8: Wrestling with God After the Death of My Child

Six years ago today my first child died at only 18 months old. She was diagnosed with cancer and a month later she was gone. Her sickness, death, and the events which transpired immediately afterwards were incredibly traumatic for my husband and I. Our families were devastated. Our hearts were broken. And we were all asking God, “Why???”

I wasn’t planning for this post to land on the anniversary of her death, but my girl has a particular way of showing up on her special dates. One day I hope to tell you her story, because it’s so beautiful. For now, I can tell you that her death was a major catalyst in my spiritual awakening, and that God has worked all things together for good through this immense loss.

After she died, I was in so much pain and so confused. Not only is it just wrong for a parent to bury their child, but I had belived that somehow my status as a devoted servant of God would shelter me from such tragedies.

This wasn’t how the story was supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to get sick. After accepting her sickness, I then decided this was part of some grand divine plan, that God was going to heal her. I believed that we’d have a miraculous healing and we could prove the goodness and power of our God.

Instead, we buried my dead daughter in the ground. We had no miracle. I was devasted and angry.

I was royally pissed. I had seemingly done all the right things but I was not rewarded. We lived an exceptionally healthy lifestyle, but it did not protect our daughter from cancer. We were dedicated Christians who were doing our absolute best to follow God and his will. We prayed, we believed, we had faith, and yet God did not give us the miracle I felt we deserved. God had abandoned us.

Somewhere along the line, like many Christians do, I bought into the lie that my status as a follower of God would protect me from the evils of life. I thought all my attempts at righteous living would offer me immunity against all the bad things which might otherwise befall me. It’s like I hadn’t even read the Bible, which is filled with stories of righteous people enduring extreme hardship.

I wanted certainty and predictability. I wanted a black and white existence where the boundaries between good and evil were clearly evident. I wanted to reduce life to an easy-to-follow formula so I could be assured that if I did “this”, then “that” would always be the result. I basically treated my relationship with God as a means to an end. I follow his will, and in return, he keeps me safe and comfortable.

I read so many passages in the Bible, particularly, “by his stripes we are healed”, and I remember screaming at God, “IS YOUR WORD TRUE OR NOT?!” I was so angry and felt lied to and betrayed. I’d pleaded the blood of Jesus over my family more times than I can remember, but it didn’t have the magic-like properties it was said to have. What’s the point? I asked God, “What good are you?”

Along with all these issues I wrestled with, I also had to fight through all the obnoxious cliches that grieving folks are always offered. I was in deep, deep pain, and seriously irritated. These empty platitudes didn’t help shit. I tried to remind myself that others meant well, but I did not like having to deal with others’ insecurities and fear of pain and death. People spout off this crap because they are afraid of the darkness. Instead of simply sitting with the grieving in their darkness, we try to hurry up the light and find ways to bring them out – FOR OUR OWN COMFORT, not for the benefit of the one grieving.

I wrote one of my favorite songs ever during this time (click here to read the lyrics):

I felt so burnt out on life. All I could see was a long trail of failures behind me. God had failed me and I had failed me. What was the point of anything anymore? It felt like everything had gone wrong, and I resented any movement I’d ever been apart of. I used to think I’d help change the world. But the world broke me instead. I had nothing left to offer and I was exhausted.

Old – 2013

Young though I am
I used to be younger
and when I was
the fight in my veins was stronger
My heart came alive
at the sound of the battle cry

The war on pride and apathy
I was fighting for the way I thought life should be
I failed to realize that war
had been fought
a million times before

I used to be full of fight and passion
A wild flame of reckless abandon
We swore that we would change the world
and that we would never change
But I met the harsh existence of reality
and for better or worse
it changed me
Though older and wiser now
I mostly just feel old
I just feel old

Ivory towers came a-tumbling down
My castles in the sky fell to the ground
I realized there was no way I’d ever win
My heart a blazing target for the enemy
Each wound to travel deep
deeper than the one before
Half dead in my own blood
I questioned,
“What am I even fighting for?”

I used to be full of fight and passion
A wild flame of reckless abandon
We swore that we would change the world
and that we would never change
But I met the harsh existence of reality
and for better or worse
it changed me
Though older and wiser now
I mostly just feel old
I just feel old

On top of all this, I still had health problems that were exacerbated by my grief, and then I became pregnant. I was so excited for a new child, but physically and emotionally I was a wreck. Along with the nausea, I had constant intestinal pain and felt absolutely terrible. I wanted to pray to God to heal me, but I couldn’t. If God didn’t heal my completely innocent and near perfect child, how on earth could I expect him to heal me with my long life of sins and shortcomings? And if he did heal me, then why the hell didn’t he heal my daughter?

What was I supposed to do with God? I was completely lost, wanting him to save me, but so upset that he hadn’t already saved me from so many things. I was in quite the bind.

It wasn’t until I read a book called “The Benefit of Doubt” by Gregory Boyd that I was able to really begin healing my relationship with God. I was allowed to question God, to doubt, to ask all the questions and feel all the negative emotions, but also remember the goodness of God that was so evident in my life in so many ways. I studied the book of Job and began to see the Bible from different perspectives. I also found the books of Philip Yancy to be incredibly healing. I read “Where is God when it Hurts?”, “The Question That Never Goes Away”, and later on, “Dissapointment with God.”

I began to change my focus. Instead of constantly asking “Why?” I began to start asking “What now?” I finally realized I’d probably never receive answers to all my Why questions, and that the search was exhausting valuable energy. If my life was going to improve at all, then I needed to humble myself and allow God to redeem my pain. I chose to find a purpose in the pain going forward.

My views on God and life were beginning to expand. My black and white boxes were now allowing for spheres of gray. I gained a deeper appreciation for life, and deeper empathy for the suffering of others.

But I still carried a lot of pain.

In the Valley – 2014

In the valley
all my strength
is leaving all my bones

In the valley
my young body
is feeling twice as old

In the valley
the dark is deep
and penetrates my soul

In the valley
my greatest fear
is that I’ll die alone

In 2014, I dealt with severe post partum depression and began experiencing a whole new set of physical symptoms. I sought medical help but did not receive answers. I was begging God to heal me, and he began to answer me in an unusual way…

Tomorrow I will share about my Communion experiences.

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