If I close my eyes, I can see her face as she said it, the earnestness, the innocent faith, the honest desire to find reason in a situation where there was none to be found. As a church body, we had been praying for a young mom with stage IV cancer, praying hard for a miracle, praying that she might live to see her children grow up. God is a God who heals. He performs mighty works when He wills, but in this case, He didn’t. Instead of rejoicing there was mourning, and a dad was left to try to explain this inexplicable fact to his precious little ones: their mommy wouldn’t be coming home.
And so we were trying to make sense of this fact, trying to reconcile a God who loves with so many unanswered prayers, with so much pain and sorrow. And she, so very young, so very new to this walk with God, posited a possibility:
“Well, we don’t know what would have happened if she’d lived. Maybe she would have done or said something when her kids were teenagers that would have caused them to turn away from God.”
Fast-forward a few years. I am working through the week’s lesson from Numbers, reading and praying and answering the questions as honestly as I can when I stumble over this one:
What situation might the Lord completely reverse in your home, business, ministry or relationships if you would depend on Him?
I will admit: the question made me angry. Though depending on God is not something that comes naturally to me, and, indeed, I often don’t even know what it looks like, I did not like the wording, did not like the things that it implied. I did not appreciate the subtle message it sent, despite the use of the word “might”.
I’m afraid some of my frustration may have shown when we came to this question during discussion. I’m afraid I may have been rather forceful in my assertion that sometimes, God does not reverse situations, even if we depend on Him. Sometimes, God does not act. Sometimes, He does not respond in the way we hope He will. Sometimes, He remains mysteriously silent, mysteriously still, and all we can do is fall to our knees, clinging to hope, despite our broken hearts.
Though it has been twenty months since we lost the daughter we hoped to adopt, though this her second birthday has come and gone and this seems like such a very long time, I feel as though I am just now beginning to see some spiritual healing, spiritual growth in my life. It has been a long, dry season, one seeming like death. I have been going through the motions, striving, working toward a healthy place, and am just now starting to feel as though new life is beginning to sprout.
I had an epiphany of sorts lately, one that sheds some light on why this journey has taken as long as it has, one that helps me to identify why losing A injured my faith so badly, and that is this: I expected God to act on our behalf. Despite the worry and fear and uncertainty of that summer, deep down, I had confidence that things would go our way, that there would be a happy ending after all the turmoil, and when there wasn’t, the seeming betrayal shook me to my core.
Looking back, I can see several reasons I held to this belief with such certainty. There were the small confirmations all along the process, the improbable events before A was even born that meant our adoption of her was even an option. There was the sense we had that this was what we were supposed to do, that A and her mom were brought into our lives for a reason. There was the inexplicable, supernatural peace we had after the hearing and before we got the ruling, a peace that seemed to indicate all would be well.
What gave all of these weight, what pushed me toward interpreting them as signs that she would be ours, however, were the messages I had internalized throughout my years in the church, messages that I believe are meant to give hope, to inspire faith, but subtly twist the promises and the Word of God. The idea that God will act, that He will change our external circumstances, when we depend on Him. The thought that everything that happens is planned and ordained by Him, that the seemingly bad things in our lives are actually designed and placed there by God and are intended for our good.
Because here’s the truth: my first daughter, the one I lost because of a bad ruling by a well-meaning but misguided judge who only saw part of the picture, is in no way better off now than she would have been had the ruling gone the other way. I get glimpses of her life, tiny snippets, and it breaks my heart. I knew her birth parents, knew her situation, back when she was still with us, and I knew, absolutely knew that it would be best for her, healthiest for her to stay with us. I knew this. Beyond a shadow of a doubt. And so, if God has planned our lives so that they will take the best possible course, this must have meant she would be ours.
It is not my intention to disparage the people who give these messages, to throw stones at those who distribute bible study materials with questions that anger me. There is good work being done here, and I do not discount that. But I will say this:
Those of us in the church, those of us who share truth and hope with others, have a grave responsibility. We must be very, very careful with the message we present, with the ways in which we speak for God, with the promises we represent as His. We must not present false hope, must not give trite clichés, must not give easy answers for hard questions, for these will ultimately fail.
There are so many good things that God promises us, so much hope to be found in Him. Let’s claim those things, and proclaim them loudly and clearly to all who will listen. Let’s cling tightly to this hope we profess, to the promise of eternity, to the unlimited love and unblemished justice of the Father. Let’s hold to those things, and let go of the rest.
Note: I know there are a few things stated here that may spark disagreement, namely the idea that I know what was best for A (“God’s ways are not our ways”) and my refusal to accept a common interpretation of Romans 8:28. These are both valid points which deserve a longer discussion than what fit here; I may write separate blog posts for each of these in the future. For now, suffice it to say: while I agree that I cannot possibly know all outcomes nor can I see the entire picture, I believe God has endowed us with reason, with discernment, and with the help and prompting of the Holy Spirit so that we might use it to see situations for what they are. As for Romans 8:28 – we serve an awesome, redeeming, loving God who has the power to bring beauty out of even the ugliest situations. His power to bring good does not negate the harmful or destructive circumstances in our lives, and it does not mean that those circumstances are the absolute best that might have happened to us.