Guest Writers, Personal Loss

Finding Faith After Loss

I remember the month my grandmother died well. My grandmother was my best friend. Growing up, I was attached to her hip. We went everywhere together, and I used to beg my parents to drop me off at her house quite frequently. As she got older, she became more recluse, overwhelmed by the anxieties of this world. As her involvement with the outside world decreased, so did her overall quality of life and her health. My last interaction with her alive was the act of bringing her Holy Communion. After she received Jesus, she looked at me with a straight face and asked, “what are you going to say in my eulogy?”  

I didn’t necessarily know how to respond to that question. Afterall, my grandmother was still here, and she said all that she said very cogently. The next day, however, she was unresponsive and checked into hospice care. I remember that night well. We said our goodbyes and headed home. At around 3am, I was awoken by a dream in which I was visited by my grandmother. Not a moment later, I checked my phone, which lit alight with a text. “Non died,” a text from my dad said.  

It was almost as if she came to say goodbye.  

This death shook me to my very core. My grandmother had played such a significant role in my life, and she died right as I was graduating college. To compound things was the fact that I also could not seemingly land my dream job of working for the Church. Suddenly, I was faced with the reality that I felt like I was in a boat in the middle of the ocean—no sail or oar to help guide me.  

In moments like these, it is so possible for God to feel incredibly distant. The key word here is, “feel.” The feeling here should function as a gauge, not a guide, because if we allow the feeling to guide us to actually believe that God is distant, we believe a lie. God is indeed so deeply near, even when He feels distant. Scripture is even littered with images of a God who is ever nearer to the brokenhearted. Even through the feeling of distance, it is God who wipes our tears away and dries our eyes.  

And yet it has become commonplace in the zeitgeist of today’s culture to perceive a God who allows suffering at best as a tyrant and at worst non-existent. The culture would say that if God is all good and all powerful, then suffering, pain, and evil must be incompatible with this kind of God. For Him to allow such atrocities is to admit that He is not actually good.  

What if this were the furthest thing from the truth? What if we needed to reevaluate the meaning of our suffering?  

After my grandmother died, I plunged into a dark depression. I stopped going to church. I isolated myself. I did not feel God’s presence as near, and I struggled to even believe in His power and glory. It was amidst this emotional backdrop that I went to get coffee with a friend of mine who used to work as a Pastor and had a pension for existential philosophy. After getting our Starbucks order of two black cold brew coffees, we walked across the street to Walsh University’s prayer garden.  

It was here that I opened up. “I feel like God is so distant. I can’t feel Him. I don’t even know if He exists.” I wept bitterly. While listening to my grievances, my friend also pointed me toward Scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, directly after being baptized, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the Desert to be tempted (Matthew 4:1). The Scripture literally reads, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”  

It was the Holy Spirit that prompted Jesus to go into the wilderness of the desert. The Desert Place—the place where one cannot feel or see God, is actual a place of profound sacredness.  

Why? To answer this question, we need to look at the prayer of a Christian mystic—Meister Eckhart. Meister Eckhart was a Christian mystic, theologian, and philosopher who famously prayed this prayer—“I pray that God rid me of god.”  

What this prayer means to us as believers is profound. It is possible to put God in a box. What I mean by this is that it is possible to limit God in our lives by virtue of our own imagination of Him. God is beyond our very conception. He is all powerful, almighty, and more than we can ever understand or fathom. In fact, when Job asks God about his own suffering, this is God’s response to Job—“Where were you when I founded the Earth. Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know (Job 38:4-5).” In essence, God is speaking to Job about His grandiosity in relation to Job’s smallness. There is a level to God’s plan which Job simply cannot understand. The box that Job placed God in was smashed by His circumstances.  

Suffering then has the capacity to do two different things to our hearts, dependent on how we posture ourselves to it. It can make us grow bitter and angry at God, dismissing Him, or it can make us look at God in a fresh, new way. It can allow us to see God as bigger than we thought He was. It can allow us to see Him in all of His glory. It can rid us of our false conceptions of who we thought he was. “God rid me of god.”  

The desert places of our life then have a beautiful way of shattering our idols, our false conceptions, and preconceived notions. The desert is a place of burning. The fire that burns here is a holy fire—one that cleanses and purifies how and what we believe. 

If we allow it.  

One could potentially call what I have mentioned above “deconstruction.” Over the past five years, this buzzword has taken on a negative connotation in the Church. I think this negative connotation is a bit misguided, but I understand well why it is there. There are many who recognize that their conception of this almighty God is way too small, and realizing they put the puzzle together wrong, they bash it on the floor, scattering the pieces never to pick up again.  

This in a sense why deconstruction has gotten such a bad rap—simply because those who engage in it do not do it with the Lord. When done by His side and through His Spirit, on the other end of deconstruction is reconstruction. Imagine knocking down an old, dilapidated building to construct something new, modern, and beautiful. That is how deconstruction and reconstruction must be done.  

The Christian band Gable Price and friends has a song, called “heretic,” which speaks to this movement of the heart—“would you offend my mind so that I can know you more, and break my heart so it looks more like yours?” At its very core, suffering offends our mind. It’s tough to wrap oneself around it, and so we run from it.  

And yet in the embrace of suffering and death, one finds new life and resurrection. This is the paradox that is the Christian life. Death becomes the engine of life. To understand such a radical truth is going to take both one’s heart and mind, but also the radical embrace of the Personhood of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is the Person of Jesus who shows us that all suffering is redeemed. He is the Crucified Savior. He takes brokenness and makes it beautiful. The Cross offends in all its beauty. Jesus died a criminal’s death—death swallowed the Lion of Judah whole.  

Yet death did not get the last word.  

The Lion of Judah swallowed the Lion of Death.  

Indeed, at the end of the day, what death and suffering show us is that we have made our God way too small. Indeed, we have allowed death and suffering to limit our God when in reality they do not limit Him whatsoever.  Moreover, we as a society have become so averted to death and suffering that we can hardly talk about them as real issues. 

To overcome, we must begin to recognize that our God is bigger than suffering and death. The Church in the middle ages used to proclaim—“Momento Mori!” “Remember, you will die.” Indeed, when we recognize this, we can, like Saint Paul, embrace death. “I die daily!” Saint Paul exclaims in 1st Corinthians 15:31. Indeed, this embrace of death is not to some nihilistic end, but rather one that is open to the invitation of new life. 

Indeed, the desert is not the place where God abandons us, but rather the place where God draws ever near to us, breathing into each and every one of us new life. May we have the eyes to perceive it. 

Selah.  

Written By: Ryan Bagley | Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary | Director of Youth Ministry

2 thoughts on “Finding Faith After Loss”

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