What is a life-shattering moment? I am not referring to disappointments here, but rather to what author Bruce Feiler in his book, Life is in the Transitions, calls “lifequakes”. These are the devastating, destabilizing, disorienting events of life. Like earthquakes, lifequakes are often accompanied by aftershocks. How do you go on?
Where do you turn when the biopsy reveals a stage four malignancy, when your spouse of many years walks away, when your child dies, when you lose a job you’ve loved and successfully held for years and can no longer provide for your family?
To be sure, I am no expert. But I have experienced one lifequake, twice; the deaths of two sons, thirty-one years apart. Honestly, the death of our infant son almost derailed my faith. When our thirty-two year old son died, I had learned something from my suffering.
What had I learned?
- We have to have a reason to live, to keep on keeping on. Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher once wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
- ALL things work together FOR GOOD for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. (Romans: 8:28) Not some things, not most things, but ALL things. How could the deaths of my sons be “good”? Death is not good; as a matter of fact it is the ultimate enemy. But the enemy has been defeated in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ crucifixion and death were not, in and of themselves, “good” things, but this was God’s plan, not plan B. It was His plan before the foundation of the world. Upon His death, Jesus’ disciples and those who loved Him were devastated. They expected that He would be a political Messiah who would free them from the tyranny of Roman rule, but that was not the Father’s purpose for the life of His Son. Jesus came to earth as the God-man, to live a perfect life, and to die for the sins of His people. Why? He died and was raised from the dead, defeating death, in order to give eternal life – a reason to live both in this life and in the life to come. Certainly, as a mother, I would never say the deaths of either of my sons were good, but I can say unequivocally their deaths were used for good both in my life and in the lives of others. And if God could have accomplished His purposes in any other way, He would have done so. Some things can be learned only through suffering.
- Satan is up to his old tricks; he works by establishing doubt in one’s mind; it is my responsibility to resist him by knowing God’s word, so that I might discern the truth. Just as he (Satan) said to the woman in the garden, ” ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ ” (Genesis 3:1) From early on after the death of our infant son, I read many books desperately trying to make sense of our situation. One of the books suggested was, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Cushner, a Jewish rabbi. The title was a little off-putting to me as a Christ follower, because none of us are “good people”, rather we are sinners who are made righteous only through the blood of Jesus. However, I forged ahead and found Cushner’s basic premise to be that God is not sovereign; He can control some things but not others. To this day, I can remember thanking God for the discernment given to me by the Holy Spirit to see this untruth, even in my overwhelmed state of mind.
- Rejoice always. (1 Thessalonians 5:16) Not if I feel up to it, not if circumstances warrant it, ALWAYS, period. There are many reasons to rejoice, even in life’s bleakest, darkest moments. We take so very much for granted – physical heath, the ability to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell, the beauty of creation, the love of family and friends, the ability to think, a relationship with the Creator of the universe and that His thoughts toward me outnumber the grains of sand on the deserts and shores of the world. I am to rejoice even if, God does not do things my way, because His way is always best.
- Pray without ceasing. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:17) No, I don’t have to be on my knees, 24/7, although posture in prayer is important, but rather I am to always have God in the forefront of my mind. He sees me, is aware of the desires, thoughts, and motivations of my heart, and knows every word on my tongue before I speak it. He knows me better than I know myself. I am to be in constant communication with Him regarding the happenings in my life and in the lives of those with whom I come in contact. And when I don’t know what to pray or how to pray, Jesus is interceding to His Father for me.
- Give thanks in ALL circumstances, because THIS is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:18) Again, not in some circumstances, or in many circumstances, but in ALL circumstances, I am to be thankful. I can be thankful IN the deaths of our sons, but that is very different from being thankful FOR the deaths of our sons. I am thankful for what the Lord has taught me about Himself, about myself and my priorities, about what is truly important in life. I can be thankful that our baby was a covenant child, that our older son was a believer, and that I will see them again. God is in control of everything that touches my life, and yes, that includes the deaths of our sons. Their deaths were not accidents, God was not taken by surprise. Indeed, this was in God’s sovereign plan for my sons and for me before the foundation of the world.
Before their deaths, I believed that God was sovereign, but was He good? We are told that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, but when they summoned Him to tell him Lazarus was sick, Jesus stayed where He was for two more days; this was the exact opposite of what they wanted Him to do! By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany where Lazarus lived, he had died, four days prior. And not surprisingly, Jesus was well aware of his death.
Both Martha and Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21, 32) Even the people who had come to console the sisters said, ” ‘Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying’?” Surely He could have, but He didn’t.
Jesus said to Martha, ” ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God’?” (John 11:40) The stone from the tomb of Lazarus was removed and Jesus said, ” ‘Father I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me…. Lazarus, come out’.” (John 11: 41-43) And Lazarus came forth from the grave.
Jesus knew exactly what He was doing; He was not uncaring, unloving, not good, in allowing Lazarus to die. He had a greater purpose in waiting to return to Bethany…that if Martha believed she would see the glory of God and that the people standing around might believe that Jesus was sent from God.
Likewise, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing in allowing the deaths of our sons. Their deaths have changed my heart, my priorities, my way of thinking, my relationships, in short, my life. I too, one day will see the glory of God, and maybe, just maybe, some of the people who are “standing around” in my life will also believe in Him.
Yes, I have learned through suffering how to handle those life-shattering moments. I know to stay in the Scriptures so that I can discern truth, I know to Whom I can turn, even if His good and what I would have called good are two entirely different scenarios, I can find reasons to rejoice, even at my lowest, I can pray unceasingly, and I have so very much for which I am thankful, certainly more than I deserve.
What about you? Can you deal with the lifequakes of life?