Salvaging remnants of faith

 photo by  T. Parnell

photo by T. Parnell

Today's guest post is by Elaina, who lost her daughter, Agnes, in late 2014 to an inoperable and fatal birth defect. Her daughter lived for a few hours after her birth. This topic Elaina is tackling—a loss of faith, or questioning faith—is one we've had several conversations about lately behind the scenes at Glow. We felt this piece might speak to others whose faith has been turned inside out since the loss of their baby(ies). Please remember, this is one person's journey, a deeply personal piece, and it is not our intent to offend anyone else's faith. 

I heard an acquaintance describe how God had protected her from what could have been a far-worse situation; her gallbladder was now gone, but her health was intact. The others simultaneously praised Jesus for her safekeeping. Together, they discussed with amazement how good and talented God was to orchestrate the details of the ordeal.

I couldn’t even muster up an approving nod, as I sat bitterly offended. The opposite was true for me, and they knew it. God had not protected my daughter. I could not praise Jesus for sparing her. I could not recount just how good God had been to her. To me.

This sort of faith-expression is quite typical in my social circles, in an area where conservative fundamentalism prevails. Most speak of God’s positive plan for their personal lives, and find Him in the details of the ordinary and extraordinary alike. I felt indifferent to these types of assertions, but who was I to argue? Everything in my life had been relatively easy, and faith didn’t require much thought. For all I knew, God was all the things they said He was, all the time.

And then my daughter died. Suddenly, there appeared to be a glaring and rigid dichotomy present between a loving God that successfully directs a gallbladder surgery, and a loving God that allows a painfully broken baby to die in her daddy’s arms.

Resolving my major issues with God felt like an elusive, unattainable goal in the midst of my deepest grief, so I took to scrutinizing those around me instead. After all, they were the ones I could see and feel, who offered me their best answers to my desperate questions about God and the Bible. They took my particular misfortune and attached their meaning to it. They bought the hallmark cards and filled them with clichéd phrases and platitudes about angels and being in a better place in attempts to ease the burden. Some tried to find joy and ways to glorify God, a reason for the madness, or likened her life to my personal trial. What was more difficult were those who encouraged me to accept the “mystery and higher ways” of God. I found them to be refreshingly honest in their lack of understanding, and yet I still couldn’t be at peace with that answer (or lack thereof).

The more I listened to this chatter around me, the more fragile it all felt. I was grasping at some of it to feel true for me. I didn’t need all of it, I just needed something. Yet the concept of God seemed to be filled with empty promises, ambiguous ideology about His view of humanity and morality, and cherry-picked scripture verses from the Bible that had nothing to do with me. As I tried on their varying ideas for size, and ultimately reached out to God himself, my mother’s arms and warm food still felt far more comforting than communing with the one who could have saved my daughter. God started to seem like a figment of everyone’s imaginations and nothing more, and yet I am still angry, and trying to salvage remnants of my faith.

These days, I find myself emerging from the darkest parts of my grief, and I do not know what I believe to be true. I envy those who don’t question God, or a greater plan or a fallen world; who have no need to intellectualize the problem of a dying baby until all the options have run dry, and the baby is still gone. I can’t give up on something bigger than me, but I have loosened my grip on what I expect from Him. I’ve lost most of my conservative ways, and experience a wider view of the world and its people. I have more respect for other religions that aren’t my own, and other ideas I would have previously scoffed at. I see how people can change the world just through their own kindness and good deeds, and how much we need those tangible efforts. I feel less judgmental of people making decisions in painful circumstances. I certainly won’t make universal truth claims on situations I know nothing about, or tout my blessings to the detriment of the “un-blessed”. I’m hyper-aware of all the floundering about, and how we are largely a product of our own life experiences. We think we have it all figured out, until we don’t.

I’m broken. I’m humbled. I’ve aged. I’ve expanded. I shudder at the thought of being wrong, of not finding what others promise God can be for me during this time, if I just try harder or let go. But I hope I’m becoming something better, something different, something new. And I hope if there is a heaven, I’ll still be welcomed there with my beautiful daughter.

Sometimes I feel I have her to thank, for causing me to step outside the bubble of complacency, and into a more colorful, painful, complex, thought-provoking world. Maybe she’s helping me see who I can help in a more real way. And maybe that's putting whatever faith I do have left into my own hands, where it belongs.  

Maybe I'm more of a Christian now than I ever was.

 

Have you lost your faith since losing your baby? Has it been restored? How is your faith different now?