“Everyone hold up your hands and say, ‘Weeee!!’”
The allusion is to riding a roller coaster, and the saying was one of my mom’s favorites. Her meaning: You can’t control life’s twists and turns, but you can decide whether to scream and throw up, or laugh and enjoy the ride.
The year 2010 was something of a roller coaster for me. In February we got a call from my parents saying that Mom’s chemotherapy for colon cancer was no longer working. The doctor predicted she had weeks to live and called in hospice.
Not one to sit around and wait for it to get later, Mom decided that God still had something for her to do. Each day, she held court from her recliner or bed--depending on her strength--for “Friend of My Heart Time.” This involved inviting women from church to sit with her and talk about life, death, heaven, faith and family. In addition to giving Dad some much-needed respite, Mom used that time to encourage others to live with purpose and joy.
Four months later, I got a call in the night from Dad saying that Mom had died. Between those two calls, the question that consumed me was the one asked by toddlers trying to make sense of the world: Why?
Why don’t you heal her?
And eventually…why must she suffer so long?
The question “why?” is also one of lament, and it changed my relationship with God. I asked it so many times that eventually I just stopped asking. I found, as Job said of his lament, “I have no rest, but only turmoil,” (Job 3:25-26).
Lament is a cry, a complaint. It is both a natural human response to suffering, and also a recognition in the human heart that someone is there. The assumption behind lament is that God is, and that he is sovereign.
Lament is also something God invites us to do. The psalmist says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book,” (Psalm 56:8).
After Job lost children, servants, livelihood, home and health, God did have compassion and revealed himself to the man. But he had a few questions of his own: Were you there when the earth was made? Will you really annul my judgment? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
In other words, God said, “I want you to know me, but I am not going to be held hostage to your expectations.”
What I have come to understand about grief is that, even if God explained the “whys” to us in a way we could understand, we would still feel the same loss and sorrow sitting across from the empty chair. Knowing why doesn’t erase pain. Instead of explaining why, God asks us to know and to trust him.
After I stopped talking to God, I found that he still showed his love to me daily in what I began to call my “manna.” This came in the form of a song, a scripture, a phone call or letter that assured me that God was present and in control.
One example: In April the worship leader at our church led the song “It is Well with My Soul.” When I got to the line, “when sorrows like sea billows roll,” the words stuck in my throat and I could not sing. The next Sunday I was in Cincinnati, and the worship leader there also led “It is Well with My Soul.” Again I cried and could not sing. The third Sunday I was back in Indy, and … you guessed it. I told God, “You’re going to do this to me until I sing it, aren’t you?”
The next Sunday was Mother’s Day. We were in Texas for our son’s college graduation, and I was anxious about being so far away from Mom. Again, we sang that song! Again I cried. But this time, I sang the words, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught (forced?) me to say, ‘It is well with my soul!’”
Instead of asking why—which has no answer—eventually I learned to ask what: What is God’s purpose for me in this moment?
“What is God’s purpose for me?” asks Oswald Chambers. “Whatever it may be, his purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish—His purpose is the process itself … It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God.”
Or as Mom would say: “Everyone hold up your hands and say, ‘Weeee!’”