“you have officially made it through the holidays. how are you holding up?” those are some of the words that came through in the text marie sent me this morning as i sat down at starbucks after a short walk through the rain. i settled into my table by the window with my hot chocolate, bible, journal, and new book on prayer. i settled into my table committed to having an answer to her question by the time i moved from this table. so i got to reading and writing and reflecting–all of the things i can’t help but do on a january 1 of any year.
of any year. any year, including 2014–the hardest, most painful year of my life. the year i watched some of my dreams come true and the year i watched my mom die. the year i cried more than i laughed. the year i loved God and hated Him. the year i was forced to trust Him and the year i doubted everything about Him. the year i saw the worst parts of myself and the year i wondered if i’d ever see the best parts of myself again because i think it was my mom who brought those parts out of me. 2014, the year i decided i’d write down one thing i was thankful for each day without knowing just how hard that would be (2014: a year to be thankful). 2014, the year i did that anyway. 2014, the first year i have ever dreaded the holidays.
but i have officially made it through. so how am i holding up?
at the end of november i sat at lunch with a dear friend of mine, casey. she asked me how i was doing and i told her the real answer because i know that’s the answer she really wanted. as i shared she cried. the thing is, this is the friend i have been most surprised by since the day my mom died. she sent me such purposeful texts in the days following. i got a lot of texts in those days, but i really only remember hers. and she sent me a card when i finished my first week of school without my mom to say she was proud of me, which is exactly what mom would have said. and she prayed. how she has prayed for me. so as i shared and she cried, i was struck by this love that she has for me that i never knew before. and after i shared she asked me if i had written about one particular thing that i shared with her. i hadn’t. so i think i’ll do that now.
you see, for the first time in my life i experienced true suffering. i call it my first true suffering despite the heartaches and disappointments and tears that have riddled my life. i call it my first true suffering because for the first time in my life i was not getting anything from God, and i mean anything. through all those heartaches and disappointments that had riddled my life before, i walked with at least a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus. in a way i longed for those days of suffering because i longed to be closer to Him. but this, this suffering in light of losing my mom, was different. i felt far from God. He was silent. i couldn’t see Him or hear Him or experience Him. i was surrounded by darkness and i wrestled through that verse that said light would never be overcome by the darkness. but where was my light? through those sleepless nights and seemingly endless tears, where was my light?
it was in those days of getting nothing from God that i was faced with a choice: would Jesus be enough for me without the experience of His love? would i love God for God alone even when i wasn’t getting any of His gifts? would i keep reading the bible every day knowing that the words i would find there might just break my heart a little more? was He still worth it in the face of true suffering?
i woke up each of those dark, dark days and said yes to each of those questions. i think my friend casey wanted me to share that part of my journey because she felt that it is in those times that people walk away from God. honestly, i understand now why people would walk away from God. it is hard to pursue God when you get nothing from Him. but if this is your story, please do not walk away. i urge you and implore you–do not walk away. answer yes, anyway. your suffering is doing something for you. my suffering is doing something for me. so, please, let me plead a case for why i think you should answer yes, anyway.
for five months and one day i heard nothing from God. i screamed at Him and i begged Him and i cried before Him. and i got nothing. i felt much like job from the many chapters of silence in his book. and the silence was overwhelming. i wondered how long i could keep holding on. and then i read this quote. i read this quote and after five months and one day of silence i heard God speak.
“her sufferings were her ‘shield’–they defended her from the illusions of self-sufficiency and blindness that harden the heart, and they opened the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance.”
suffering does something for us and in us and through us. one thing it does is allow us to pray like we have never prayed before. and what i am learning now is that the sweet, special relationship with God that i have mourned the loss of along with every day i have mourned the loss of my mom is not the sweetest, most special relationship i can have with Him. and although i would still trade anything to have my mom back, i think what i have now with God just might be something more special than i have ever had before. there can be richness and passion here that i simply could not have experienced any other way. that’s what God told me when He spoke after all of those months of silence. there will be richness and passion here.
the story of thomas reminds us that there is a blessing to believing without seeing. and i believe there is also a blessing to believing without hearing. and i believe that blessing is coming for me.
for five months i just wanted to see God, to hear Him, to touch Him, to taste Him. i just wanted to encounter and experience Jesus in the darkest depths of my grief. and i didn’t, and it was the hardest five months of my life. there was the absence of my mom and the silence without her incessant texting. there was my every moment that i wanted to share with her. and yet there was this other loss that i didn’t even realize i was grieving. it was the loss of that very special relationship i had with God that i felt so strongly that most other people never experienced. there was His seeming absence and unbearable silence. there was my every moment that simply hurt too much to share with Him.
in that suffering and silence i felt the kind of heart desolation that augustine believes is the first necessary ingredient of praying as we ought to pray. so this year, in light of my loss, i want to make it a year to be prayerful.
i long to pray as i ought to pray. i long to pray like that despite that time when i prayed harder for my mom to be healed than i have ever prayed for anything, and God chose not to answer my prayer. you see, i had this dream a few nights before this day when i finally heard God speak. i was sitting at a table across from someone (probably marie), and i was weeping. i was weeping over this thing that someone said in the bible study i go to through my church. he talked about how in heaven our feelings will be redeemed, made right. one of the hardest things about following Jesus in the midst of suffering is all the things we feel that feed us lies about God. but, one day, we will no longer have feelings that contradict who God is–the exact feelings i have felt for every moment that has passed since i said goodbye to my mom for the last time. those feelings will be no more, and as a consequence, we will be able to worship God fully and perfectly. and in that dream, for the first time since my mom died, i was weeping for something other than my overwhelming loss. i was weeping for my overwhelming love for Jesus and what He has done for me. and even though it was just a dream, i can’t shake the feeling that that day is coming for me. a day when love will finally eclipse my grief. a day when i will feel Him and hear Him and see Him and taste Him again.
so how am i holding up?
in short, the first line in my journal from 2015 is “i never thought i’d sit at the start of a year and be amazed that i still love God, but today that is exactly how i sit.” i am still so very sad, and i still miss her so very much. i always will. yet. yet today i sit amazed. i sit expectant. i sit grateful. i sit hopeful.
today’s margin note and my prayer for the year: “i launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year, with Thee, o Father as my harbor, Thee, o Son, at my helm, Thee o Holy Spirit, filling my sails. guide me to heaven with my loins girt, my lamp burning, my ears open to Thy calls, my heart full of love, my soul free.” may your year be full of that faith and following and freedom too.