I don’t know how or when it started, but I grew up feeling God was with me, protecting me, that somehow I was favored. It’s not as if I had a wonderful or remarkable childhood or was anyone special. I can’t even explain why I felt like that. It wasn’t really a conscious thought, but I just knew God really, truly cared about me, that he heard my prayers and that they “availed much.” I had a real assurance that I mattered to Him.
As a parent, I truly believed that my prayers for my kids and their friends and for our family really made a difference in this world. Even when our baby died, my faith that God cared and heard my prayers wasn’t shaken. I woke up nearly every night at 3:30 a.m., went downstairs to kneel in front of the couch and pray for our kids, for their friends, for our family. I believed God would protect our kids, that he heard my prayers for them and that he had a plan for them. One year, I gave Jason a beautiful framed scripture that he kept by his bed – “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. Jeremiah 29:11” From the time Jason was born, both Joe and I felt like God’s hand was on him and he had a special purpose in this world. Even as a little boy, he just radiated love and kindness and joy and empathy.
But, I felt like all of that changed when Jason died. For a while, I felt like God was close to me right after Jason died and I could really tell people were praying for us. But, as I wrote in my journal a a couple months later, I could tell that people were moving on and had quit praying for us. I also felt like God had removed his hand of protection, that He no longer heard my prayers. My world came crashing down. I was free falling down a bottomless black hole with nothing and no one to stop me or hear my cries.
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.
I have struggled with my faith since then, and it seems as nothing has been right or gone right since Jason died. We have truly walked a hard and rocky path since March 3, 2002. Nearly everyone we knew abandoned us. We have wandered and wandered, trying to find a place to be “at home.” We have few I would consider true friends. People we have cared about and trusted have hurt us and proven themselves uncaring and untrustworthy. We have walked through so many difficult things since then, only a fraction of which I have talked about here. The God of grace and mercy I thought I knew seems to have turned his back, and I feel like my prayers go no higher than hitting a heaven of brass. I feel like, as it says in Deuteronomy 28:23, “The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron.”
I wrote earlier about what it is like to have 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.
I keep on trying and trying, praying and hoping for things to turn around for us, but nothing has changed and we are so weary. I feel like I am losing hope. They say hope springs eternal, but I’m not so sure about that any more. The Bible encourages us to “build yourself up in your most holy faith.” What happens when you run out of energy to keep on trying to do that? Where is the “rest for the weary” that is promised?
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’ve been a Christian for a long time. I picture my faith like a large tree with roots that go deep. But that tree has been nearly cut off at ground level. I’m questioning everything I took for granted – the sayings, the teachings, the cliches, the formulas, the things I thought I knew and understood to be true. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I think God is big enough and has enough grace to handle my questioning.
I feel like my faith will grow again from the roots up, but it may not look the same as it did. I don’t want some pie-in-the-sky cliche. It’s got to apply to the tough stuff, to daily life. I want a faith and a hope that is real, practical, strong. I want a “rubber meets the road” faith in God that will carry me until I see my boy again.
Easter is seen as a time of hope, of renewal, of celebrating the risen Christ. I am very thankful that Jesus died for my sins and that he rose again so that I might have eternal life. Because of that, I know that I will see Jason again. As I said on Easter last year, “I am thankful for the hope that Easter represents: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a way for us to reconcile our sinful, human natures with the holiness of God, Jesus Christ’s victory over death when he rose from the grave, and the promise of eternal life after death. Without the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, I would have no hope of seeing Jason again. And I am so incredibly thankful for that hope.” But, I will admit that I still struggle.
My goal in writing this on Easter morning is not to be a downer. If you are one of those people whose Easter is full of joy and hope, if you are celebrating with family, kids, grandkids or friends, if you feel the joy and happiness that Easter might bring, I am so happy for you!
I would ask, however, that you not forget those who might be struggling on this Easter. Those who are alone. Those who are estranged from their kids or family. Those who don’t have the picture-perfect, Easter egg hunting relationship with their grandkids. Those who are missing dearly loved ones. Those whose children have died. Those who are struggling with their faith. Those who feel like the heavens are brass and that God has forsaken them. I’m positive I am not the only one who feels this way. As with all holidays, I believe it’s good to have a reminder to think of and pray for those who may not be as fortunate.
I Corinthians 13
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.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney
[I wrote this on Easter morning, but didn’t get a chance to post it before we left the house for the day.]