|My daughter died of cancer at 8 years old, and I am blessed.
Excuse me? Yes, you read that right. This statement appears to be oxymoronic, to be oil and water. Delusional. After all, the loss of Daisy Love drove me to spend some serious time questioning. Why, God? Why a broken world? Why me? But I never got the answers.
It really is a long story on how I came to this conclusion and it’s taken me a couple of years of sweat and tears. But the story is a good one, and for today, we can start where I started not long after my devastating loss: perspective. Allow me to pull you in to a story that began to break open my tightly closed heart. It involves some excitable bearded men and God made flesh. And it rocked me.
You know, Jesus’ disciples crack me up. They seem like my kind of people. They were working folk, sinners, a brotherhood, and — well, let’s just say they were keeping it country. I love how they could be so teachable one moment, learning from the lips of the Messiah about His coming suffering, death, and resurrection — basically the most pressingly important thing — and then the next moment they were pulling Jesus aside to ask for special recognition and honor, for their definition of blessing.
“Sure, Jesus, that’s nice. Now, back to me.” (See Mark 10:33–37.)
Really, guys? Unbelievable!
But aren’t we just the same? We tend to nod and say “yeah, yeah” to so many of the most important things He wants to tell us. Then, as quickly as possible, we try to refocus the conversation on “what really matters”: our own wants and desires. It’s easy to point the finger, to laugh out loud at Peter’s foibles and James’s and John’s zealous and thunderous proclamations, but that is you and that is me. We are the same. We see things through an unfocused, muddied lens, not as they really are.
Jesus is so loving, so warmhearted and tender. I always imagine Him gently guiding me to a better place after I’ve failed to see clearly: “Maybe if you feel like it, Kate, or feel led, or feel called, would you want to journal about seeing things from God’s perspective, possibly looking just a teeny bit past your own? Only if that feels right to you while you’re having your fair-trade coffee and gluten-free croissant. And yes, I’ll be your boyfriend and hold your hand and affirm your musings while you fill the pages of leather journals with the incredibly important feelings from your heart.”
Or sometimes, I imagine Him good-naturedly shaking His shoulder-length, naturally highlighted hair, thinking, Aren’t they cute? Aw, they’ll learn. Just kids. Then He picks us up and swings us around, never wrinkling or spoiling His white robe and light blue sash.
But as I’ve dug more deeply into Scripture, I’ve found it to be a different story. In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus again predicted His death and resurrection to the disciples. Peter took Jesus aside (first red flag — I mean, who takes Jesus aside?) and reprimanded Him (what?!), saying, “No way! Heaven forbid that this should happen.” Peter was filtering the terrifying but lifesaving words of Jesus through his own lens — his finite, natural, man lens. Can’t say that I blame him, by the way. It would also seem to me that the torture and murder of the Son of Man would be the most deplorable of things to happen; but the well-intentioned Peter was about to get the smack down from the gentle Lamb of God.
“Get away from me, Satan!” Jesus said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” — Matthew 16:23
Um, did Jesus just call Peter “Satan”? It seems that my imaginary pushover Jesus is just that: imaginary. This was no wink of the eye, no waving away of errant thinking, but a solid rebuke. I mean, getting called a jerk is a bummer, and liar or thief or tramp is never good. But Satan?
Jesus meant business. He was about to do the hardest thing in the history of the universe, to embrace pain and suffering and hardship, and He didn’t need any of His buddies tempting Him to do otherwise.
Just like Peter, we flinch at the slightest prospect of discomfort. We’ve been conditioned to expect ease as a sign of God’s blessing, but that is not how Jesus would have us live. It’s not how he lived. The last time I checked, He came to give life — abundant life — but maybe that looks a little different from what we thought.
I need this new vision; I need this rebuke. I still find myself momentarily lost in memories driven mercilessly by my darkest moments, when my tongue is thick in my mouth as if numbed by novocaine and my heart is lodged firmly in my throat. I relive the long nights at the hospital in flashes, the burning sensation of fear taking over my skin. My eyes prickle, face hot, when I think of Daisy’s sunken eyes, her weak body, her inability to lift her head. And I feel the emptiness in my body caused by the moment when her lifeless shell was taken from my arms and left them hanging like an old rusty swing, nodding in the breeze to no one in particular.
That is my life. And it feels anything but blessed.
I think the core of how we define blessing, is how we feel the love of God — tangibly with the way our lives shake out, with what we receive. If life goes well for me, then I am blessed. God must love me. But if things don’t go according to plan, suddenly I am thrown for a loop. Doesn’t God promise to care for us? Isn’t His love shown most clearly when He blesses His children with good things?
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells us not to worry, convinces us we are far more valuable than the birds God provides for, lacking nothing. He promises that if God cares so wonderfully for the wildflowers, He will certainly care for us. And by the way, why do we have so little faith?
I’ll tell you why: because Daisy died.
My daughter endured brutal sickness and died a tragic death. Because God allowed so much tragedy in my family. Because it appeared He didn’t hear our cries, because He turned His face from our deepest desire. Because my sparrow fell, and He didn’t seem to notice. That’s why I have so little faith. That’s why it’s difficult to believe I am valuable to God.
But here’s where I’m wrong. Here’s where I have exchanged what I see dimly for what God is crystal clear about. Here’s where I shake up our Western understanding of blessing.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we tie God’s love directly to the tangible presence of what we consider to be good things, but what if His care for us means something else entirely?
What if my life turning out exactly the way I wanted it to doesn’t equal God loving me? I didn’t feel God’s love for a while in my grief, but it was there. I had just forgotten the truth.
I was so irked by Paul and his “all things work together” spiel? I was so busy asking Paul snarky questions that I missed how he himself had a tough row to hoe. Mere days after his conversion on the road to Damascus, he started receiving death threats. In the coming years, he was beaten with rods, whipped, given thirty-nine lashes five different times, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned. He knew hunger, thirst, heat, and cold, faced dangers in cities, deserts, and on seas. Paul knew suffering.
Yet he wrote this in Romans 8:35, Romans 8:38-39 (emphasis mine):
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?.. I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Exhale… The love of God is outside of circumstances. I had believed a lie.
Adapted by Kate Merrick from her new book And Still She Laughs: Defiant Joy in the Depths of Suffering, copyright Kate Merrick.