I am sad. I’m sad because a terrible thing happened and there was a funeral. Don’t get me wrong, I understand death is a part of life and I’ve experienced the death of people that I am close to in my childhood and in my adult life. I’m no expert on death or anything but I do understand how one feels when losing someone they love and the life-long mourning and journey of personal healing that comes with the experience of death. After all, my father was killed by a drunk driver when I was ten years old. And, all of my grandparents have died between my college and young adult years; most recently my grandmother just over two years ago.
But, for me today, this is a different kind of sad. It is a heart-wrenching, deep, belly aching sadness. Tears don’t help. It’s a kind of sadness that I’ve not experienced before. It’s funny that the Lectionary Scripture on Sunday was Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God, because God and I are in a full on match right now.
I’m not going to lie, I expect to have a perfect little life; unfortunately, for me, it doesn’t ever seem to work that way. Bad things happen; a lot. And, these bad things seem to usually happen to good people. Yesterday I learned that two of my friends who were about 5 months pregnant with twins, lost both of their daughters. So, yep I said it, I’m angry with God over God allowing two of God’s perfect, beautiful creations to be taken away from their parents before they were even out of the womb. I’m angry that I couldn’t be there to help in some way and to grieve with my friends.
Margaret and Lucy’s parents are the kindest, most caring and loving examples of a human being I know and they don’t deserve this. I was lucky enough to meet Jenn and Graham when they became members of the last church where I served as youth minister. Not only did I get to share in ministry with Jenn and Graham (as they served as youth volunteers), but I also had a friendship with them outside of church. They adored my son, Blaine, and he, them. You see, Jenn and Graham had this “swagger” about them. Many of the children of that church, including Blaine, would run up to Graham and hug him each Sunday … it sort of became a ritual for several of them. And the youth were very attracted and connected with Jenn and Graham. These two amazing adults were two of the greatest role models I’ve met. When I left my position at that church a year and a half ago, Graham even served as the interim youth director! Jenn and Graham loved (and still love) the youth of that church. They have a gift for youth ministry and they showed (and still show) that love and share that gift by being a consistent and positive presence in the life of those 6th-12th graders.
As I struggle with God about why such bad things happen to such good people, I realized there is a more fundamental issue for me. It’s also an issue I’ve seen with many of the 6th-12th graders I’ve shared and am sharing in ministry with. When these bad things happen to us or people we know, we tend to judge God's goodness by those circumstances. But, when you think about it that is not a really fair judgment … is it?
I believe it is only natural to question God’s goodness from time to time in our lives. Like - why doesn’t God intervene, why didn’t God save Jenn and Graham this pain? I also believe that sometimes we CAN understand the reasons why bad things happen: the brakes failed, the terrorists hated us, or the cancer had spread too far. But sometimes it gets complicated; sometimes we just don’t understand, as in this case for me.
My guess is if I asked Jenn and Graham about the situation, they would be very sad and I know they are grieving and in pain. But I also don’t think they are yelling "why me?" at God. I know that sounds silly. But, knowing Jenn and Graham and their strength and goodness, they probably see the bigger picture of "why not me?” and eventually “how can we grow and see the positives of the experience?”
Last week I was leading a Bible study based on Rob Bell’s NOOMA series. The lesson was called “Matthew.” You can view a preview of the video below:
The bottom line is (as Rob Bell states) “Whatever you’re feeling in the moment, it’s okay.” But, I don’t think we can judge God purely based on those feelings. God is good, just, loving, and merciful and I know from personal experience how easy it can be for us to lose sight of that in the midst of our pain.
As I imagine Jenn and Graham and how they are dealing with the death of their twins, I imagine that the example we will all see from them is that instead of doubting God's goodness, they are trusting. Trusting - this is a remarkably difficult thing to do. Will Jenn and Graham struggle and wrestle with God to get there? Absolutely! But I am reminded through Genesis 32 that struggling “to get there” means that we are growing. These two remarkable strong individuals will one day be even stronger.
So when these bad things happen to people we know, what can we do / how can we help? Isn’t that just like us human beings? I mean, I don’t know what I can do but I want to help; I want to make it better for Jenn and Graham (even though I know I really can’t). This is one thing that I am struggling with in my current battle with God because the answer is not one I want. The answer? Be present. Be silent. Listen.
In the video (not seen in the preview above), Rob Bell speaks about an ancient Jewish practice called “sitting shiva.” In this practice, when you know someone who loses someone whom they love, you go to their house and you just sit with them. You sit in silence and when/if they want to talk, you listen. So, Jenn and Graham, I am here. I am praying for you daily. I love you. I am here when you are ready for whatever you need.