I get it. I seriously do. When life has gone awry for someone in your life, you grasp at straws. You want to help, to be there, but mostly you want to get them out of mess they are in and back to whatever you have in your mind as “normal.”
The number of well-meaning people, and dear friends, that acted this way towards us shortly after we lost our child was the majority. I never faulted them, mostly because I would have asked the same thing to a friend of mine, but also because I didn’t have a better alternative to offer.
“Where is God in this?” That’s the question I asked myself and others expected an answer. I think we both wanted me to be able to point out a silver lining in the whole ordeal and say. “LOOK. THERE He is.” And let’s be fair, there was plenty great things that happened that I was thankful for:
We had a wonderful nurse in the delivery room who cared for us on an emotional level that she didn’t have to do.
My parents were life-savers. We lived with them and they saved me from my sanity and kept my child having fun and stable in a not so stable environment.
And ultimately, 2 years later, I have greater strength than I knew was possible.
But here’s what I want to suggest: We learned a lot when we came out of the season, as we experience healing and wholeness. I will stand firm and tell you that that season was made up survival. And as a dear friend once told me, “Surviving counts for a whole lot.”
And you know what? Damn straight. Because I found myself lying down on the floor in my bedroom with a thawed out ice pack on my back yelling at my husband to come and help me off the floor. I could barely move, and my whole body was going through a hormonal imbalance from trying to figure out what to do when a baby is delivered in the middle of a pregnancy yet there is no baby to be found. I was lonely, exhausted, depressed, shamed, and afraid and I remember thinking that all I had to do was survive this.
When I turned 30, one year after I had injured my back and about 9 months after we had lost our second son, my husband got me a birthday cake that said, “I survived the shit parade.” Because that was exactly what it was. We had entered a season where we thought things were going to work out one way, and we were met with obstacles and challenges and loss and grief all along the way.
So surviving? Yeah that was all I could do. And that was enough. Because sometimes life is so upside down and a season is longer than a few hours, and you are treading water and keeping your head up and your family afloat and all you can think of is what it takes to survive. Your survival. Your family’s survival. And for all of you to come out in tact.
When this happens, it’s like you have been left out at sea. You are lost and you are alone and you are waiting for the rescue team to come and help you back on the boat. And so you wait.
And there, as you are treading water, and there is nothing for miles but horizon lines and waves crashing around you, the question comes,: “Where is God in this?” And believe me, you want to know this very answer yourself. Because don’t you think that if you knew where He was, you would be chasing after Him? Or at least swimming in that direction? Or, if not, because you are in survival mode, what kind of God is a God that watching you drowning and isn’t showing up to help? So yeah, where is God in this stage?
But I think we do people a huge disservice when we ask them to find God right smack dab in the middle of the tragedy. First, because we aren’t really asking them to seek and find God’s presence, we are getting at the fact that we think God somehow has orchestrated these events and His hand is in them. This, then places an all good God right in the middle of evil. And this becomes confusing, now doesn’t it?
Second, because this questions side-steps the problem at hand, by bypassing the real need for grief and lament. We are making the assumption that God can’t be found in grief and lament and that instead He is waiting on the other side, and until you get there, you aren’t a concern of His.
This is a severely damaging perspective. The message that God only wants us at our best leaves us feeling ashamed of how we are feeling. We feel shame about the despair we are in, the people we are, and the things that we do. Because when we were the most vulnerable, and asked for help, God did not answer.
Is this really what we want to say to ourselves? Is this the God that we want to tell the world about?
What if, instead we continually insisted with great passion that God is always the first responder? That it is He who sheds the first tear, that He is there in the midst of the tragedy not as the person who caused it but as He who is coming alongside you, in the trenches, speaking to you, holding you, and comforting you. He is not ashamed of you. You are loved, you are enough.
In Deuteronomy chapter 6 we find this prayer called the “Shema” and it starts like this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The Hebrew word for “listen” here is “shama”, which is where we get the name for this prayer in the first place. Practicing Jewish people say this prayer multiple times a day. They wake up and recite the Shema and they go to bed and recite it again. It’s a remind to them about who God is and how he communicates with His people. See He says, “Hear”. He doesn’t say “look” or any other verb, but “listen.”
It’s the same word we see in Psalm 34 when David says that God heard his prayers and rescued him. God listened to the prayers of David, and ultimately rescued him. There’s a sense here that God and His people work together on a level of deep communication and we are required to listen, but God does the same for us. When God meets us in trenches there is talking that will often feel like yelling, listening that will often feel like silence, but none of it is done alone.
God is always the first responder. He is and always has been in a covenant relationship with his people that is marked by conversation. I firmly believe that if He hasn’t answered our cries yet, it’s because He is still with us, waiting and weeping. He is no rush to find answers to bring healing, because He knows that it takes time, and there is a certain sort of healing that takes place when we create space and give ourselves permission to grieve.
See when God says “Hear O Israel” and then (essentially) “know who I am” He is calling His people to be a community who listens and then sits in the knowledge of who He is. It is a posture of waiting in stillness and it requires that we relinquish all of the answers that we want and embracing the mystery, the sadness, the frustrations and the hurt.
And when it’s not us in the tragedy? Let us be people that act like God in these moments. May we often come beside our friends and loved ones and simply sit with them. May we be model being a First Repsonder and we don’t offer answers, but only practice what it means to listen without talking. May we give others the permission that survival is enough, and that we are with them. May they see God as they don’t survive alone, but do it one day at a time, with the Church by their side.
That’s how they will know where God is.