Thanksgiving in Pain

A few days earlier I had watched my infant daughter die in my arms.  Telling me that all things work together for good was pouring gasoline on my emotional bonfire.  I was hurting and confused, gut-kicked by life and gasping for air.

I was reliving the same nightmare from a few years earlier.  Daughter died.  Pastor arrived at my home, appropriately polite and empathetic.  Toward the end of the visit, I was asked if I’d like to pray.  I said “no!”  I did not want to pray.  I did not want to turn toward a God who just seemed to stand by and watch the pain and suffering.  Why didn’t he do something?  Why didn’t he FIX it? Why did I have to lose a child to this thing called Turner’s Syndrome?  No, I did not want to pray.

I wanted to scream!  I wanted to be able to breathe again.  Being a good Army officer, I wanted to blow something up!  I wanted to blame someone.  Someone had to be responsible for this.  No!  I did not want to pray.  I wanted ANSWERS!  Even though I demanded answers for my pain and loss, I didn’t hear anything.  And I screamed and yelled and wanted to blow something up some more.

That was 1986.

Now here I was in 1989 facing the same pain, the same gut kicked feeling, the same inexplicable nightmare.  I wanted to know WHY?!  I wanted ANSWERS!  I wanted to know the reason this was happening, WHY would God allow it?  So I screamed and yelled and wanted to blow something upagain.  But something was slightly different this time.  This time I was able to turn to Scripture in my demand for answers.  I searched and searched for the verse that would soothe the raw edges of my agony.  And I asked, no begged, God to show me WHY this happened, looking through book after book to see in black and white the reason God would give for allowing my second daughter to die.

And all I heard was silence.  So I screamed even more.  And then one day, in spite of all my searching and demanding of answers, in the midst of my screaming pain, I realized two things:

I realized that screaming and yelling, when they are directed to God, IS prayer (but the blowing stuff up part might not be).

I realized that reasons don’t relieve the pain.  I realized that in place of answers and reasons, I had received a relationship with the person who knew exactly what I was going through—and in some way that I can’t explain, shared my pain.  The Lord says to all of us, even me, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people... I have heard them crying out, and I am concerned about their suffering.”(Exodus 3:7)   

So I ask myself now… Is it enough (for now) to know that God knows my pain and is deeply concerned?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It certainly doesn’t make it any worse, like spouting “all things work together for good, John” did.  And since 1989 I have learned something else: I have learned that I can be grateful even in the midst of pain.  I can be thankful even when my life and circumstances are far from my desired comfort level; a great distance from where I would prefer to be.  I am growing in thankfulness year by year for one thing in particular: That God is God and I’m not.

In the season of Thanksgiving, 1989,  Jordan Elizabeth died on November 14th.  Her funeral was a week before Thanksgiving.  This year, 24 years later, I found that I needed to scream and yell some more.  And God was there with me, concerned about my suffering.

And you may be relieved to know that I no longer feel the need to blow anything up.