Tuesday, May 15, 2018

suffering, doubt, and the peace that surpasses it all

It is the first week of October.

I am crying in the parking lot of Whole Foods. My best friend has just lost her infant nephew.

He had made his entrance into the world far too early, but he came out fighting. He was so little, barely a pound, but there were so many people praying, nothing bad was going to happen to this baby. He was going to make it and time would fly and he would be a chubby-cheeked toddler, an absolute miracle, and a testament to the healing power of God. No one thought otherwise.

We were so sure.

He was here ten days, but then he went home.

Beautiful things tend to do that, you know.

My forehead is pressed into the dashboard, body over knees, my whole being a tangle of hot tears and sobbing because this wasn't supposed to happen. The world around me has taken on a daydream feel, but one with nightmare edges that curl and twist with the weight of a broken reality.

My heart is aching. I long to do something, be of some comfort to my friend, but she is hundreds of miles away, but not even the distance can contain the devastation of an outcome that makes you feel like hope slipped right through your fingers and left tremblings whys in its place.

It's been a few months and my friend still hurts because that kind of wound just doesn't heal and I want to hunt down the answers for her questions, but I've walked that road of wondering and wandering and I know it's like fighting the current. Exhausting.

She asks how my sister-in-law and her unborn baby are doing. And I flinch because “They're doing great. Oh, what are they having? A boy. Yeah. I'm going to have a nephew.” We both rejoice in the good news, but my words taste like salt and sting my lips because I remember how excited we were that we both would be aunts at the same time.

My mother takes pictures of twins and their happy parents. I remember when these toddlers came too soon, barely born and yet on death's doorstep. I remember how myself and everyone I knew hit their knees to intercede for these little ones and they made it.

They made it and I'm so happy, but the balloon of joy bumps the edges of a ceiling full of questions.

And my friend still hurts.

There was a time a few years ago when my mind was full of relentless questions. These whys and how comes were all I could see and they threatened to consume me. Through the fog of confusion, I lost sight of the heart of God, started to doubt he was for me, not against me, started to kind of wonder if He was really for and not against anyone. Never stopped believing, totally dedicated to Jesus, but constantly, constantly, spinning the question over in my mind; is God really good?

I searched and read through every apologetic text and blog I could get my hands on, but the brush-away answers never seemed to satisfy, only aggravated me because yeah, they might explain away some scenarios, but they weren't telling me who God even is.

The world's aching and brokenness just left me baffled. Was God an angry tyrant, unconcerned with our wretchedness, distant and far above it all because, after all, we do it to ourselves. Or was He the One so many called Abba Father, somehow both sovereign and intimately involved in the life of even the person considered the least of least? 

When I looked around at the state of the world, I found myself altogether, not sure, not sure, not sure.

From somewhere within my tangled heart, the same refrain:

Show me Your heart.
God, please, please.
Just show me Your heart.

The journey of this was far longer than a blog post could possibly speak of. I can't say that I ever got all of my answers. A few, yes, but there were mysteries that haven't been solved for me. But I found myself quietly seeking, even if it meant accepting that I wouldn't get an answer at that point in time.

I dug my way through Isaiah, discovered this powerful God who never gave up on a faithless and wandering nation, found the heartbeat of the story of the world, one of redemption and love, one that starts and ends at the foot of the Cross. I worked my way through the New Testament, read the gospels, again and again, fell so in love with Jesus, this Son of Man, this Son of God who loved so gently and so fiercely that He let Himself die so that we might live.

And it rang so true that those who earnestly seek God, find Him.

Because a God who has all of Heaven and leaves it just so He can have you is not a God who leaves us to our own devices, is not a God who ignores our pain.

In the gospel of John, we find the story of Lazarus. Most of us are familiar with the story, one of Jesus' more famous miracles. There are a few verses that stand out to me in this passage.

“When Jesus saw her[Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.”
John 11:33-35(ESV)

Jesus wept.

Jesus wept.

He wept.

Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He took a moment to step into the pain of those around Him, to empathize, and acknowledge the grief they were suffering. Jesus dignified and embraced that human experience, even though He knew Lazarus would be alive a few moments later. He didn't tell them to stop weeping, He didn't tell them to get over it, He didn't shudder away from their mourning, from their questions. He embraced it. Just like He embraced the suffering and brokenness of the entire world later on the Cross.

I don't know why my friend's nephew died. I don't know why babies die at all. Or why anyone, especially the most innocent, would suffer. I don't know a lot of things.

But I know Him.

I am convinced that a God who bankrupts Heaven, leaves all of His glory behind, to become flesh, walk among us in this bleeding and broken world, and suffer and die on our behalf...that God? He is good. And even when our prayers don't get answered the way that we want, I believe He is kind.

Echoing the words of Bill Johnson, I refuse to sacrifice the goodness of God on the altar of human reasoning in response to seemingly unanswered prayers.

So, even when our question remains unanswered this side of heaven and the doubt is pressing in on all sides, I believe we serve a God who cups our tear-stained faces and weeps with us. That not a single heartbreak goes unnoticed, not one wrong won't someday be made right.

Maybe you're in a dark night of the soul and battling things you can't bring yourself to speak of. Maybe every day is an endless circle of why and the answers just aren't enough. I can't promise that those answers will ever come. There are just some things that human logic can't justify or explain. 

But I can promise you that God sees and moreover, He cares.

Maybe the point of our doubts isn't to receive an answer to the question.

Maybe the point is to receive an understanding of the One who is so much greater than all of our questions.

Jehovah Shalom.



  1. i don't think there's a way to put how much this meant to me into words

  2. All I can say is, thank for this. ^.^

  3. I love this so so much. It's especially relatable to me right now, so thank you for writing this!

  4. This reminds me of something Amanda Cook has said, about how Jesus dignified every human emotion. All the questioning, the fear, the doubt, the sadness. He felt that, He went through it, and He knows our pain. I have never lost someone. The closest thing is a pet. In all my prayers and crying over that pet, I would preface my words to Him with "I know this is silly and it's just a pet", which was when I learned that our heartbreak is never compared to others. It's never "just" anything. If it matters to us, it matters to Him.

    He is so good to walk through all of our mess with us. The process is a beautiful one. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I know the journey with these kinds of things is never over (He's always revealing new layers), but it sounds like He has been leading you to good places. <3

    1. Yes, Amanda Cook inspires me so much. I believe I heard her say that in a spontaneous piece she did that had words like, "You're giving us our breath back" and "You're a God who comes down in the middle of my panic attack". As someone who struggles with severe anxiety, something that has driven me to an extreme desperation for the peace of God, it completely wrecked me to realize He doesn't just watch from the outside as I suffer. He comes into the midst and steps into and validates the suffering we all face. He is so good.

      Oh, no, no, never say it was "just" a pet. I have several animals and they mean the world to me. My fish recently passed and I have cried my eyes out over him for weeks. I firmly believe God gave us animals to show us what it means to love and care for something that gives nothing but unconditional love in return.

  5. One of my dear friends just passed away about a week ago. He wasn't old enough for anyone to think it was his time and it was very sudden and unexpected. He was a Christian who absolutely loved God with everything he had, but his death has hit so many people. So I can at the very least empathize with you on a deeper level right now, Ashlyn. <3

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. The most comforting thing I have ever heard in the midst of grief is that our reaction to death is so strong and painful because death is not natural. It's something that only came to be after the Fall. Jesus defeated death on the cross and though we mourn our losses here, we'll see our loved ones again on the other side.

    2. Yes, and that promise of a reunion is what makes our pain bearable and tolerable. I know you hurt, dear one, but do not lose hope, for God is in control and God loves that little baby so much more than we can imagine. And I know, deep within myself, that you and your family will see that beautiful child again someday. <3 <3

  6. Ashlyn, thank you for posting this. I was really moved by how deeply your hurt for your friend even though it was her family, not yours. I really needed this today, not in the aspect of losing someone but in believing that God is good. Thank you for your offering.

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