Steady Rain, Surging Storm
How did you survive the death of a child?
It is a question my husband and I often get when people hear our story. It transports me back to that moment over 20 years ago when our sweet daughter left this world and entered eternity. I will never forget standing in the ICU at her bedside, feeling as if I was not really living this nightmare, that I had somehow stumbled into someone else’s reality. This couldn’t be. This shouldn’t be. In that moment, as the doctors and nurses who crowded around her stepped back and looked at us standing there, our faces stricken with unbelief, our hearts pounding with denial, a silent wail forming in the deepest part of our souls, the lead cardiologist said, “Let’s give the parents the last few moments with her,” and the room emptied.
I can still hear my husband’s groans, deep manly sobs I will never forget.
Her form was so tiny beneath the sheet. Her little dark head of silky strands so serenely still. I thought of the rich man and Lazarus and knew that, though I could no longer comfort her, though she would not feel the arms I wrapped around her, she was carried in the arms of angels to heaven, never alone, finally whole and healed and in perfect health. And tears flowed and bodies shook and grief became a blanket that covered us, threatening to suffocate our marriage, threatening to extinguish our very lives. And the next few months went by, and I do not remember most of it. Those days are like photographs in a book, snapshots of moments that happened as the storm raged around us, as a torrential flood of grief attempted to drown our souls.
But in the midst of this storm, there was a steady rain, a constant Presence.
He is a Presence that is seen throughout scripture. In a story in the Gospels of the disciples sailing along the Sea of Galilee when a sudden storm arose, He is there. They were a mess, believing this storm would end them, and all the while, Jesus is asleep in the bottom of the boat. In great fear, the disciples awaken Him, crying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Luke says, “Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm.” (Luke 8:24) Why is Christ asleep in the boat in the midst of such a torrent? I believe he is completely aware of the storm, of the terror of the disciples, just as He is completely aware of our storms and our terror.
Christ sleeps through the storm’s upheaval because He is Lord over it all.
But the disciples cannot see this truth, and they are overwhelmed by the thought of imminent death. And when Jesus asks them, “Where is your faith?” What is their answer? “Who is this that even the waves and the winds obey Him?” They had a crisis of belief. They did not really know who Jesus was—who God is. The disciples’ fear and unrest is not ultimately because of the storm. It is because of their unbelief.
But how do you cling to belief amidst such turmoil of the heart? How do you survive the death of a child?
I can tell you, it is not what happens in that moment of complete darkness or even in the months and years that follow. Survival is forged in the pew every Sunday. It is built on the truths of Scripture that you fill your mind with day by day. It comes through knowing Who God is. Peace in the storm does not start as a feeling. It starts in the intellect as a truth. And that truth is built upon another truth and another truth. Your heart is prepared to survive the storm on your knees in the secret places of the heart when you are alone with God and His word. The scriptures are filled with truths of a God that is ever present, all knowing, and all powerful. Together they form a theology of the God Who commands the storm, Who treads upon it, Who is the Author over it. You can’t have peace in the midst of the storm without that theology, without knowing the God of the Bible as He has revealed himself to men.
And though your heart may doubt these truths, God remains God, a steady rain in the surging storm, a constant presence in our moments of complete darkness, whether we know or believe Him to be or not.
My dad had a favorite mantra. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Then one day he changed his mantra. It became instead, “God said it. That settles it. It doesn’t matter if I believe it or not.” Why is the difference so important? I didn’t get it for a long time. Sometimes I still don’t get it. God is not God because I believe and know Him to be God. God is God because He is.
As Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
Psalm 89 was written by a man who could not see God’s hand but chose to trust His heart. The Psalmist, Ethan, is questioning God’s faithfulness. He is wondering if God has broken His covenant with David, because He cannot see what God is doing as the kingdom is divided, the kings have strayed from God, and Israel languishes in captivity. Ethan didn’t know that God’s promises were about a King much greater than David. He didn’t see that God’s Kingdom was one that would outlast any earthly kingdom. He couldn’t conceive of God’s people being from every tribe and tongue and nation. And we are no different than Ethan. When it looks like God’s faithfulness is waning, we do not know what we cannot see. In the last verse, Ethan ends with, “Blessed be the Lord forevermore!” And it is an admission by the Psalmist that God is Who He says He is whether I can see it or not.
So, when I am asked what got me through the death of my child, the only answer I can give is, “It was my theology, what I believed about God.”
I have heard people say that they do not like theology, and I understand that. I have seen men tear one another apart in the name of theology, but do not let the sinfulness of man rob you of the joy of Christ. Theology is a lifeline to the heart that wants to die of grief. It is oxygen to the drowning soul. It is the anchor in the storm. For the waves of grief do not end this side of heaven. I still feel their rippling effects- at every birthday, on the day she would have gotten her driver’s license or graduated high school. Every ripple rocks the soul a little. I struggled with writing this blog so close to Easter. Why would I write about death when the Christian world bursts forth with life? Because the resurrection is the hope we have in the face of death. It is the refrain of our worship. As Matt Papa writes,
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Slain by death, the God of life
But no grave could e'er restrain Him
Praise the Lord; He is alive
What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when He comes
When the storms of life assail my soul and waves of grief threaten to overtake me, it is in the resurrection of Christ that I find a hope that never wavers. As we clung to the lifeless form of our child, it was that “foretaste of deliverance” that made us finally able to stand up and step out of that room and say, “She is not here. She is with the Father, and one day, we will see her again.”
Theology is the fortitude that brought us to worship at the graveside of our daughter.
I wish I could more greatly convey the triumph we felt as we stood in that dreary place and sang “I Can Only Imagine.” It was as if the heavens opened and the promise of eternity and life overpowered the darkness of that moment. In that place of death, I felt myself bursting with the truth, “Christ is risen!” And the shackles of grief fell momentarily away, for we knew that the grave was only temporary and that an eternity of life with our sweet Shiloh awaited us.
Life’s surging storms are survived by seeing that God is the steady rain that never ceases, by knowing Who He is as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. Peace is not Christ calming the storm. He could choose at any moment to lay flat the raging tides of life.
Peace is Christ in the midst of the storm.