out of Jason’s death, as I can’t say that I’ve seen it yet.

I felt God’s presence incredibly close after Jason died. I felt the prayers of people who knew us, lifting us up before the Most High. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God wasn’t paying attention any more, that He really didn’t care about the anguish we were going through. Somewhere along the line, I felt like God had abandoned us. I felt like the heavens were brass and my prayers weren’t even reaching the ceiling. I felt that people were no longer praying for us. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God’s people didn’t care so much any more. God’s people abandoned us.

Honestly, I have to say that being left so alone by nearly everyone we knew added exponentially to my crisis of faith. Who were most of the people we knew? Christians. People in the church. People we had served and had served with in the church and homeschool community. Christian people I thought of as friends, as extended family since our own families were more than halfway across the country. I thought of Christian people as extensions as the hands and feet of God. I looked to them for support; I expected them to be there for us. Not only did God seem so very far away, out of reach and uncaring, so did nearly everyone else we knew. When you’re hurting so badly, it’s easy to confuse God, the church, and God’s people. It seemed that not only had God let us down and left us alone, so had His people.

I know I have beat this drum a lot in writing my blog – “we were alone, we were alone, nearly everyone left us.” “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms,” right? If that’s what you think, you’re missing the point. Many bereaved parents feel so very alone at the time they most need support. Many bereaved parents ARE left alone at the time they most need support, kindness, hugs, and an ongoing expression of God’s love. We ARE the hands and feet of God on this earth. We need to remember that.

I wrote in an earlier post about reading and relating to the Book of Job. Job suffered great losses. His “friends” came by to “comfort” him – more like confront him – in his grief. They accused him of sinning. He felt deserted by God, his friends and his family. He didn’t understand why God was doing this to him. God had been good to him, and now he felt like God was punishing him for something he didn’t do. He didn’t understand. He had a crisis of faith.

Is a crisis of faith a sin? No. It’s an opportunity to grow. It’s an opportunity to look carefully at what we believed and what we thought we knew, throwing out the wrong while trying to find the right. It’s an opportunity to learn that our ways aren’t God’s ways, as hard as that may be to accept or understand. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that now we “see through a dark glass (I Cor. 13:12).” It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that we walk by faith, not by sight. We don’t know it all. All we know is what we can see with our finite eyes, and all we can understand is what our finite mind can comprehend. The rest has to be taken on faith.

I still struggle greatly with my faith. I still have more questions than answers. I feel like my faith is so small, and my ability to believe and trust in a God that seems to have let me down is small. I no longer see “the church” as a source of comfort or a source of friendship and support. I have very little desire to attend church. I need God to answer prayers for me right now. I need to see that he hears me and cares for the struggles my family and I are going through. I hope that He hears me more than I have an assurance that He hears me. I am worse for wear.

But, I know that this isn’t the end of it. I pray, though not with the fervency and unquestioning devotion as I once did. I try to water that root of faith I have had since I was a child. I know that root of faith goes deep, although most of the above-ground, visible manifestation of my faith may have been pruned. More often than not, in my prayers I remind God, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” I remind myself of what I know for certain. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe Jason is in heaven with his hands lifted in praise to the Most High, even as he was the Sunday before he died. I know that the grave was not Jason’s final destination. I know I will see him again. I know that someday I will join Jason before the throne of God, and then I understand. And that’s as good a place to start as any.

For further reading on Job, I recommend this post: The Trial of Job.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_of_faith

http://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/the-question-of-faith/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Caution: Cliche Ahead

I would venture to say that most bereaved parents tend to be a little sensitive when it comes to cliches and platitudes concerning grief. I know that I am. I try to remind myself, though, that I probably was once one who thought cliches and platitudes were just hunky-dory. I’m sure I thought I was being a help and an encouragement when I told someone to look on the sunny side of life.

I grew up that way. I grew up singing songs that told me, “With Christ in the vessel I can smile at the storm” and “When there’s a rainbow in the sky, the clouds of frown go smiling by.” I was reminded by bumper stickers to “Smile. God loves you.” I grew up feeling that, no matter what I was going through, I had to act and look like everything was okay. If I put a smile on and acted like everything was okay, eventually it would be okay.

Now, I’m all for a good attitude in life and toward life. I think that’s healthy. The “Eeyore’s” in our lives can pull us down after a while. A general Eeyore attitude all the time can put people off. But, I think there’s a difference between having a constant pessimistic attitude and honestly, truly grieving.

People (and I include myself in this) can be really good at the cliches, I think, especially when confronted with difficult situations (such as the death of a child) or when we don’t know what to say. Break out the platitude or “encouraging” Bible verse, slap it on the situation, and it will make everything okay. If the person to whom the cliche is given doesn’t “get” it, that’s their problem, their lack of understanding, their lack of faith.

I ran across a blog a while back that had a picture of an old box and contained the following text underneath the picture:

Carrying something like this around? A box weighted with grief, or resentment, regret, or pain. The best thing to do is LEAVE IT AT THE CROSS. Bring that box to Christ, He’s waiting patiently at baggage claim…. http://mindlesspeace.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/baggage/

Now, I know there are things it’s better we just let go. That being said, I have to say, as a bereaved parent whose walk through grief has been long and hard, I struggled with the concept presented in this post. Do people honestly think that it is really that simple to deal with grief following the death of a child? Was that all I needed to do – lay down my grief at the cross – and all my pain would be “claimed” by Christ? No, of course, it’s not. That’s not even realistic. To me, such cliches are akin to putting a little Hello Kitty band-aid on a huge, gaping wound.

It also makes me wonder if the person who is espouses such cliches really thinks that’s the way it “should” happen. It implies that the person who has grief, resentment, regret or pain isn’t a good enough Christian or isn’t dealing correctly with these issues from a Christian point of view – according to the person who espouse such cliches. To an unseasoned griever, it additionally puts a boatload of guilt on him/her about what s/he “should” be doing. I don’t think that’s fair. We need to check those “should’s” at the door!

The Bible says that God near to those who are brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18). The Bible says that God collects my tears and records them in His book (Psalms 56:8). The Bible says that God is with us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4). There are many verses that talk about God meeting us where we are in the midst of our struggles. I don’t remember one about checking my baggage of grief at the door.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy Father’s Day

Written by my sister on Father’s Day:

SNAPSHOTS OF MY FATHER

My daddy, Arthur J. Knudson

He wore either a suit and tie or those tan work clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. He wore a hat, either a ball cap at home or a felt cowboy hat when he went out. Black work boots that had a distinct resonating sound as he walked across the hardwood floors of our house. We knew his mood by the determination of his step. Smelled like Old Spice, coffee and cough drops. Wire rimmed glasses. Big smile and never knew a stranger. Standing in the pulpit, preaching the gospel. Teacher. Illustrator. Artist. Painter. Kind and generous. Musical, playing several instruments and sang. Intelligent. Spoke at least five languages and studied Bibles in each. Studied for and got his FCC licence just because he could. “We love you”, followed with a peck. He was stern, old school. Wanted to make sure that our actions didn’t give a “worldly” impression. Made sure we held our “Authors” game cards below the window level in the car so no one would think we were gambling in the back seat. That lasted about two seconds. Encouraged many who came in touch with him. Still hear from people in the vicinity of our little Wyoming town who knew him or appreciated his influence in their life. Pastor Art. Taught us how to pray and kept a Prayer and Praise diary his entire life. Loved to pull out his Bible maps and timeline charts to talk about the Second Coming. Loved God and loved being in His service. Ministry was his first love, being a school teacher paid for it. Great sense of humor. Thought dinner conversation should be useful, so he put a world map on the dining room wall. That’s where we learned about Russia and China and Norway. Devoted to my mother and was often found smooching her in the kitchen. Carried a horrible wound in his heart, but endeavored to walk in healing. Loved his Lazy Boy chair, which found its way to the dump after the memorial service. It was worn out. Declared he wanted to be in the pulpit when it was his time to pass on, and nearly did. Gave me a tearful welcome at the train station one time when I didn’t get off the train right away. He thought I had missed it. I was talking to a stranger. Wonder how I learned to do that! He is my Daddy. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! (written by Doris Knudson 6/17/12, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=759433245)

 

Dad in the pulpit – where he loved to be

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Sifting, Sifting, Sifting in the Process of Loss

Once again, I realized today how much I appreciate the blog community. I love reading something from a fellow blogger that provides a nugget of inspiration, challenge or thought.

This morning, as I caught up on one of my favorite blogs written by a woman who lost her home and all its contents to a Texas firestorm, I read a post written about the process of putting together an inventory and considering priorities following loss. My heart aches for her and the lifetime of history she has lost!! So many things – gone! – in one moment of time, beyond her control! It made me consider the sifting processes that have happened in my own life over the years and the things that really matter to me. Her post made me stop and think about what is really, truly important to me.

In the Inaugural Day storm that hit the Seattle area in 1993, a large double-trunked fir tree fell on the house we were renting at the time. Jason, Jenna and I – all who were watching from the kitchen window as the trees swayed dramatically in the wind – turned and ran frantically as the huge tree fell toward us. As it fell, the tree turned so that a trunk of the tree fell on either end of the house instead of both trunks landing right on top of us. One trunk fell right on the end of the kitchen table where Eric normally worked on his schoolwork; fortunately, he had stayed in bed to stay warm since the power was out. Although incredibly shaken by the whole experience, I was so thankful that my family was safe! Enough damage was done to the house that we had to move everything out in one day and put all of our stuff in storage until we found another place to live.

“Houseless” (notice I don’t say “homeless”), we stayed back-and-forth with a couple of families over the next few months as we tried to find a house to buy. Moving a family of 5 from place to place for months – while looking for houses and trying to maintain a school schedule – was not an easy thing to do. After making offers on a couple of houses and having the deals fall through, we decided to purchase a piece of land and contract to have a house built. Following Memorial Day, we left the friends we were staying with and headed out by car for a vacation down the West Coast to California. From there, I traveled with the kids to visit family in the Midwest for the summer while Joe returned to find an apartment to rent until our home was built.

When the kids and I returned in the fall to Seattle and the rental apartment, I discovered my husband (without consulting me, bless his heart!) had “gone through” everything we had in storage and “gotten rid of some things” he deemed unnecessary, condensing our houseful of goods (we’re talking 2400 square feet!) so that it fit into a two-bedroom apartment. Let’s just say that I am a collector, don’t change very easily, and have a hard time letting go of things; my husband is a minimalist, not a collector of stuff, and has little trouble letting go of most material things.

I LIKE my “stuff”!! My stuff reminds me of times, things, and people I want to remember!! There are memories tied to my stuff! There’s a reason I keep and hold onto my stuff! Although I will admit it took some major eye-blinking, tongue-biting and word-swallowing when I found out, I kept reminding myself how thankful I was that my family was safe and most important “stuff” was safe and in tact. At the time, however, I felt that a lot of what I valued and considered important was going through a sifting process of loss. I came to realize, without a shadow of a doubt, that I could live without all that stuff as long as my family was safe.

After being in an apartment rental for a year, we moved into our home. Ahhh…the room….the space…the four bedrooms! It was wonderful…and a space we managed to fill full with a lot of additional “stuff” over the next ten years.

After Jason died, I felt like I went through a major, long sifting process of a different kind. Relationships, expectations, future plans, dreams, hopes, faith – all of these and more went through the grinder of deep loss and then into the sifter. Many things fell out or got sifted out in the process – some by my choice, some through no choice of my own. Going through Jason’s room was a major sifting process, one that was incredibly painful and hard to do. It also became evident that our house – a house I loved in a state/location I loved – was too large for just my husband and me to manage on our own and that my husband was ready for a change – away from the “gray dome” of Washington, away from places steeped in painful memories and reminders of Jason’s death.

Since we were only taking bare essentials with us, I once again started the sifting process. Sifting, sifting, sifting. What did I really want to keep and what could I live without or replace? At times, I felt like if I heard the words “we need to get rid of” one more time I would scream! The only things we took with us to Oklahoma were some clothes, photos and a few momentos. As we continue to look for a place for our hearts to be at home, they are still the only things we now and are in storage in Oklahoma. I feel like I have been in a sifting process for so long!

In reality, we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. I can only think of a few important number of things that make it out of the sifting process here on earth and into eternity – our tears, our deeds (good or bad), our eternal souls, faith, hope and love. Can you think of any more?

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Being present for those who deeply grieve

In the years since Jason died, I’ve read many “do’s and don’ts” lists in articles and books written concerning how to help the grieving. I’ve even written about how to help those who deeply grieve. Without a doubt, I think all of these lists and writings help and give understanding and insight.

As I read a blog this morning about being present for those who grieve, though, I started thinking that if I had to state how to help a person who is deeply grieving in only two sentences, this is what I would say: Be short on words, long on presence and compassion. Don’t offer an explanation; offer your heart.

That is the essence, the distillation, the easy-to-remember nugget, the “advice in a nutshell” for helping those who deeply grieve. If someone is in the situation of needing/wanting to help someone who is grieving, I hope s/he will take time to fully read the helpful “do and don’t” lists, but will use these two short sentences as a trigger or reminder of how to help.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Great Expectations

My husband and I started talking this morning over breakfast about expectations and hope. I had earlier read to him a portion of a blog written by a young mother who expressed grief that her birth experience had not been what she thought it should have been and how she resented being told that she should “get over it.” This precipitated a discussion concerning some of our own – well, specifically, some of my own – expectations and hopes that have not turned out quite like I thought they would.

My husband – bless his heart – is a very black and white person. I, on the other hand, am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Being a woman, I also approach things on a much more emotional level than he does, especially when it comes to things that hurt, are not fair to, or cause pain to my family. I have a tendency to expect things to go or to be a certain way. As I choked up while talking about some hopes and expectations close to my heart that have not turned out as I wished they had, my husband commented concerning a few, “That’s just not logical. There’s no reason to expect they should have turned out that way.” Ahhh – Spock and his logic (Star Trek) have nothing on this man!

I think, though, we are hardwired to hope. You know, “hope springs eternal” and all that. We then add our own expectations – sometimes unrealistic expectations – to our hopes. It’s hard not to add our own expectations (the “shoulds”) to the visions we hold close to our hearts. We picture things the way we want and think things should be – with hope and expectation. We have hopes and expectations for our relationships, for our families, for our kids, for our jobs, for our futures, for every aspect of our lives. We want, hope, expect for things to go a certain way. We want, hope, expect things to turn out for the best.

When Jason was in high school, I printed and framed Jeremiah 29:11 for him. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”* It sat on his bedside table. I expected Jason to prosper and to have a future. I believed God had a plan for Jason’s life – for all of our kids’ lives. I hoped for good things for Jason – for all of my kids. I expected God to protect my kids; I prayed for God to protect them and help them.

I hoped and expected my kids would all have good friends who would value them for the incredible people they are and stand by them through thick and thin. I hoped and expected that they find jobs that would be fulfilling and a life that would be equally fulfilling. I looked forward to my kids graduating from college, marrying, having children (probably). I hoped for the absolute best for my kids; I still hope for these things and pray for the best for my kids and grandkids.

I expected for our home to be a place to which our kids would return with their own families; one that would be filled with family, friends, and fun for holidays or for just any ordinary day; one where I could do crafts and bake cookies with our grandkids. I expected my life to continue on its path into a future I envisioned and had planned. I still have many hopes and expectations, although I feel they are more subdued than they used to be.

What I did not expect was for Jason to die. I did not expect to walk this long, difficult walk through grief. I didn’t expect people we counted on to disappear when we needed them the most. I didn’t expect to move from a place and home I loved. I didn’t expect my family to face some of the heartbreaks and difficult struggles they have. I didn’t expect to be 50-something (ah-hum) years old trying to better educate myself in order find a good-paying, fulfilling job so we can have enough money for retirement. I didn’t expect to have so much trouble finding once again a place to call home – a place where my heart feels at home – and a good job.

What do you do when your hopes and expectations aren’t met, when they disappear into thin air or are crushed to smithereens?

I think this has been one of the greatest struggles for me following Jason’s death and the ripple-effect of events/situations following his death. Sometimes it surprises me how long and far-reaching the ripples go and what they affect. I have a strong belief in the fairness of things and tend to expect that things “should” be a certain way. I still struggle sometimes with adjusting my expectations to the reality that now is. It’s hard for me to let go of those hopes and expectations when things seem unfair; I’m afraid I am not one to let go easily.

Proverbs 13:12 says: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”** Deferred means “withheld for or until a stated time”; fulfilled means “to measure up to…to convert into reality.”*** Sometimes I feel like I’m over the “hope deferred” parts of life and am ready for the “longing fulfilled” parts; I’m over the “heart sick” parts and ready for the “tree of life” parts. Sometimes I just want to say “Enough already!” and instantly see things change for the better. I’m ready for some of my deep longings to become realities. I think all of us would prefer the “longing fulfilled” rather than the “hope deferred.”

You just can’t pick and choose some things that happen to you, though. Sometimes our “great expectations” just don’t happen the way we think they should.

Joe and watched a movie a long time ago (I think it was Richard Dreyfuss in Lost In Yonkers) where the main character’s sister kept going on and on about how she wanted and pictured her life to be a certain way. It wasn’t turning out the way she wanted it to be, the way she pictured it should be, but she wasn’t actively doing anything to make anything change. She was just complaining about the way it was. Finally, in exasperation after listening to this for countless years, the main character turns to her and yells, “So, change the picture!!” Although some “pictures” are easier to change and some expectations are easier to release than others, that’s become a reminder to ourselves. “Change the picture!”

I don’ think it happens just like that – change the picture. And it certainly isn’t up to someone else to change the picture for you or, without solicitation, to tell you when or how you should change it. It’s your life; you have to own your own changes in order for them to mean something to you. Sometimes a person may ask an opinion or solicit help, but for change to really stick it has to mean something and come from deep within. No one can do it for you. Sometimes it’s a painfully long and agonizing process that requires painting over that ruined picture or a long time and hard, consistent work to plant a landscape so that it is no longer a vast wasteland but a beautiful, productive garden. The healing is in the process of change, one step at a time.

I don’t want to get stuck in my lost expectations or keep my focus on the hopes that have been deferred. I don’t want the landscape of my life to be of a wasteland of unfulfilled expectations or the way I wish things were; I want it to be a beautiful garden, that stained glass window through which God can shine. I want to keep learning and growing from the experiences I’ve had. I just keep reminding myself that there are so many things I don’t understand here on earth. Life isn’t fair. Why do things go well for certain people and not others? I don’t know. Maybe it just seems they do. I think most people have expectations that aren’t met and heartbreaks of their own. I won’t have the answers to why my some of my hopes were deferred and some of my expectations weren’t met on things that are important to me until I see God face to face. I will keep on hoping and doing the best I can.

I want Jason to be proud of me and the way I have lived my life. I want to get to Heaven and have God say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want my life to mean something. I will remind myself to hope, to love, to forgive, to remember, to persevere, to appreciate those in my life who care, and to notice the beauty in each day. I will remind myself that some day I will understand, even though I don’t now. As 1 Corinthians 13 says:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.****

*http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+29%3A11&version=NIV

**http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+13%3A12&version=NIV

***http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

****http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+13&version=NIV

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Hope

Our pastor preached on hope this past Sunday. I like our pastor. He’s funny. He gets his message across without condemning. He’s real. He’s also a bereaved parent, and that carries some weight with me.

But, it got me to thinking about hope. It’s what all of us, especially as bereaved parents, want. We want the “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” that old hymn talks about.

There are many things I believe and know. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe that Jesus was born, died, and was raised again so that I could have eternal life. I know that Jason was a Christian and that I will see him again. I know that all of my questions will be answered when I see God. I know that, although I see through a dark glass now, someday I will understand. Someday all my tears will be wiped away.

Here on earth, though, sometimes I struggle. I have had a long struggle with my faith since Jason died. Research has shown that many bereaved parents question and examine their spiritual beliefs following the death of a child. I didn’t understand why God didn’t protect Jason after I had prayed and prayed for our kids, their lives, and their protection. I don’t know why we’ve had to walk this long, lonely, difficult path. I have had a long struggle believing the validity of fellow Christians actually being the hands and feet of God on this earth and getting into the trenches to help those who deeply grieve. I have questioned the concept of the church as a hospital for the wounded. I didn’t go to church for a while. It was just too hard. It’s taken me a long time to allow myself to “hope” again.

I can’t deny what we have experienced or what we have seen with our own eyes. It’s been a rough journey; that’s a fact. I would have to acknowledge that, for the most part, fellow Christians and the church failed us miserably after Jason died. On my part, I was extremely hurt and reacted by pulling even farther away. I built up a protective wall around my heart and hunkered down behind it.

Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know. In retrospect, probably not. There are many things I would do differently if I had to do them again. I did what I knew how to do  and what I had the energy to do at the time. That’s all any of us can do.

But, I don’t want to convey a hopelessness to others who may be early on in their grief. My experiences are not be the same as yours. There is so much more information available for helping those who deeply grieve. You are not alone. You will make it through. You are stronger than you know. Reach out to others. You may be surprised who reaches back. Others have walked a similar path before you. Those who have suffered a great loss generally have a deeper, more empathetic outlook on life. They survived; you will, too.

More than anything, though, I want to encourage those surrounding grievers to be proactive. Do something! You can make a difference! I want to encourage those in the church to look outside of their own group of friends or acquaintances to see if there is someone new or someone who is hurting. Someone may need more than your shaking their hand “good morning.” You can give hope by small acts of kindness…but you have to be involved with them beyond a perfunctory smile to do that.

It’s easy to stay within our comfort zones. We are creatures of habit. We like to sit in the same place at church or hang out with the same friends. We like to be around people we know. We go to lunch with the same people, go to the same Bible studies, attend the same social events. But maybe there is someone new who needs a friend or just a kind word. Maybe there is someone right in front of you who needs some hope. Are you unintentionally excluding someone who may need a glimmer of hope?

My dad used to joke about people who would pray, “God bless me, my wife, my son John and his wife. Us four, no more. Amen.” He wanted to encourage others (and especially “us kids”) to realize that there are more people that God wants to bless besides those within our own little circles…and he may want to use you to do it.

I have long contemplated how I can best help those who grieve. I have a “helper” personality and am strongly empathetic. How can I best help? I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe this blog is one of my attempts to do just that.

I realize friendships and relationships take a while to grow. It takes time to connect. But there has to be a reciprocal desire by both parties. I may have a need to reach out to you and I may make the effort to do that; but if you don’t see me reaching out and reach back, there’s no chance for a connection. There’s no chance for a relationship. There’s no chance to encourage or give hope to someone who may need it.

Does that make sense?

There may be people around us reaching out for friendship, for hope, for encouragement. Do we see them? Do we take the time to notice? Do we take time to share some hope?

I subscribe to GriefShare and receive “A Season of Grief” daily emails from them. The last few have encouraged those who grieve to find support in a local church. Are we, as a church, prepared to do that? There are people, in their deep grief, looking to us for hope. Are we ready to show them hope – “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? Are we, by our actions, ready to show them the God of all hope?

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney