‘Tis the holiday season. Thanksgiving, or “Pre-Christmas” is this week. My tree is already up, and I’ve already seen 2.5 cheesey holiday films. This is either a sweet time or a bitter one for you.
A dear family friend of ours passed away 2 weeks ago. He would have been 26 this coming weekend. He passed suddenly in an unforeseen accident. He and my husband Rich have known each other since diapers. His memorial was this last weekend and it was everything beautiful, deep, poetic and meaningful. I think he probably really liked it.
For his family, and many like them, this season will not be the same. So while this post may be a bit strange to come across as you scroll pass holiday recipes and diy crafts, I don’t think it is any less applicable for those who need it. I don’t have the answers, but like all of us, I’m asking and I’m surrendering and I’m discovering in the surrendering.
When Jane was first taken to the hospital, and for every time we experience her have a seizure or regress in development, this question inevitably runs through my mind. “I’ve done everything that I’m supposed to do. I’ve played by the rules, said and done the ‘right’ things, so why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to my family?”
These are the age old questions, aren’t they? If I’m a good person who’s lived a good life, then shouldn’t I only experience good things? More than that, if God is a loving God, then why would God let there be sickness, pain and suffering? It’s in our nature to want an explanation.
Often when we tell people that our daughter almost died, that she has intractable epilepsy, and that she is mostly blind and immobile with developmental delays, there is a long pause. I’ve realized now the pause is usually people trying to figure out why. I’ve been asked what happened during my pregnancy, if she received certain vaccinations, if she didn’t receive certain vaccinations, what was my pregnancy diet like, did I take my prenatal vitamins, and does anyone else in our family have epilepsy? The questions go on, and if you catch me in a weak moment I may get defensive over these questions. But I’ve come to realize that people aren’t trying to be offensive or intrusive, they just want an explanation.
The hard part is sometimes things just straight up do not make sense. My husband and I both grew up going to church, and are first generation pastors in our families. We met in church and have been serving in different ministries, like kids church, student ministries, missions and the worship team for over a decade. I had a very healthy pregnancy, full of exercise, and maybe just a few chili fries here and there. We pay our taxes on time, eat mostly organic, and give charitable contributions ever year. We are all around pretty decent people! Sure we may have cussed a little bit in middle school, but I’m pretty sure there’s grace for those formative years of cursing, listening to Green Day and having an unhealthy obsession with the Spice Girls. This is why it came as a huge shock to not only our family, but also our community of friends that such a tragic circumstance would happen to two very good people.
In the book of John, Jesus and His disciples are out touring and ministering, as they do in the New Testament, and they encounter a man born blind.
It says in John 9:1-3
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
Interesting that the first thing the disciples say is, “Why?” Not, “How sad”, or even, “Let’s heal him!” But, in so many words, the disciples ask, “What is the explanation for this”? Even the disciples who walked intimately with Jesus and knew him better than any other man needed to ask Him for an explanation when it came to difficult circumstances. In my attempt to understand the why’s of our situation with Jane, and confusing moments in life, I’ve had to search out and discover a few truths.
First, on this side of heaven, we may never know specifically why unexplainable things happen, but we do know why generally. Here’s what I mean. I know that we live on a fallen planet. In the beginning of the world Adam disobeyed God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Through his disobedience, sin and death entered the planet. This disobedient action happened because God made us with a free will to love Him and to make our own decisions. He is not a dictator who chooses how and when you should act, or forces you into loving Him. Because of this free will, as long as man exists on earth, dumb decisions will inevitably be made and the ongoing chaos that we see on TV and read about online is not going to go away.
While the decisions of man are unpredictable and often untamed, something to not be misunderstood in all of this, is the character of God. You see, God is unchanging. The Bible tells us that He does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). He is loving. He is a giver, and He is faithful. Faithful even when we are faithless. Most importantly, He does not author sin. He does not author sickness. He did not cause the chaos to happen.
We can try to make sense of the bad by saying it was God’s plan. Christians do this a lot.
“God did this to teach me a lesson!” or “God gave me this sickness because He needed to develop patience in me.”
I won’t presume to know what God is doing in your life, but statements like that may be a bit steep. If God simply needed to teach you patience He probably could’ve just made the line at In&Out long on that particular day. No, God does not cause these things, but remember He is ultimately good so He will work in, through and despite horrible events, even though they are not His original plan for humanity.
For someone who is walking through an unexplainable situation, I understand a generalized answer may be offensive to you. What does a man in a garden thousands of years ago have to do with my lost loved one? My failing marriage? My sick kid?
For those walking through personal tragedy, we don’t want a generalized answer. We want to know “why” and justifiably so.
I asked the same question after we came home from our emergency hospital stay with Jane. She was not brought home healthy, but on several medications and a feeding tube that ran through her nose. I asked it again when her seizures reoccurred at 7 months old. And then again when we were told at 1yr old that Jane was most likely permanently blind, mentally disabled, and developmentally handicapped from her ongoing seizures. More recently we were told that if her seizures ever do go away, it won’t be because she grew out of them, it will be because those parts of her brain have actually died off.
In researching this question for myself, and seeking God and His Word for answers, I realized my closest understanding to my “whys” could be found in 1 Corinthians 13:
Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless…Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Cor. 13:9-10, 12)
It is hard to swallow, but according to this scripture, even my best efforts to figure out why God allows what He allows, is at best, partial. Thank God for intelligent doctors and specialists, but even their knowledge is limited. Our family gives wonderful support and love, but their advice is based on partial understanding.
God, however, is omniscient. Omni, meaning all, and Scient, meaning “knowledge”. Or: Having complete and unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things. This is the very nature of God. To see the whole picture, beginning to end, with no dilution or misunderstanding. He sees everything from a 360 degree, eternal perspective that I cannot comprehend. And me? Well, I am Hilary from Vacaville, CA. with a BA in Communications and a trophy from a 2001 junior high cheerleading competition. I see things in a mortal, finite, and limited scope. And maybe Jack Nicholson had it right and I literally cannot handle the truth.
This whole concept is hard to wrap our minds around. This must be why the Bible tells us in Proverbs 3:5-6 to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him…”
Why shouldn’t I lean on my understanding? Because your understanding is incomplete. So what should I do? Acknowledge Him. Why? Because He is good, He is all knowing, He has unlimited understanding of your situation, and even in your most dire circumstances, He sees you.
The story in John 9 says that Jesus and His disciples were walking along and He saw a blind man sitting on the side of the road. We can read past this and miss a big detail about the character of God.
We have to realize that in Jesus’ time of ministry, people were following him in hoards, trying to ask Him questions, see what He was about and receive His healing. So much so that the Bible often recounts how Jesus had to cross the lake or escape swiftly just to catch a breather from the hundreds and thousands who were following Him.
There is also a story in the Bible about a desperate blind man named Bartimeaus who caught Jesus’ attention by shouting out “Jesus! Have pity on me!” This was not that same blind man. No, this one is on record as being silent. But it says that Jesus saw Him. Amidst the crowds, the confusion, and the noise of the day, Jesus noticed a silent blind man.
There are days with Jane that I am sure not even an Instagram post can fully capture. Moments like when we have to pick her up from laying in her vomit because she’s gagged on her phlegm and can’t move herself. Or administering a medication through tears because while it may help her seizures it has long term devastating side effects that can altar her vision, personality, growth hormones and may cause liver failure.
It was painful this week watching my husband play his guitar over his unresponsive childhood best friend in the hospital. It was painful watching his very faithful, good family have to not only walk through loss, but help walk everyone else through loss as well.
In those painful moments it brings me great comfort to know that even in the quiet of my kitchen or the stress of a midnight vomit clean up, or under the haunting beeping of a vital tracking monitor, Jesus sees.
I don’t know your story, I don’t know what pain you face this holiday season, but you can be sure that Jesus sees you. We may not know exactly why we have to walk through a life of difficult moments, but know that He notices what you’re going through. And Jesus is not unfamiliar with painful circumstances.
Isaiah 53:3-4 tells us that Jesus was, “… despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief…Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down…”
This passage in Isaiah speaks of the burdens that Jesus carried at the cross. Often we think Jesus is only acquainted with our sin and all the things we’ve done wrong that He had to die for. But Jesus did not just die for our sins, He died for our sorrows too. He died carrying the weight of your confusion, your trials, and your desperation, so that you don’t have to.
Jane’s first ever hospital stay was 28 days long. Rich and I would get moments of relief by grabbing dinner or a coffee while a family member stayed by Jane’s side. One particular outting I remember pulling back up to the hospital and telling Rich, “I just don’t know if I can do this anymore.” The weight of a sick child, the monitors and wretched hospital lighting had just about done me in and I was unsure how I was supposed to go back in that building to see my newborn hooked up to IVs and machines that beeped yet another night. Those are the kinds of burdens and weights that we can willingly cast at the feet of Jesus.
I love that that’s exactly how the Bible phrases it, telling us in 1 Peter 5:7, “Throw all your worry on Him, because He cares about you” (ISV)
I may not know why our journey has been as difficult as it has, but I know that He understands. And sometimes the weight is heavy and overwhelming, but He paid for that weight at the cross and I can throw it at His feet. And while we may not have a full understanding on this side of heaven of why, we know who He is, and we know that He sees us, and that is enough to help us keep on going.