Monday, August 11, 2014

Trust the rope

I had been warned - I had warned myself - not to reckon on worldly happiness.  We were even promised sufferings.  They were part of the programme.  We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn', and I accepted it.  I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for.  Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination...

I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me.  Now it matters, and I find it didn't. 

~ C.S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed


I see "faith" and hope and expectation all around me.  Relentlessly, suburban folks, claiming to be of Christian faith, seem to believe they deserve happiness, a stable if not grossly prosperous life and all of their family members kept healthy, strong and successful.  Many personal prayer requests (I have been witness to) seem to be designed around the flourishing of the family, the curing of illness in the immediate circle of family and friends, the banishment of difficult times, just as soon as possible.  Many even seem to believe that their good fortune is ordained, that good begets nothing but good, that every day-to-day coincidence is orchestrated, hand-selected for them, by God. 

Didn't you knock?  Certainly the door would have opened for you.  Didn't you ask with faith?  Why, if you had, it should have been granted.  That is so sad that, despite your prayers, two of your sons died...,  now God, please be certain to continue to keep my family safe and healthy and happy. 

I imagine it's splendid to have this flavor of faith, this perspective on prayer, if life has gone relatively smoothly.  If prayers are mostly perceived to have been "answered".  When, for instance, disease and illness are hurdles that have been overcome, when children are growing and thriving, when family members succumb to death only after a relatively long and full life lived, when real trauma has stayed just far enough away not to impede too much on daily life, or to disprove long-held beliefs.  I wish this Sunday school faith could sustain me now, but it mocks Zachary's suffering and death, and the suffering of so many others outside of the safe enclave of the first world in which we live.  If Zachary had survived his illness, everyone would have said "Praise God. Our prayers were answered."  Instead, all I hear is silence, most would-be faith responses scattering as far away as possible from our horrible, unexpected tragedy. 

Does anyone really understand the senselessness in what happened to my otherwise healthy son?  Can anyone begin to fathom the torture Zachary endured?  Does anyone know how his death and B.W.'s death affects our family, permeating every facet of our life and faith, and permanently?  Can anyone explain how Zachary's suffering and death are part of God's plan?

I know in my heart the answer is no. 


When I inspect my disillusionment with my faith closely, I am deeply hurt and confused.  Am I angry at God for not answering my (most authentic, most important) prayers, for not sparing Zachary's life?  Yes.  Am I angry about the empty promises of pop culture Christianity, the lies my subconscious held onto despite their precariously weak link to excerpts from God's word?  Yes.  How will I ever have the courage to pray boldly for anyone or anything, ever again?  Will I ever feel anything but disgust when I hear someone attest to the power of prayer, but with full knowledge that it failed my Zachary? 

All I can come up with to stop from spiraling into total disbelief, in my broken state, are three promises God made to believers and would-be believers.  As simply put as I can... 

1 - Salvation (after death)
2 - Suffering (in this life, in this fallen world)
3 - The Holy Spirit (God with us, in this life)

If these promises are 80% on point from a biblical perspective, my faith fatigue is, well, misplaced.  God didn't promise me, or anyone else, happiness.  He didn't promise that my family would be whole or that my children would outlive me.  He didn't promise that life would be easy or comfortable or free of tragedy and deep, deep, lasting sorrow.  He didn't promise to answer my prayers like a genie in a bottle.  (I can just see the Christian community nodding along, at least partially.  And, even that confounds and upsets me because most of them have never had to "trust the rope" with their child's life in the way I have.  Most have never had it fail them under such tragic circumstances.)   

My soul is crushed and my hope is emptied.  People ask me what I would have them pray, on our behalf.  The truth is, I have no idea.  I don't know that it matters at all.  Does anyone remember that hundreds, if not thousands of us, were on our knees, imploring our almighty God to return my Zachary to his state of health?  Does anyone remember how that turned out?  He died. Contrary to all expectations, in the presence of so much love and relentless prayer, he died.  My faith, as misconstrued as I'm sure it is, is shaken to its core. 



  1. Yes, i feel it too. I had a vague feeling of being taken care of by god and the universe before Henry died, but after, well, it took a few years for all of the lessons to click into place for me. Many of my feelings were and are the same as yours. I no longer believe in God or heaven,, I believe only in the randomness of the universe and my own very small place in it. Its ok to lose faith, for me it was like scales falling free, i began to see the world as it was, and not as i wished it to be. Am i scared about what life means? Certainly. Do i feel a tremendous amount of grief about the knowledge that Henry isnt waiting for me in heaven, and I may never experience his body or soul, ever ever again, even if such a thing might exist. Yes. But here I am, living each day, savoring the moments with my living children, it is all i have, and it will have to be enough. It is a bitter truth that has taken me many long years to begin to reconcile. I can feel your pain so bitterly here, I think of you often. You deserve answers, you deserved your sons. You are good, and so were they.

  2. I've been mulling over Jesus's prayer in the garden, "Take this cup from me." He knew God wouldn't, he even knew the great reason why... but still he asked.
    So what's the point? Why pray at all...why believe at all? certainly not for the prosperity lies that common christianity hold dear to. I don't pray anymore, not really - I let my spirit grumble and hope that's sufficient for now... I know deep within me that the only right prayer for me now is thanksgiving. And how could I possibly breath life into that sentiment - - ever!?!? I'm rambling... but I find this post really interesting and familiar and necessary. Thank you

  3. Eva also died in the presence of so much love and prayer. I hate it when people say to me now how prayer works. Prayer doesn't work. God works. But I still believe prayer is good for me and my relationship with God. And why God didn't work in Eva's life or Zachary's in the way we wanted is beyond me but I also know it is not beyond him. And one day I will know. Although when the time comes for me to know I may find that I do not care about the answers anymore as I behold my daughter again, in heaven. When asked to pray for people I now usually pray for a peace that surpasses all understanding no matter what the outcome. Thank you for your comment on my day of regrets post.

  4. It is that very quote from C.S. Lewis that I keep returning to myself. I read 'A Grief Observed' long before G died. My Ouma was a big C.S. Lewis fan and so I read quite a few of his books when I was a teenager and in my early twenties.

    I can't articulate it better than he already has. That massive, stomach lurching drop between accepting something in theory and in horrible, horrible reality. I thought that rope would hold until it really mattered when I discovered . . . it didn't. Not for me.

    Indie Bambino has already written about her experience which so closely mirrors my own. I had a vague feeling, that I was a special snowflake. It was, as you rightly describe it, a 'Sunday school' faith. One that I am embarrassed to admit that I maintained until my late twenties.

    But the outcome for my daughters leaves me with a foot in both camps. I remember two ladies descending upon me, years after the fact, to tell me that they had prayed for J every single day she was in hospital. I was so touched but . . . I also felt that I wanted to tell them that they could have saved their breath. Sigh. Which is a silly response because I do believe that . . . most of these issues are beyond the ability of my tiny human mind to obtain any certainty about. Maybe their prayers made all the difference? But why they made no difference for G and she died? Who could answer that? I can't begin to explain or understand the senselessness of a place like a NICU.

    It is hard when the 'ask and it shall be given unto you' mentality surrounds you. I feel that this is less prevalent here in Europe? I might be wrong. Your description of suburbia sounds absolutely suffocating.

    I feel your hurt and confusion as far as I am able. On behalf of my own daughter and for every other baby that I saw in pain and die on the intensive care ward that I sat about on for such a long time. There is no logic and no mercy.

    Sometimes my lack of faith and acknowledgement of my own smallness and meaninglessness is a relief. I can see the universe in all its vastness and strangeness and simply . . . capitulate. Roll over and admit that I know nothing, by virtue of my own humanity.

    I really don't know Gretchen. I am shaken too. Reduced to this . . .

    ''I do not know' is the only true statement the mind can make.' –Nisargadatta Maharaj

    The image adds something to the quote here.

    Cold comfort though. As I am all too aware.

    Sorry about the long and rambling comment and sending love xo

  5. This is a brilliantly eloquent response to how many of us feel, faiths and souls shaken to the core. I used to think prayer was reliable, but in the aftershocks of my son's death, I came to realize that "reliability" was a false premise. My blog post ("It happened to Mary") doesn't sum it up quite as well as you do, though!

  6. I just need to say thank you to everyone who commented on this piece. I feel comforted that I am not alone in my confusion and anger about my beliefs, about my perceived realities about God and prayer. Kristin, your simple statement about your spirit grumbling, that you hoped that was enough for now - that really fit for me. It is absolutely all I can muster at the moment. Catherine, I would have the same response to the ladies of prayer you describe, who attributed Jessica's survival and health to their prayers (but who failed to acknowledge how the prayers impacted Georgina). It makes me wonder how people can look away so easily at the suffering and horror and negative outcomes that we live with daily.