One of the hardest things for me has been answering the question, “How are you doing?”
There are a variety of factors that make this hard. What is my relationship with the asker? How much do they know? When did we last speak? How much time do I have to answer this question? Do they really want to know or are they just being polite? And so on…
My initial answer was always, “Making it one day at a time.” But there are people in my circles who know about the death of my parents and others who don’t and are asking innocently enough because it’s just a normal thing to say. This answer confused the second group. More than that, this isn’t really an answer.
I recognize that there are people who follow my blogs and people who don’t but, for those of you who read this, I will endeavor to give you the best answer I can. It really can be summed up in three words: I don’t know.
That’s not a cop out… let me explain.
This week marks a shift for me. Most of the stressful, easy days are behind me as we prepared and ran two memorials, packed up the house, and had an estate sale. There is still work to do but I’ll be making two trips to New Braunfels this week instead of going every day.
Meanwhile, I don’t start work until Monday and this is not because I am lazy or just wanted a week to rest. The delay is because I must slow down and do the much harder task of coming to terms with the fact I will never see my parents again.
While there were tasks to do and people to call and boxes to pack… there was a comfortable numbness that settled in. Other than one snap on Thursday the 20th, I haven’t really cried since my mom’s service.
Don’t misunderstand me, crying is not the goal… but it is healthy. And I am smart enough to know that if I don’t deal with this now, it will come back later in some form that will be harder to address.
So, I planned this week to be that pause to create space to process what just happened.
But I kept hitting a wall.
I would start to question and I would start to hurt and I would begin to cry… and something would snap and the tears would end and the questions would be silenced. After a few times of this, I started to wonder what is going on. Upon mental inspection, I realized, I didn’t want to question God.
God has been so good to me and so consistently faithful, I felt unjust in my questions of what He was doing or why He let this happen. There isn’t really anyone to blame; it’s just one of those freak things that happens because this is a fallen world that has not yet been redeemed.
(Some will say Jack is to blame. I will write about this more at length someday, but for now, I just say Jack was a victim before he created victims. Hurt people hurt people, whether they mean to or not.)
I asked my pastor for a verse “for when you want to question God but you can’t because you know He’s all powerful and all loving… but He doesn’t feel very loving right now.” Chris directed me to Psalm 88, which is incredibly depressing. In short, this is 18 verses of someone saying “God, I have been praying and you are not answering. Where are you? Do you want me to die?” on repeat.
What struck me on the first reading is that there is no “turn” … like God never answers and the Psalmist never says “but I know God will come through.” That’s typically how I will write if I have difficult things to discuss; I’ll spell out the struggle but then turn to the hopeful or positive at the end. This Psalmist just lets it end with
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.
So yeah, “I keep crying out and You are not answering me. Now You have left me alone in the dark.”
Not exactly the verse you put on a coffee cup. And not exactly how I feel right now, since I have been surrounded by a community of help and support. But I knew Chris recommended this for a reason so I read it again.
On my second reading, I realized that this Psalmist’s words are recorded for eternity… like people sang this song after his death. I know that’s a bit obvious, since it’s in the Bible, but think about that. A song that declares “God has not come through for me” is recorded in the Bible… not something I would do if I was making up a religion.
But scripture tells us that the Bible is God breathed… literally the words of God. And every word was included, or excluded, for a purpose. That means it is OK to question God because when this man did God didn’t smite him or punish him for his insolence. Chewing on these thoughts, I grabbed my journal and pen and went for a hike.
A few weeks ago, Chris used a sermon illustration about his son’s desire to have a lizard and how God cares about the little things, even lizards. While I was out hiking, there were lizards everywhere. Rather than a comfort, this just made me more confused. God, if you care about silly lizards, I can’t doubt you care about my parents and my future… but why didn’t you do something?
About 2 miles into the hike, I made a realization… I am not questioning God because I don’t trust Him, but because I do. I know without doubt that God is powerful; He saved me from a wreck that should have killed me and I walked away without a scratch. I know without doubt that God loves me; He has many times proven that He even cares about my own ‘lizards’ … those little things that aren’t that important.
I know my parents were doing great things for God and were impacting many lives. Countless stories have come in over the last month of how they played a part in shaping an entire generation in New Braunfels.
My questions come because I know these things are true. I know that He could have prevented the death of my parents and I know that He loves me. What I don’t know is how to reconcile those thoughts into a picture that makes sense. What could God possibly want to do in my life that is of more value than my parents?
I don’t know what God is up to.
I don’t know why He let this happen.
I don’t know what the next year will look like.
I don’t know how anyone can help or what to ask from God.
I just don’t know.
I may never know.
God didn’t answer the Psalmist and He may never answer me on this side of heaven. God doesn’t owe me an answer and more than He is indebted to me for allowing my parents to die. But God welcomes me to question; He wants to hear from me even when my words are filled with confusion.
Because questions are welcome but answers are not guaranteed.