The emergency room was deathly still except for my husband’s anguished weeping.
Tearless, I held our little son Timmy’s chilling body to my breast, trying to warm him, unwilling to let him grow cold. Bruised from futile resuscitation efforts, he was naked except for a rough blanket wrapped around him and secured with a diaper pin.
The mortician peeked into the examining room. He was waiting. I wanted to run into the night with Timmy’s body and hide him somewhere where I could keep him safe.
Over my pounding heart, I heard the voice of God. “Will you still trust Me?” He asked.
At that moment, grief had not yet defeated down my tin-armored defenses and battalions of pat answers. I confidently replied. “Yes, Lord. I’ll trust You. Even in this.”
Little did I know that the heavens would go silent for a long time. Little did I understand what I was promising God. I did get a glimpse as we left the hospital empty-armed. Reality set in and my heart broke. The physical and emotional pain was searing.
When our son died, my husband and I were wholehearted involved in the work of the Lord and private disciplines of active faith. I believed if we did everything the Lord required of us, we would be exempt from sorrow. Trouble was reserved for those who were doing something wrong — right? And if something tragic did happen, God would send a profound devotional thought and the pain would disappear — you know, like it does in all of those happy little stories.
But things got worse. In the following six months after Timmy’s death, we had three more funerals of close relatives, every member of my immediate family suffered a life-threatening illness, and my husband lost his job.
I begged God for an insightful therapeutic homily to magically heal me. The heavens were silent. I thought words of restoration would come from friends and family members, but they were baffled, too.
Like Job’s miserable comforters, some insinuated our troubles were due to some hidden sin. Believe me: I spent many nights searching for some horrid unconfessed sin that might cause the wrath of God to fall, begging God to forgive me for something, anything, everything. But He said nothing.
To friends, family, and the congregation where I served, I seemed to be coping. On the inside, I was crumbling. Where was God?
I learned since that when God goes silent, He is teaching us to distinguish His voice above the clamor of the world and static in our own heads. I didn’t know this at the time. I just blamed myself for being too imperfect of a vessel to hear Him, too stupid to decipher any great truths from our tragedy. I couldn’t see an end to the compounding sorrows. I concluded I was a Jonah to my family and I pled with God to show me which way was Nineveh, because if I knew, I would surely go. But the heavens stayed silent.
So I decided to plan an “accident.” It would be on my birthday so my family would only have one sad anniversary a year. I would swim into the riptide beyond Fort Lauderdale beach so they wouldn’t even have the expense of a funeral. In preparation, I winterized our house in Ohio, bought my children school clothing and supplies, and arranged for my mother to watch them for a few days while I went to Florida.
I went to the beach and swam into the tide. I wasn’t at all sad about dying; I was exhilarated about being free of crushing emotional pain. Fixing my eyes on the horizon, I swam beyond the safety buoys.
Suddenly, a woman swam alongside of me. “What are you doing out here? Go back,” she ordered.
I was stunned. For the first time since my son’s death, I recognized the voice of God although it was coming through this woman’s lips. I slowly swam back to shore and sat on the sand.
If my story followed the usual format, I would tell you that I received a profound revelation that stopped the pain and explained everything. We like happy, tidy endings. However, I guess the only thing profound truth I learned was that pat answers really don’t staunch suffering.
Spit out on dry land, I began a new dialog with God that day about life’s imponderables — why babies die, children suffer, and injustice sometimes seems to triumph. I learned that I don’t have to have all of the answers when life is a painful puzzle. I also know that if God sat down next to me and explained His plans in detail, I still wouldn’t “get it.”
However, when I don’t understand, I just have to do what God asked: “Will you still trust Me?”
© Rebekah Binkley Montgomery 2005
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