Can I ever trust God again?

March 2021

“And I know you bore our sorrows

And I know you feel our pain

And I know it would not hurt any less

Even if it could be explained”

             – Rich Mullins

It’s two and a half years since Ben died. There are days I know he’s gone and others that I still think it can’t be real. Days that I seem to cry all day and others when I don’t cry at all. I must be learning to live with the pain – but it’s a slow and tedious journey. I feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines – watching some poor old soul struggle aimlessly down a dark and lonely path that seems to be going nowhere.

My aching heart feels heavy, lost, empty and sad. I just want Ben back. I miss him so much that at times I actually feel physically sick. I never knew that grief could hurt right inside the very core of your body! It’s the kind of pain that makes you groan.

I long to be a normal complete family again. I want to be brave and resourceful but instead, most of the time I feel like a failure – like everyone expected more of me! Like I should be doing better. It feels that life has been stripped of meaning and purpose so I just hang onto any remaining fragments of sanity that make me look and sound normal.

Surprisingly though, every now and again the clouds clear. For a few moments beauty overshadows pain and my heart feels thankful and full of love. The respite lasts just long enough for me to remember what it feels like to be truly happy.

It breaks my heart that so many children and young people are dying before their lives have hardly begun. Too many disillusioned parents like us left fumbling around in the dark trying to put the pieces of their broken world back together; grappling for just enough strength to get through a day…

and another…

Grief is very individual, very personal and for many, very private, so I can only describe how it is for me. I choose to write about it because I want everyone to know that however normal we may look on the outside – inside our hearts remain torn and broken. The scars don’t ever fully heal.

Until Ben died I knew so little about grief. I didn’t know it went on forever and that trying to be strong requires enormous effort; that survival is pretty much ‘ad lib’ (without previous preparation).

We honestly don’t know how to deal with such excruciating, annihilating pain. It must be a bit like drowning – instinct kicks in as we flail around trying to keep afloat; hoping that someone will grab onto us every time we go under or maybe even hoping they won’t – because survival is too hard!

None of us expected life to turn out like this. One silver lining is that grieving parents are intuitively compelled to reach out and help each other – united by the same indescribable agony as we walk together through our pain. We know what it feels like, we cry the same tears, we live with the same emptiness – the same loss of expectations!

Support groups have been my lifeline!!

⁃ The best advice I ever got was simply to take one day at a time!

⁃ The best comfort I ever got was when someone acknowledged the pain and just sat and cried with me.

This blog is an attempt to unpack some big faith questions that I’m sure others must share. The ones that churn around in my head – often in the middle of the night. The ones that torment me and keep me awake for hours on end. The ones that have decimated much of what I thought I knew and stolen the crutch that I’ve leant on for most of my life. The ones that I’m NOT really expecting an answer to – that I’m guessing will only make sense when I’ve been able to sit down and have a good old heart to heart with God!!

‘Can I trust God again when it feels like he let me down?

‘Where was He when I needed him most?’

‘Why does He answer some prayers and not others?

I trusted God to protect my children and he didn’t – he let one of them die. I’m trying not to blame him for causing Ben’s death but I know he could have saved him. I’m angry that he’s gone – that other families are complete and mine’s not! I’m confused that miracles seem to happen to some and not to others – that some people get answers to their prayers and others don’t.

Then, as I’m wallowing in self pity my mind wanders to all the terrible tragedies that happen all around the world – every single day. Unspeakable pain and sadness. Suffering that is indiscriminate; like the random roll of a dice! Life can be so unfair – so evil – so unjust – so cruel.

Why God?

Yet I want to believe that God must be holding onto me even when I can’t feel him; I think he must be turning my groans into cries for help. His gentle unconditional love must be seeping into the cracks of my broken heart..

And I start to wonder about the invisible miracles that must be happening outside my radar! God is probably answering prayers I hardly realise I’m praying – yet for some reason he didn’t answer the biggest one I’ve ever prayed! I’m sure he sends angels at just the right time and creates sliding door scenarios that I’m oblivious to. There is a spiritual element to life that is way beyond my limited understanding!!

As a child my bedtime prayer was always – ‘Dear God please look after mummy and daddy and keep them safe. Amen!’

I went to sleep peacefully believing he would.

Then Ben died!

Now that simple childlike trust has gone – Ben’s death has turned everything I thought I believed upside down. I’ve had to re-examine the terms and conditions of my faith and completely rethink my understanding of God.

And before you write me off as a heretic – I haven’t lost my faith – I’ve just had to reassess it. I can’t even contemplate the thought of shutting God out of my life. I need him now more than ever. But I have to confess to being disappointed – Ben brought so much joy into the world. It just seems such a waste of a beautiful life. So yes, I do feel let down by God – abandoned to cope with the most horrific sadness I’ve ever known; wondering why he was silent when I desperately needed to feel his presence. It’s taking time to rebuild trust and repair our relationship but I haven’t given up. I can’t; I just need time to work it out!

I still talk to him and cry out to him, I willingly receive his love and love him back. I thank him for the blessings of good things – including Ben – I’d rather have had twenty five wonderful years with my darling boy than not have had him at all. But I no longer go to him with a shopping list of prayer requests. I can only think I must have been using prayer the wrong way all my life. Now my prayers are simple laments – full of whys and what ifs and help me God; with equal measures of thanks thrown in to try and keep the balance right.

My head hurts as I try to understand mysteries far wider and more complex then the death of my child. But I do believe the God of the universe loves me and has a plan much bigger than my simple mind can comprehend!

As I’m writing, a song we used to sing in church popped into my head and I feel God’s love softening my hurting heart – again…

‘Oh let the Son of God enfold you

With His Spirit and His love

Let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul

Oh let Him have those things that hold you

And His Spirit like a dove

Will descend upon your life and make you whole…’

⁃ John Wimber

That’s exactly what hurting people need – to be enfolded in His love.

I have this primal urge to curl up like a child and let him gently soothe away my tears, my sadness, my fears, my anger and my anxieties!! Yet the minute I let them go I quickly snatch them back – they’re weirdly part of me now as they keep me connected to Ben. I’m not at peace with them but I’m not at peace without them!

The pain is often overwhelming – in fact it’s one of those constantly nagging aches that you can never forget about. I’m not brave and I’m not strong but I am hoping that one day grief may enrich me. It’s already made me more empathetic; more in tune to the sadness of others.

I always assumed that if something awful happened church would be my go-to; my safe place. Yet now that its happened I can’t do it. Losing Ben has crippled my confidence!

The thought of walking into my church actually fills me with fear – fear of meeting people and not knowing what to say (& visa versa), fear that no one will mention Ben, fear of having to sing happy songs, fear of listening to people celebrating answered prayers – reinforcing the fact that God didn’t answer mine, fear of hearing that everything happens for a reason – or that all things work out for good, fear of being judged because our grief is going on for too long or the assumption that we’re over it, fear of making others feel awkward or uncomfortable, fear of bringing everyone down, fear that my doubts will be contagious or seem disrespectful to God, fear of…

I could go on and on.

Churches are full of kind people who genuinely care!! They see a problem and are good at coming up with a solution. I know Ben’s death must have affected them deeply. They prayed for us and I’ve no doubt many still do. Yet the greatest gift anyone can actually give us is what I’ve heard described as the ‘ministry of presence!’

And what happens when a problem isn’t fixing? When hurting people become almost unreachable – when they withdraw, become depressed, decline invitations, isolate themselves, seem anti-social… do they get written off as a lost cause? Is it easier to assume they’re someone else’s problem – that someone else is looking out for them? The harsh reality is that grieving people are high maintenance!

My conclusion is that the only place to go is directly to God!!! I love the picture of hands reaching out – as I reach up to him, his hand is already there waiting for me to grasp hold of it.

I’m reassured that the Bible is full of tragic stories of heartbreak and sadness so I feel like I’m in good company; disillusioned people full of doubts and questions and disappointment.

The book of Lamentations is full of brokenness and depression and pain-

‘I have cried until the tears no longer come, my heart is broken. My spirit is poured it in agony.

⁃ Lamentations 2:11

The Psalms are filled with questions like ‘where are you God – why do you hide your face from me?’ or ‘I’m worn out calling for help – my eyes fail looking for my God’. King David spent years in a pit or hiding in a cave! In Psalm 88 he describes himself as ’a lost cause, one more statistic, a hopeless case! Yet Psalm 23 says: ‘even though I walk through the darkest valley… you are with me… you comfort me’

So one thing I’ve learnt is you don’t have to go to church to find God. I finally believe he’s right here with me. He been with me in my pain because he knows about pain – in fact even Jesus cried out on the cross: ‘God why have you forsaken me?’

But he doesn’t wave a magic wand and take our sadness away; and I wouldn’t want him to – I actually think I need to feel it because it’s all tied up in love. Grief is love! The more you love the more you hurt.

I believe He loves me and must be gently carrying me when I want to give up. He sends beautiful angel friends to look after me at just the right time; to pull me up when I’m drowning. They probably don’t even realise they’re responding to a God inspired prompt!! He doesn’t prevent bad things happening but He must be giving me strength to keep going – because I’m still here! He blesses and surprises me with unexpected beauty.

‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.’

– 1 John 4:16

Rabbi Harold Kushner whose son Aaron died when he was just fourteen wrote a book called ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’ (well worth reading). He came to the simple conclusion that life is unfair; that bad things have always happened and will keep on happening. So he wrote these words to give hope to bereaved parents…

‘you have inherited from your child all the years he or she never got to live…They are a precious legacy from them to you; use them well… Live their years along with your own and feel their presence as you do so.’

In the closing chapter of his book he writes about Job in the Bible. Job lost everything he had – all his children, his possessions, his health. A whole book is written about the devastation of his life and his confused conversations with God. In the end he stops looking for justice, for fairness in the world and simply looks for love instead. His conclusion is that it’s the only thing that can’t be taken away.

‘Everything is temporary but love.

LOVE outlives us all!’

⁃ R Queen

So I still haven’t actually come up with any answers. I’ll never be able to naively trust God as I once did. I know now that life isn’t fair; we have no idea what lies around the next corner! But I completely trust God’s love and believe that he will walk with me through any darkness. It’s impossible to figure out why he let Ben die or why he answers some prayers and not others – but even if I had a reason it wouldn’t bring my lovely boy back. Living without Ben is just hard. Death is cruel so all I can do is keep hanging on to LOVE.

Like Job, the only thing that remains unchanged is LOVE!! It’s the only thing that makes sense. Love gives purpose and meaning to life; it softens the hardest of hearts. Love doesn’t fix broken hearts and it won’t bring Ben back but it is a blessing that brings hope and for the moment it’s the only thing that keeps me going 💛

Beautiful unconditional LOVE. There is no remedy for love but to love more.

– Henry David Thoreau

Blessing for the brokenhearted

Jan Richardson

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us