There are some weeks when you just have to crawl into your Bible, look up into the face of God and ... cry. For me, this was one of those weeks. Following the story of a young man about the same age as my son, who fell off a cliff while hiking, miraculously surviving only to have two massive strokes a few days later, I found myself asking, "Why?" I've heard people say that you should never ask why. But then someone pointed out to me that Jesus Himself said, "My God, My God, why..." as He hung on the cross.
Still, I sometimes feel guilty when I just don't "get it" and I can't help but cry out, seeking, sometimes demanding answers. I know I shouldn't demand but sometimes I do.
Then the school shooting in Connecticut. When I saw the words "school shooting" scroll across the net news, it sort of hit me the way a headline about a traffic pileup does as in, "I'm so sorry!" but not as in, "I'm so shocked!" That in itself bothered me greatly. When did I cease to be shocked at the thought of someone walking into a school and shooting people? I don't know but I know this: somewhere along the way our collective innocence as a nation is dying.
It wasn't until I realized that the school was an elementary that my attention was fully arrested and finally the words, "What???? How can that be???" fell from my lips. Because as everyone knows, school shootings happen in the junior highs, the high schools, and the colleges - not in elementary schools. At least, not here in America. However, it was true and once again a new barrier had been broken - someone had wantonly killed a bunch of kindergarten kids. Once again I found myself asking, "Why?"
I loved going to church this morning and the pastor's sermon was so timely. I had seen posts on FB urging people to pray that God would give pastors all across our nation the right words to convey the love of God today in the face of the tragedy just two days past. I believe God did that for my pastor but I don't know that I was able to completely accept it. His message was that joy comes from knowing Christ and having the confidence that He gives us, the hope that He gives us, in the midst of confusing, often mind-blowing circumstances. I really listened and in my heart, I'm still listening, still processing, still thinking. Asking myself yet another question: do I have joy even on a good day?
Towards the end of the sermon, the pastor ran a video interview with one of our members. I knew the bare bones of her story. A young couple, dedicated to God's service. The husband appears to have the flu and then suddenly, he is convulsing or having a stroke - I wasn't sure which. And then he's on life support. And my Sunday School class prayed. And the updates came. The young husband is off life support! He's going into rehab! He has to make more progress or the insurance companies will quit paying for rehab. Pray!! And we did.. And then the last thing I heard was that all progress had stopped and this young man had been transferred to another facility.
It's one thing to hear updates like that and it's another to see the young wife, smiling and then crying, speaking about hope while her husband is shown going through rehab with eyes that seem unresponsive and wooden steps that are possible only through wearing braces, through the aid of machines and through the physical assist of a therapist.
And there is his wife, joy and suffering written on her sweet face, tears mingled with smiles. And then her last word, holding both hands together, palms open, still smiling, saying that when she surrendered to be a missionary she felt the only way to approach God was with both hands held open, willing to receive whatever He gave or allowed, willing to go wherever He led. Her point was that even now, four years into her marriage, blindsided by inexplicable suffering, she still feels the only way to respond to God is with open hands, open hearts.
And I agree with that but as I was leaving to drive to the food bank where we get to serve sometimes, I found myself crying once again. For Austen Elder's family. For the families of Sandy Hook elementary. For Brian and his sweet wife. And specifically I found myself brokenly saying, "God, you can restore Brian's mobility. You can restore his mind. Nothing is impossible for You. Please do a miracle in Brian's life."
And then I got to the Outreach Center where I wasn't needed to help serve just yet. Someone suggested that I might want to go to the prayer room and so I did. But when I got in there I thought, "I can't pray. I don't know what to pray. I don't want to pray; I've already prayed all I have the heart and mind to say."
But I knew I was supposed to so I found a Bible in the prayer room and opened it to the middle thinking maybe the Psalms would help. Instead, the Bible opened to the book of Job and I found myself thinking, "Great. The most depressing book in the Bible. Just what I need..."
But I started reading and I saw these words: "Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? Can you count the months they fulfill, or do you know the time they give birth?..." (Job 39:1-2)
I am familiar with this passage and I knew that this word to Job from God begins with an even bigger question: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" (Job 38:4) I started crying again and brokenly whispered, "No, Lord, I don't know how you formed the mountain goats and established their life cycle... No, Lord, I wasn't there when You formed the earth... No, Lord, I don't know how You laid the foundations of the earth..."
In the past, I've never really liked God's answer to Job. Part of me wondered if it wasn't a cop out, that instead of answering Job's questions, God just sort of pulled rank. Today I understood. When your heart is broken, explanations don't really help. Even if God sat down and explained all the ins and outs of why these tragedies have happened and how He is going to bring good out of all of them, I would still hurt.
What I needed to hear today was: joy is possible even in the midst of heartache... because of Jesus. He truly is the reason for the season. And the other thing I needed today was for God to basically take my face in His hands and say, "Look at me, my child! I created the world. I have done things you can't understand. I'm still doing things you can't understand. Can you look up and trust my heart of love until the day when you can understand, when everything will be made clear?"
And thinking of Austen's mother, who has valiantly witnessed in t.v. interviews this week as she prepared to take her son off life support; thinking of Emilie's dad who said that his prayers and love went out to the family of the one who killed his daughter; thinking of Brian's wife who smiled through her tears and held both palms face up while saying the only way to approach God is with open hands... thinking of these examples, I said, "Yes, Lord, I can look up and trust until the time comes when You will explain it all."
As I've looked at the examples set before me of joy mingled with sorrow, faith shining through tears, I find myself thinking of the song,
May the ones who come behind us find us faithful...
Only for me right now, the song reads, "May the ones who come behind me find me faithful... following the examples of those who have gone before me..."