My dear friend Linda Robertson posted this morning about the pain she experienced in church following their son Ryan’s death. She poured her heart out about all the things people do and say: from walking away when they see you coming, to asking if you’re better yet two weeks after the death, to saying Ryan wouldn’t have wanted you to be sad.
I thought as I read it how hurtful people can be instead of offering comfort when we need them. But then I remembered my own experience and I understood it much better.
Some years ago my writer friend Jennifer lost her husband suddenly to cancer. It was only a few months from diagnosis to death and a shocking loss. I read her timeline on her website but I had to stop. It was too crushing to me. Now let me pause here to say I am no stranger to death. I lost both parents and three brothers by the age of 23, so I considered myself someone who understood the tragic pain and aloneness death brings.
But I’m telling you, I was worse than useless. My own story of loss and pain had left me terrified of losing my Rob – an overwhelming fear. Jennifer’s story ripped a hole in me. I didn’t want to say something stupid (about God working all things together for good and all that ill-timed useless talk that only makes the speaker feel better), but neither could I muster any real comfort. I simply withdrew.
Looking back now, I realize how poorly equipped we are to deal with the unknown. To hold what we love with an open hand requires faith in the goodness of God despite the horrors that may come. Frankly, that’s just a little too real and most of us (me included) don’t really pull that off.
Wonderful Brene Brown said that when we’re afraid “we make uncertain things certain.” Including faith. Faith is really a marvelous expression of trust in someone uncontainable in the mist of open-ended questions. But when you’re afraid, open-ended is the last thing you want. And afraid we are, especially post-9/11, with random bombings, school shootings, and an uncertain future. So we close up the loose ends and we must shove these horrible, uncontrollable losses into a box. Then we can keep our view of God – and our security – intact.
The only trouble is, we miss out on the joy of living in authentic community together, which brings genuine healing and comfort.