Friday, March 6, 2020

Questions Without Answers




In the spring of 2017, my husband Ed was asked to preach on the topic of bitterness. He prepared the message, but that week severe headaches forced him to cancel his commitment. Two days later, a surgeon removed a tennis ball-sized tumor from his brain.

In his sermon notes, Ed had written that bitterness is nearly impossible to self-diagnose. We can see bitterness in others, but it is easy to justify our own grudges. Ed compared bitterness to making a snowball. When weather conditions are right, a handful of snow can easily become a hard ball. When this snowball is rolled, it picks up anything around it, including more snow, leaves, and stones, until the snowball becomes too large to push. Likewise, bitterness grows and becomes deadly.

I didn't think I had a problem with bitterness. I had a happy childhood, a handsome husband, and six healthy children. I had never been abused or deeply wronged. I knew I was blessed and didn’t begrudge others for what they had.

That was before Ed was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. Despite multiple surgeries and many treatment attempts, two years later in May 2019 I became a widow at age 43. Now when I saw an elderly couple walking side-by-side at the grocery store, the pain rushed in to choke me. I had lost my dream of growing old with my husband. My three-year-old daughter might not even remember her daddy. I wanted to scream, “It’s not fair.”


I had always thought unforgiveness was the root of bitterness, but in his sermon notes Ed had written “perceived injustice or unfairness” at the top of the list of causes. What could be more unfair than losing my husband?

When my children say “it’s not fair,” they hope their complaint will change the unfairness. But my whining won’t bring Ed back. When I say “it's not fair” I'm stating that I don't deserve this suffering. I’m asking God to explain why He allowed my husband to die.

My western mind seeks to protect myself from any difficulty, but suffering is part of the human experience. Living in American freedom, in a hard-working culture with modern medicine, I had been spared the suffering common for most of history and in many parts of the world. Because of my context and my choice to follow the Lord, I thought I deserved a comfortable life.

When I lost my husband, my best friend, and the father of my children, I felt robbed. I was angry and asked why. Why Ed? Why take someone who was active in kingdom work? Wouldn’t God have received glory if He had answered the many prayers for Ed’s healing?

Job also asked why, but in the middle of his questions, Job proclaimed his trust in God. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” I have something Job did not have because I can read Job’s whole story and see the past and future, the visible and the invisible, and the mercy of God. I’m still sitting in Job’s ash heap, but my story also has a past and future, visible and invisible, and the touch of God's mercy. Like Job, I can’t see my whole story. Maybe someday my questions will be answered, but today I need to accept not knowing the explanation.

I knew my unanswered questions could ferment into bitterness. Because Ed didn’t want bitterness to poison our children, I watched him resist the human tendency of bitterness by accepting cancer and the suffering it entailed. Ed prayed for healing with his hands open to accept death.


Ed wasn’t the first person who found peace this way. Elisabeth Elliot wrote “Acceptance is the key to peace in suffering.” Elisabeth knew hard questions and suffering: her first husband was murdered and her second husband died of cancer.

I wanted the peace Ed had experienced. But for Ed, accepting death meant gaining the glories of heaven. I still had to put children to bed alone, listen to friends tell of their anniversary get-aways, and mark “widow” on tax forms. I hated thinking of living without Ed for decades, but I was even more scared of becoming a bitter old woman.

After Ed’s death I forced myself to push on, to learn to cope, to figure out how to change the van’s registration, and find its insurance information. I took the children camping and planted a garden. Those around me said I was a strong woman, but I knew staying busy wasn’t what I really needed. I somehow needed to accept the pain without being destroyed by it, to remember Ed, and to acknowledge the enormity of my loss without suffocating.

Jesus invites us to “come...and I will give you rest.” Rest? Sounds like what any overwhelmed single mom with six children needs. He promises rest if I come to Him, but bitterness will erect a barrier between us. To live in the restful presence of Christ, I can’t demand answers to my questions. I need Him more than I need answers.

Elisabeth Elliot also said, “If your faith rests on the character of Him who is the eternal I AM, then that kind of faith is rugged and will endure.” I want the rest found in enduring faith. I unclench my hands and hold them open. I ask God to give me a warm heart to melt that icy snowball inside me. I know Who God is (a good God) and who I am (His daughter). After God reminded Job of His creative power, Job accepted that his questions would remain unanswered. I do the same.

Ed had planned to close his sermon with words from Revelation 7:14-17. This passage describes a scene of believers from all nations and tongues. They endured great trials on earth and are now gathered in heaven worshiping before God’s throne where they have no hunger, thirst, or tears.


Heaven is not fair either. Why would God want to share His home with us? Why do I deserve His eternal rest—a gift He invites me to begin to experience now? It is a gift without answers. Whatever injustice I perceive now will vanish in the glories of heaven. The hunger for relationships, the thirst for fulfillment, and the pain of separation will no longer be present. Either my questions will be answered or they won’t matter anymore.

I still fight bitterness every day. Maybe time will fade the pain. Maybe I’ll think “it’s not fair” less often. But I suspect that every holiday, every memory, every new milestone my children reach will require me to open up my hands and give my questions back to God so I can walk into His rest.

I was the one who needed Ed’s sermon, written in his notes and lived in his life and death.

First published in the winter issue of Daughters of Promise.
Photos by Regina Rosenberry.

23 comments :

  1. Thank you, Gina. I really needed to read those words today. Big hugs!

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  2. Thank you. I needed this too. Thank you.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  3. This is just so beautiful Gina. My husband and I prayed so fervently alongside all your other friends and family and were so saddened when Ed wasn't healed. My heart still goes out to you as a mum having to do it all. Many times just visiting your blog after Ed's passing, felt too sad...how pitiful do I sound !! It was a joy to read this, I know it is your heart. I can't even imagine what you've gone through and still go through. I just pray the Lord will continue to carry you and be your strength each day. Blessings to you ~ Linda

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  4. Dear Gina
    Praying for you and your family. I always remember job in our own circumstances but one of my son always reminds me after job comes psalms. Songs of praise. Your loving husband was so right. Thank you for such a blessing as this post

    Blessings to you all
    Shelley p
    From over the pond

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  5. Wow. I needed this. Thank you for letting God work through you.

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  6. What a beautiful post. Thank you from a fellow widow~ Eight years this month. The youngest of our eight children was eight years old. Hugs to you and your little ones.

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  7. "I was the one who needed Ed’s sermon, written in his notes and lived in his life and death." What a treasure Ed left for you and your children! Thanks for sharing your heart and journey with us. May you feel the closeness of Christ each day. Love and hugs!

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  8. You have such wisdom in your words. We all have unanswered question and we must wait to find the answers. Your strength and courage I admire so much. Prayers for you and your family.

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  9. Thank you for writing this. It is deeply meaningful and helpful to me. From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I have struggled to know how to live with perceived injustice.

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  10. Moving, convicting post. Thank you for this. My husband has kidney disease/kidneys removed, and is on dialysis. He's 49, and waiting for kidney that might not ever come. One way or other, God's got this. I just have to hold on to that.

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  11. The warmfireplaceMarch 8, 2020 at 3:23 AM

    You and your family are in my prayers everyday. Acceptance is hard, and I know bitterness is difficult to turn away from, to me the answers do not seem to matter now, just knowing that I was blessed to have that time however short, to have loved and been loved and move forward with God. Sharing your feelings is a blessing for those who read your blog, and I thank you. Sue

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  12. Thank you for posting this. God bless you and your children.

    I want to tell you how your husband influenced me. Some years ago, he suggested that we add something in Nature Friend magazine that would be an activity a dad could do with his boys. I remembered what he said, but was uncertain what that would look like, or how to act on the suggestion. But now I know.

    Last year I ran a birdhouse building contest. I did not want children to get hurt using tools, so I made allowance for parents to help children. I knew then I had my answer to Ed's suggestion. Dads can help children, and the contest provides the activity.

    While we intended to give a first, second, and third place awards ($150, $125, and $100 gift certificates to a hardware store to buy tools), the response was great! We ended up choosing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards for a birdhouse category, and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for "decorative birdhouses." In addition to these six gifts, we added a grand prize ($175 certificate), and ten honorable mentions. The honorable mentions will also get an award--most likely our hardbound book on North American Owls.

    This year we are doing several contests for which parents may work together with their children. One is a flower bed contest. It is not just a photo of the flowerbed, but should be in the context of writing a lesson that teaches us the thought process that went into the flowerbed. (High plants in back, low plants in front, color harmonies, sun/shade, soil types, started with grandmas favorite flower and built it around that, etc.

    And, for the ones who wish for a craft project, I'm running a flower planter contest. Parents may help with that too.

    So, I'm delighting in having found my way to build on Ed's suggestion to me. I've just been sorry I didn't think of this sooner so he could have participated.

    God bless you.

    Kevin

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  13. Thank you for writing this. So helpful to those who are suffering. A God reminder of God's grace and mercies.

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  14. Oh, Gina....my heart is breaking for you, and my eyes are filled with tears. Thank you for once again being brave, vulnerable and transparent in this hard journey of losing Ed...your best friend, husband and father of your children. Reading the quotes of Elizabeth Elliott, and hearing recent quotes from Corrie ten Boom give me hope. Hope and assurance that our Abba Father, Who gave them enough grace, wisdom and healing for their journeys, will honor your prayers, and give the same to you and your family. Hugs and prayers, friend! xoxo ~Eunice

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  15. Oh Gina. I've been thinking about your and your children a lot lately! The journey you're on can be a lonely one but remember you're never truly alone. Thank you for sharing Ed's sermon notes. They are full of wisdom for all of us regardless of our life's journey. Still praying for you & your children!

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  16. Thank you for sharing your heart Gina. May you come forth as gold.

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  17. Amen. Amen. From the little I know of suffering, it is true. Praying for you...

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  18. Reading this I was puzzled by the pictures at first, thinking, 'now that's a different style of photo from what's usually on here'. Then at the end I saw 'Daughters of Promise' and was like, 'ooooh, OK, I get it now' :) :)

    Obviously the pictures and your family are beautiful, but what is that new style? You see it on Instagram too. I'm both drawn to it and suspicious of it, lol. Rustic holiness? Staged authenticity? Affected simplicity? ���� Or maybe it strikes different people different ways! I'm thinking of how I 'rig' my own photos, even though I take them to look 'normal': at least this new style is honest!

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    1. I think that some people call this "lifestyle" photos. Staged authenticity is probably a good name because we certainly don't stand around in a old church like this.
      Gina

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  19. Thank-you for this reminder, Gina, as I grieve and grapple with the very recent loss of my Mother, my brother 10 months before that, and my Father 4n half yrs ago. I want to tell God how unfair this all is, and how we needed them. But we have to trust that God has a bigger picture then what we see. And as we want to meet our loved ones again, we have to fight the bitterness, and continue on, however hard it may be. Blessings to you as you jouney on without an earthly partner, but in the grace and strength of God.

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  20. This post resonates with truth. I have struggled with the bitterness of perceived injustice. My 2 children have both been struggling with chronic health problems and mental illness since they were 10 and 12. My nice predictable homeschooling and family life was over. All of the things that I had hoped would happen for my girls hasn't.

    We have prayed so many times for them but they are still suffering. When my friends talk of their children graduating, or going on mission trips, or even just enjoying watching their children talk together, my heart cringes. And I hate myself for being hurt by the normal blessings of day to day life. But I'm getting better at trusting in who God is;his character and omniscience. He knows my heartache, he sees their suffering, he sees it all and has allowed it to happen with a plan of redeeming it and making his name glorious in the process. He is faithful.

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  21. This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your raw emotions with such honesty. I am new to your blog and really enjoying your posts:)

    My father passed away immediately after a motorbike accident when I was 5 years old. My Mother was not yet a born again believer but she did pray every night. We shared her bed together. One night I asked her why she would pray to a God who took my Daddy away. I was angry at this God! My Mother replied that she didn't know but she did believe there must have been a good reason. And that's all she said. That stayed with me and I decided that God must be good and I just don't yet know the reason he took my Daddy away. I do believe her answer prevented me becoming bitter because I never felt angry or bitter about growing up without a Father although there were times I'm missed him dearly.

    My mother confessed that there were times she wanted to give up but she had me to think of and be strong for. Your children are blessed to have as their Mother. May God bless and strengthen you dear Sister.x

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