A few years ago Bill and I were sitting in a title office wrapping up the closing documents for the home we’d just refinanced. Bill was in his Army uniform that day, as he had come straight from the flight line. The secretary behind the desk – who, from what we could tell was doing her best to keep herself together, although we didn’t know from what – discussed the remaining details pertaining to the refinance. When she got up to make some photocopies, Bill and I exchanged looks that said, “something is terribly wrong with this lady.” Sometimes just talking about what you are dealing with helps relieve stress, so when she returned, Bill began asking casual, but personal questions like, “So, do you live nearby?”
We soon discovered what was the matter. Her daughter had been murdered by 4 local Army soldiers who were plotting a terrorist attack, and even though it had been some time since this horrific incident, she was in a state almost no better than the day of. Our presence didn’t help matters; I think she was triggered by Bill’s uniform.
Despite the raw nerves, this mother pushed through the freshly formed flood of tears, smiled, wished us well and saw us out the door. Bill and I sat in the parking lot for a while, stunned by what we had just heard: the second-hand account – although we were sparred many of the details – of the ghastly and sickening loss of a teenage daughter.
Years went by, and although Bill and I were profoundly affected by what we had learned that day in the title office, the memory of this mother’s story slowly faded. Bill and I went about our lives, until, that is, we ran into her again two weeks ago at my son’s middle school open house. There she was, sitting behind us in the small school desk with her two remaining daughters. We all glanced twice at each other, remembering something about the other, but not quite sure what that something was. Twenty minutes later Bill’s light bulb went off. I could tell because he slowly turned his gaze from the speaker at the front of the room to me, but he didn’t say a word. And just by the look on his face it hit me too. After open house the three of us reintroduced ourselves, shook hands and again and went our separate ways.
She looked better this time around, but the lines of grief, unanswered questions and sorrow were etched on her face. The untimely loss of her daughter, for reasons I’m sure she’ll never completely understand, had taken its toll.
Last week I celebrated Mother’s Day with approximately 84.4 million other mothers in America. It was a fabulous day and I thanked God profusely – as I do every night – for my children; His greatest gift. Still reeling from the many blessings in my life, I decided to turn on the radio – I almost never do this – for the drive home, thinking a little bee-bop with the windows down would add an extra layer of happiness to my week. The song If I Die Young was the first to play.
The Band Perry released this song in 2010. I’d always thought it was a beautiful and moving song, but this time, driving home days after Mother’s Day – and having just visited again with the mother of a murdered daughter – I cried.
Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother
She’ll know I’m safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh,
And life ain’t always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain’t even grey, but she buries her baby
The sharp knife of a short life
Oh well, I’ve had just enough time
And then I watched the YouTube video of this song – because every good writer vets what they post before going public – and cried some more.
I wonder, through all of this, how this mother views God. Is He – in addition to her two remaining daughters – her solace, or is He a source of contention; yet another person upon which to place the blame, anger and hurt?
At the time I had no real words of comfort for her other than the typical, “I’m sorry,” “she is in a better place now,” and “we will pray for you.” I could kick myself for not having more substance in the moment. If I were an effective speaker, perhaps I would have gleaned some passages from the Word of God for her, like those from the book of Job. This book offers many principles for those who are suffering.
1. Some of the world’s suffering is caused by Satan. You can read about this in Job, chapters 1 and 2. God allowed pain and suffering, but He didn’t cause it.
2. God is always good and all-powerful.
4. God will reward and punish justly according to our works, in His time. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
5. God does not get angry with us for having doubt and feeling despair. It is only when we lack the trust in God that He is good and will see us through our pains that He becomes angry. Job passionately cried out to God in anguish over the loss of literally everything he held dear, but he did so because he knew God was listening and had not left him. This earned God’s praise.
6. No one knows all the facts about suffering except God. We tend to view our situation with a very limited perspective; only that which we are aware of will come into focus. But other forces may be at work from God’s perspective, who sits at a higher level than we will ever comprehend.
7. God is never out of range of our prayers. He does not rule the world from a distance and he is never completely silent. An unknown author wrote, “Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light.”
8. Although a person may have good intentions when giving advice, it sometimes does more harm that good. There are chapters in Job devoted to this one. After Job’s “friends” go on and on about what he should and should not do, Job says, “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.” (Job 13:5)
9. God requires us to keep the faith. Despite what may be going on in your life, you must trust that God knows what is best for you. After all of Job’s ranting to God over the torment he had endured, God finally speaks up at chapter 38. He lets Job have it. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!'” (Job 38: 3-5) God goes on and on for 4 chapters about how Job – or anyone else for that matter – could possibly question God’s reasons for anything. I don’t know about you, but after reading these chapters I feel about as little and insignificant as piece of sand on the beach.
10. Suffering can be used for good. In the case of this mother who lost her daughter, I can only imagine how difficult that would be to understand. Still, God can use pain for many positive reasons. Job’s suffering was recorded in the Word of God as a reminder that He will always have the last word, the victory, over Satan. Jesus’ suffering brought salvation for all people.
It is in our darkest and lowest moments that we seek God and become closer to Him. Of this I am personally and acutely aware of, but for reasons different from those of this mother. Usually we cannot see the positive in the moment. Only when we look backward does the positive become clear.