In All This: Thoughts on Suffering
*Disclaimer: This is long, but it’s transparent. Grief is multifaceted, and life is unexpected. I considered making this post shorter, but then I felt like it wouldn’t show how much we wrestle with life, and how God’s Word can sustain us through the long seasons of grief.
About a month after my brother passed, the pastors and elders at my church graciously allowed me to take a 30-day sabbatical during the month of July to give me more time to grieve. The day before I started my sabbatical from work, I saw a bible study on Job on my bookshelf in my work office and knew that I should take it home to study over the next month. It was the bible study workbook and DVD lessons from Lisa Harper’s book Job: A Story of Unlikely Joy.
Over the next month, the grief of losing my brother settled deep on me as the events from his funeral had passed, and most of my family members had to return to work and normal routines. I remember that it began to be too hard to look at photos of Dave then because every time I did, it hurt me too much. It reminded me of how deep this loss was for my life. At that time, looking at photos of David would make my mind flash back to seeing David’s body after he passed. I wanted to scream at the image of my brother’s body in a casket. That was not my brother. My brother was so alive and real to me. His voice, his laugh, his facial expressions, his jokes. They were second nature to me.
Each day, I would cry thinking of how much I missed Dave. I’d wear his sweatshirt to bed—the one I swiped from his closet when we were still in high school. Even looking around my house and yard, I remembered so many memories of Dave. The small dent he accidentally made in my wall when he was carrying in my TV. The scene of when he took a selfie of us on the day I moved into my house, and he helped carry in all the furniture. The time he sat on my living room floor with Ruston, Gabby, Anna, and their friends playing Uno. The time he left Gatorade and crackers on my front porch for me when I was sick (but he wouldn’t come in the house because he didn’t want to catch my germs). The loveseat where he sat with Stephanie the first time he brought her to my house so we could all visit together. I didn’t have much variety for snacks that day so I offered him and Stephanie a Snickers ice cream bar out of my freezer. At first they were like, “No, that’s okay.” But then they were like, “Yeah, we want one.” :) I still think about that when I eat them.
I wanted to think only of my grief, to think only of Dave. But life kept happening; life kept requiring me to show up and make decisions even though I felt like I couldn’t think straight and had zero energy or motivation to do anything. I had been in a car accident at the end of June, totaled my car, and had to figure out now what car I wanted to purchase. Then I was also praying about the opportunity my dad had offered to me to begin working at the Hope Center where my brother had worked as the associate director. If I decided this, it would mean that I would have to leave a job and coworkers that I dearly loved. It would mean losing the familiarity of the role I had held for 10 years and completely changing what I had anticipated being my career for the rest of my life. Then on July 4, my 17-year-old daughter Anna showed me her positive pregnancy test. As challenging as a teen pregnancy is, I also had to process the fact that my brother and his wife had begun trying to have a baby several months before David's surgery, and now we faced the feelings that came with the reality that Dave and Stephanie would never be able to have a baby together. Stephanie was the first person I told about Anna’s pregnancy along with my mom. I was worried how Stephanie would feel, but right away she smiled and said she wanted to help Anna with her baby. Stephanie spent the night with me that night, and we talked about how we believe that death and new life are ultimately in God’s hands. We believed that even in our heartache, Anna's baby is an unexpected gift from God.
My heart and my mind couldn’t make much sense of my life. I felt like I didn’t know which way was up or down. I wanted to quit, just excuse myself to life on my couch. I remember I asked God if I could just live in a cave somewhere.
During my sabbatical, I gave myself permission not to try to solve the world’s problems—or even any of my problems. I wasn’t going to try to be productive at all. Productive was so far from where I was at emotionally. I felt like I was taking my hands way, way off of the wheel for my life because losing my brother had shown me that I can’t control things. I didn’t care about anything. I remember telling my friend, “I don’t want to be here, but I don’t want to be anywhere.” I knew I was in a bad state of mind, so I was being gentle with myself, just doing what I needed for each 24-hour day at a time. My only plan was to do my bible study during the days and go see my parents in the evenings. Of course, I was also cleaning house and parenting and taking my daughters to appointments and to their jobs. I could muster up the energy and cheerfulness to do something for my daughters and interact with their friends and others in public. But once I had space to rest, I rested.
On so many mornings, I got up to take my dog Jolly outside to go to the bathroom, then I’d eat breakfast and lie down on my couch with my pillow and blanket to listen to a sermon or podcast. Then Jolly and I would go sit on my front porch for awhile with my Bible and workbook. I’d watch Jolly as he watched the neighbors’ cats in the field and the hummingbirds that flew into my flower bed. I’d read my Bible and workbook and pet Jolly. I didn’t try to solve any problems or make any decisions. I just wanted to listen to God.
As I began studying the book of Job, I saw that two big ideas come from it:
1. In the face of suffering, we have the choice to accept everything that sifts through the sovereignty of God’s hands.
2. “Suffering, faithfully endured, defeats Satan.” (quote from J.W. Watts)
As I read Scripture, I asked myself whether I could accept that my brother’s heart birth defect and his death had sifted through the sovereignty of God’s hands. I asked myself whether I could faithfully endure suffering in a way that will defeat Satan.
If you’re not familiar with with the book of Job from the Bible, I’ll try to give you a brief summary. Job was a godly man with integrity. The book begins by showing how Job is wealthy and has a large family. Satan tells God that Job is only faithful to him because he has all of these blessings in his life. Satan believes that if tragedy comes to Job’s life, then he will “curse God to His face” (Job 1:11).
Then tragedy does come to Job’s life, and Job loses everything. He loses his livelihood of all his livestock, all his servants, and his seven sons and three daughters.
As I have walked with my family through losing my brother, I have seen how this has pierced all of us. It especially hurts to see the pain my mom and dad are experiencing. For a little while, my mom kept searching for photos that she and Dave were in together. She replayed the way he would answer the phone when she called. She got out the jean overalls he had worn as a little boy, remembering that Dave thought it was silly that she had saved them. My dad had lost his only son—his favorite pal to laugh with and his ministry partner that he prayed with. He would sometimes stare at the photos of Dave we would text him and sob in his office. No parent should have to lose their child. It is soul-crushing.
When this happened to Job—when he lost all 7 of his sons and all 3 of his daughters—he tore his robe in agony and fell to the ground. This makes so much sense to me. Sometimes we have to do something physical—scream, beat our fists, throw something, kick something, collapse on the floor to let out our grief. My sister Shari fell to the ground when she first saw David in the casket. She had been holding hands with Stephanie and me, but she still couldn’t stand under the weight of that pain. Nothing can prepare us for that heartache.
The verse that has stood out to me so much in my own sorrow is Job 1:22: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
Wow. In all this--
all of the heartache,
all of the sleepless nights wondering how he could have prevented this,
all of his guilt of begging God that he could have died in their place,
all of the memories that made him sob because of how much he missed them,
all of his longing to just hug them one more time, to hear their voice and their laugh one more time,
all of his hopes of what his children were going to do in their family, in their community, in the world,
all of his questions of why God didn’t prevent this tragedy--
in all this. In all this. In all this.
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
This is, perhaps, the biggest question that mankind has had for God all through the centuries. If God is all-powerful and good, then why does He allow suffering? As tragedy has struck my family, I have asked, “God, couldn’t we have kept Dave with us for awhile longer?” I know that when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, we have had to live with the consequences of living in a broken world, but now this is so personal. This is my little brother. Our family is so incomplete without him.
The odd thing is that I have felt so much anger in losing my brother, but I’m not angry at God. My brother’s wife Stephanie said something that made a lot of sense to me. She had been watching a documentary of persecution against Christians around the world, and she realized that if she blamed God for David’s death, then she would have to blame him for all the deaths of the Christians who were being beheaded and martyred for their faith in other countries. If she blamed God for David’s death, then she would have to blame Him for all the terrible sufferings in this world—murder, rape, child abuse, etc.
On the morning of David’s burial service, I woke up early to take my dog out on a leash. That morning a heavy fog had settled on our land. As I walked around my yard with my dog, I knew God had given us this fog. Twelve years ago, there had been a heavy fog on the morning of the burial service for my stillborn niece Rhea. Even before the fog had come that morning, my dad had prepared to read at her funeral 1 Corinthians 13:12 (MSG): “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly just as He knows us!”
We’re squinting through a fog. God gave us that fog that morning to remind us that we don’t understand things now, but one day when we’re all in heaven, we will see it all clearly. My parents and my sister Rachel and brother-in-law Brandon said they instantly thought the same thing when they each woke up that morning and saw the fog. In fact, when my dad first saw Brandon that morning, he said to him, “It’s a Rhea kind of morning.” We remember how God gave us the fog when Rhea passed away. God is still faithful to show my family this sign again.
My brother is buried close to my niece Rhea. It has comforted us so much to think of David being the first one in our family to meet Rhea in heaven, of how Rhea is now showing her Uncle Dave around heaven and teaching him all sorts of spiritual, heavenly things. But in my pain here on earth, when I go to their cemetery, I just remember how David was with me in the cemetery on the day of Rhea’s funeral in 2007. David was the one who stood next to me and held me at Rhea’s funeral as we both cried. I just miss him so much, and this doesn’t seem right.
I am so mad. I am so sad. I am so confused. I am so crushed. I am so devastated. But in all this, I don’t want to charge God with wrongdoing.
Job’s wife got so angry with God that she told Job to curse God and die. But Job replied to her that she was talking foolishly. He said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Then the Bible says again, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:9-10).
In all this.
In all this despair, in all this brokenness, in all this sorrow.
There aren’t adequate words to describe what our souls feel as we grieve for a loved one. But I think I get what the author means when he writes, “in all this.”
In all this.
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
In these few months after losing David, my mom has said that she’d like to tell others, “I don’t want you to know my pain, but I want you to know my Jesus.”
She was talking to my sister Shari about this one day. As she said, “I don’t want you to know my pain, but I want you to know my Jesus,” they both paused, then said at the same time, “But I don’t know if you can know Jesus this deeply without this pain.”
A little while ago, Shari and I were texting about the things I was learning through my bible study in Job. She had been reading Job too, and she can see how God makes Himself more known to people when they are suffering. She said, “There was never an option of turning from God. He has been the only comfort in this pain. Sometimes I feel like people see our pain or hear we are not okay and fear that we are turning from God or that our faith is shaken. But it’s like I was saying in Job 42:5, ‘My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.’ Metaphorically speaking, He has shown Himself to us all in an incredible new way in our suffering, drawing us into a deeper, more treasured relationship than before. Now we have tasted/glimpsed a little how our heavenly Father grieves for His fallen world and and His desire to one day make all things new.”
That’s what I’m thinking about…where does suffering lead us? Does it lead us to despair and bitterness or does it lead us to defeat Satan?
I’m so amazed that Job said, “I know my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). I had always known this verse, mostly because of the beautiful song “Redeemer” by Nicole C. Mullins that came out in 2000. I had sang along to this song many times as a teenager and had even added it to my playlist to sing in the car with my daughters a few years ago. But I don’t know if I ever knew that Job was the one in the Bible to say the words, “I know my Redeemer lives.” If I did realize that, I never gave much thought to it.
But now, as I’ve studied more of Job’s story as I’m in the midst of my grief, it makes it a thousand times more meaningful to me. To know how enormous Job’s loss was, how deep his grief was, how his friends were accusing him of having a secret sin to deserve this, how his wife had turned her back on God so he was alone in trying to keep his trust in God.
I have had a strong family to support me in my faith as I grieve. We have done our best everyday to talk and text each other the ways that God is ministering to us in our loss. We live in the time period after the Bible was written, so we have the advantage of knowing how Jesus came to the earth to die for our sins and rise from the grave. We know the things the Bible tells us about heaven.
But Job said this declaration of faith... as the only person in his family who was clinging to faith. He said this thousands of years before Jesus came to earth.
I like that he said the particular word “Redeemer.” I suppose he could have said “Savior” or “Lord” or another name for God. But I believe he said “Redeemer” for two reasons:
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
That’s what I keep coming back to as I grieve. In all this, I try to remember that God is mighty and bigger than everything we’re facing on earth. In all this, I try to remember that God is good at being God. In all this, I try to remember that my Redeemer lives, and that one day He will redeem all things. To quote Job, “How my heart yearns within me!”
Mary is the Associate Director at Hope Center Indy.. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.