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.



© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

31 thoughts on “A Crisis of Faith

  1. This was written beautifully. My son, Chandler passed away on June 22, 2013. I have only been to church two times since then. There is a huge crisis of faith that happens when we lose a child. We also dreamed huge dreams for Chandler’s life that are now gone. We also never, ever thought this would happen to us. And, I also cry out to God almost constantly, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” I don’t feel like my Christian friends have let me down and are not here for me. But, it’s so hard because it doesn’t matter who is around you, this type of grief, grief from a loss of a child, is so lonely. I have never felt more alone in this aspect. I’m glad you wrote this post. It’s good to know that we are in fact not alone. Thank you!

  2. Becky, everything you said.. I am feeling, too. The praying for protection, the overwhelming love for God for a year or two after my son’s death, and then feeling alone. I have not seen the purpose and the only thing I can do is wait as those in Hebrews 11: (NLT) “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.”

    This doesn’t make me “feel” any better since it will always be open ended for me until God brings the final closure. But it helps me to know that before me, humanity has suffered like me and therefore I am not alone. And of course, God is always with me. It’s just that suffering isn’t easy and that’s what it is. Suffering. But in it, I feel God’s strength even when I’m numb on some days and I’ve accepted it for what it is – this cross I must bear.

    After Job’s suffering, he said (paraphrased).. “I’ve heard about you .. but now I see you.” That’s my story. We come out not just knowing about God but KNOWING him. And in many cases, instead of people wondering what we’ve seen of God in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.. they are too busy doing church to ask or notice!

    I’ve come to understand we are “stuck” in this Church Age. What I mean is that we have error just like any other Church Age. We are not always doing what God wants us to do – loving the way he defines it. Therefore, you and I have been the recipients of that error. Seeing the bigger picture helps me to put it in perspective. One day he will wipe away every tear and there will be no more sorrow or pain or death. And so we encourage ourselves and each other with this promise.

    Thank-you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Thank you so much for your honesty, Rebecca. I’ve had a crisis of faith too, but not of a religious kind, I guess. I’ve stopped considering there is a general good about humankind, in a way. It’s a very serious crisis, of course, because when you shun people, you feel very alone.
    Those who leave alone the grieving parent generally mean no harm. They’re simply afraid, but they’re human. They’re not very brave at all.
    Like you with your Jason, I’d give anything, absolutely anything, to swap myself with my Clea and bring her back. If only.

  4. I came to faith two years ago while I watched my mom slowly die from cancer. I did find my “church” friends to be a great support, but I always got annoyed when they would spout seemingly pre-packaged things like “God has a plan” and “she’s in a better place.” As a Christian, of course I acknowledge that God has a plan, but I’m also allowed to think the plan sucks. I am allowed to selfishly want my mom back, even though she no longer suffers. I am allowed to bring my anger and frustration to God and demand that he deal with it.

    Ironically, I think one of the strongest things we can do as believers is to doubt our faith. Not our belief in God, per se, but the idea that he is always working for our good. I find that people who have not experienced great loss have an easy time reassuring us that these hardships are for our good, and that we just need more faith–but if they were the ones on their knees, praying for God to come through, they’d probably realize that faith is not black and white–it is gray, and it is utterly human, even for the most diligent of followers, to question a force we cannot see but claim to feel.

  5. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our thoughts could just translate into feelings. And trust could be accessed simply because we want to have it. Yet it doesn’t work that way. Nuts! I do believe one thing as certain. God does know you and does understand that your trust and belief and love aren’t mechanical. You can’t just turn on the switch! I have read that Mother Theresa went through amazing crises of faith. Amazing in that they were long and protracted but she just kept on giving and loving and doing. You are dear to many and dear in God’s sight, and I personally think He honors the honesty of your cries. I hope some day that closeness you describe comes back. I know that would feel good. I would really like to give you a big hug! ox

  6. YI am so sorry to hear you are losing your faith in god. I hope in time it will return. The hardest thing to deal with when you have lost youtr. Child( my phone isnt working properly) is. People skipping out on you. Its Gods hardest point make people understand that having faith in. him means. You will. be there. for. humans needs. ( i dont know why this keeps. Putting. periods. where they dont belong. Its the. Machine not me ) your faith is being tested but also God understands you are suffering to much right now. He does not hold it agsinst you. Remember it says in the bible there is a time for everything. This is your time to feel whatever your poor.soul feels. There is no right or wrong way to feel. I am sorry that human beings have come a long way in knowing that you canlearn how to do most anything in life. But theyare unschooled on knowing how to be there for a devastated.soul. I dont understand why this isnt taught in church. I believe sometimes the way things are taught in church are too vaug. Its seems there shoul d be more detailed in explanation. So many people really dont get what being there when something this devastating happens means. I cant feel anything on christmas day. My family thinks theres something wrong with me. They have shut me out. Said you just want someone to feel sorry for you. This came from my mother. So i know how you could hurt so much because your friends who you feel are family left you alone at a time that you need other human beings. God said we are all family, but if this is how your family neglects.you, it does cause deeper emotional pain that shoul not be added to the already unbearble pain of the loos of your lovedone. I’m so sorry you are experiencing.this alone. I lost my baby who was 36 years old on Christmas Day at 3:48 pm.It was tje last minute i lived. I dont understand people

  7. Hi Rebecca, Even though I follow your blog I found this link in Peter Wiebe’s blog. I can only echo what Peter said. I have battled with the same issues as you. I have left the Church. I still battle with my relationship with God. I no longer see God as a God of mercy. I battle with the “love of God” concept. I believe in God just not in His love and mercy.

  8. When our son died in 2006, I called the local church we were attending. The pain was so unbearable, all we wanted was someone to come and give us hug. No one came. We were devastated by the lack of compassion. The next morning we traveled the 600 miles to bury our son who had been dead for days. Every night, as you said, I prayed for his safety, blessings and direction. He was newly baptized. I was knocked off my feet by the brokenness of my spirit. My faith was shattered. I thought what good is prayer if I can pray for my child while he was dead on a bathroom floor. I did not give up my prayer though they were shorter and less hopeful. Through the years the Lord has let me feel His arms around me. He was there all along. I think my anguish was great, I could not feel Him. I still don’t understand everything but my faith has returned and it grows stronger. I immersed myself in the word and praise. It took a long time to listen to music again. We found a new church and knew the moment we walked into the building we had found the right place. I do feel support and comfort from my church family but no matter you are, if you have never lost a child, you cannot understand. The Father understands. He lost His only son. He has blessed me with wonderful memories and an assurance that I will be with my son again. During one of my conversations with my son (as I think most parents do), he said to me, Mom, this place in awesome. It’s like everyone here loves me like you do! Amen to that.

  9. Pingback: A crisis of faith | tersia burger

  10. I just read your words on Tersia’s blog. My own grief is different from yours and your grief is something I cannot even imagine because I have not lost my child (my biggest fear always). I salute you.

  11. Pingback: A Crisis of Faith | myownheart.me

  12. Thank you for your post! I felt like you were reading my mind and writing my thoughts as I am having my own crisis of faith. My daughter passed away suddenly in August at age 27. She was healthy and there is no real explanation for her death so they ruled it a heart arrhythmia or “it was her time.” I am really struggling accepting the “it was her time” though. I was born with the deepest faith in a God and prayed daily that He would take care of my loved ones — especially my children.

    I also miss my faith. Some would say my intense grief is blocking my faith but I don’t agree. I have lost my father when I was 11 years old, my 35 year old brother, my in-laws and my grandparents and my faith was not tested. However, losing my daughter changed everything — it especially changed me! Nothing in my life prepared me for this, not even my faith in God!! Only another parent who has experienced this same devastating loss could truly understand what this does to a parent’s life. I never ever knew this kind of pain existed in the world and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t long for my old life back when I trusted God and had my daughter back.

    None of us want our faith to be tested like this and I am open to healing and my faith being restored some day, but today I understand completely how you feel.

  13. I also understand your struggle and appreciate reading what you wrote. The last thing I used to do before I go to bed was to thank God for keeping my children safe. It was a small and silly thing, but part of my routine. After Jackson was killed in a car accident this summer, I find myself starting to say that as I lie in bed and then I stop because Jackson died and I don’t know what to say and how to pray differently. That simple bedtime ritual doesn’t fully reflect my religious belief, but my in ability to thank God for keeping my kids safe is a daily reminder of the struggle to maintain a belief in God after unimaginable tragedy.

  14. I lost my 28 year old son Oct. of 2012 when a totally negligent driver drove in his oncoming lane and ran him over on his motorcycle. He was just going to a doctor’s appt. 10 am in the morning. The woman who ran him over had a long track record of violations of the law and was uninsured. I am unsure if she thought she could beat my son across and not have to yield, this dangerous driving habit I have noticed a lot in the community he was killed. Also, this is my second child loss. My infant Taylor, died when he was 6 weeks old to SIDS. I had always felt guilty because I thought if only I had taken my infant son in that morning, perhaps they would have diagnosed (I had called in to the doctor but should have listened to my gut). Now, my son Jesse, the 28 year old son, was having some health issues, so I send him to a doctor and he gets killed. I am shattered, beyond shattered. I am like a disappearing speck of nothingness. In my Christian faith I am/was totally unprepared for this, I had responded to a Billy Graham altar call at 16, attended New Tribes Bible Institute and spent many years on and off in children’s ministry. My son, Jesse was authentic in his faith and did not believe in putting on a Christian show for anyone. You got the real thing. Jesse had told me the summer before this that if the technology ever came in place to receive the mark of the Beast he would rather die. I knew he meant it. Now all I think about is how he lay in that ditch dying with his heart valves torn off because of some low life. The person who killed him is not remorseful, in fact she got a battery charge (unrelated) after this. I feel totally abandoned by God and pray daily that he take me home. Jesse, my son, also had a “knowing”, he felt he was going to die young. I now know these supernatural occurrences do happen, I only wish I would have understood then. And I wish it would have been me…I now have one child left…

  15. Thank you for this beautiful, mindful post. I have had a hard day, as tomorrow is our son Robert’s birthday. I have felt dumb, mute anger today and bitterness. We lost Robert on July 30, 2012. My husband Jim is more understanding concerning faith…I have felt great confusion. You have helped. jean

  16. Yesterday was an interesting day. During my quiet time, I was doing Beth Moore’s study on James, which referred me to the story of Job. Then I went on-line and came across this blog entry called “Everything happens for a reason?” http://theamericanjesus.net/?p=11471 Next, I set about finishing my own blog entry titled “Crisis of Faith.” http://myahas.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/crisis-of-faith/ Tersia commented on it and that’s how I came to find your blog this morning.

    I love what you say in the paragraph that starts “Is a crisis of faith a sin?” Thank you for sharing these very personal thoughts.


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