They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And that may be true. The thing is they don’t tell you about the in-between. About what happens from the time crisis strikes and while it is ongoing. Raised in a Christian household, I was always taught the importance of talking to God about my struggles. Here’s why I stopped. And here’s the story of how I started again.
On May 23rd, 2013, my mom was killed in a car accident at 48 years old.
I was 30. Needless to say, it was a shock, but that afternoon and evening I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. I had to get to the hospital to check on the other occupants of the car, after all.
I think it was late that night, or maybe the next day, that I told my wife “I’m just so glad I sent her this”. I held out my phone for her to look at. It had my last text conversation with my mom pulled up. The last thing I said to her in that conversation was “Thanks! I love you too.” I was counting my blessings that I had said “I love you” to my mom only a couple of days before she passed.
The next few days I cried more than I ever had. Expected, of course, but it was noteworthy because…well, it was me. I had never been one to be very emotional. I didn’t cry on my wedding day. Didn’t cry when my daughter was born. At best it got on my wife’s last nerves, and at worst it really hurt her feelings. To her it was a message I didn’t care that much. I always told her “crying is for sad things. Why would I cry about happy stuff?”
To be fair to her, I rarely cried about sad things either. And she knew that. But now here was the biggest loss I’d ever experienced, and cry I did-but only in private. I wasn’t a very emotionally showy person, so when I felt like I couldn’t hold it in anymore, I went into the bedroom, closed the door, and sat down next to the closet to cry. After a few minutes, I was able to pull it together again enough to go back out and show myself. I didn’t even cry to my wife.
This was my first mistake. I shut people out, including her. She wanted to be there for me, and I was hurting her, denying her the chance to follow these scriptures:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15 (ESV)
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:26 (ESV)
It’s not that I was mean to her or anything, I just didn’t really let her in. I didn’t allow her to comfort me and listen to my thoughts, which might have helped me and would have blessed her.
Over the next several weeks lots of thoughts came flying in.
What happened? How did it happen?
I found out the accident had happened because an oncoming truck was carrying an over sized load which was probably just a little too wide. It was a huge industrial boiler, weighing thousands of pounds, traveling at 55–60 MPH. My mom was attempting to turn left and somehow they didn’t see each other. The edge of the load struck my mom’s side of the car, and she was killed instantly.
Fueled by this scenario in my head, I asked myself a lot of “what ifs”.
What if Mom had hesitated for just a second before getting into the car? What if she’d stopped for something on the way home? What if a cat had crossed the road causing her to slow down? I realized there were about a million things that could have caused her to avoid this accident, and yet-it happened.
Now this in itself wasn’t hard to understand. My parents taught me bad things can happen to good people, and Jesus never promised smooth sailing. I was an EMT in paramedic school and had seen as much myself. In fact, two particular scriptures tell us straight out:
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 (ESV)
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:44–45 (ESV)
In that last verse in Matthew, Jesus seems to virtually guarantee some difficult times.
So I was not dumbfounded that something bad had happened to me. But it didget me thinking: What if I had prayed for mom to be safe?
The answer to that question rattled me, and got me started on my path to giving up on prayer. What if I had prayed for mom to be safe? She’d still be dead.Why? Because I knew bad things happened to people who prayed for good things all the time.
Now it was obviously my turn.
Let me be clear:
I did not lose all faith in God. I did not directly ask Him why, nor did I ever have a desire to give up on the Church. I didn’t even get angry at Him, as some do.
But I did get angry. At myself.
I was angry that I had ever believed praying might change anything that happens, as now it seemed “time and chance” had been ruling our world all along. Angry that I had been praying since I was a child for things I now believed were squarely in the domain of “time and chance” (or at the very least, human decision-making).
In my head, these included prayers such as “let this food nourish us”, or “keep us safe as we travel”, or “help us to be better followers of Christ”. I was furious at myself for being naïve enough to believe God would actually reach down with some kind of cosmic hand and guide my car into a safe path, or actually manipulate my digestive system into rejecting unhealthy food, or force us into improving our Christian lives.
Coming next week in Part 2…
I had already decided I understood Ecclesiastes 9:11 and Matthew 5:44–45, but I was at least self-aware enough to know I needed to study more. So I searched…
See more of David’s work here.