Theology

Tragedy and Trust: Experiencing the Death of a Child and the Faithfulness of God

What do you do when you lose a child? How do you continue to trust God and grief the apple of your eye? This is the testimony of a dear friend who lost a child in a tragic accident, yet continues to be shown how God is still worthy to be trusted-even in the darkest moments of life. If you are grieving or know of someone who is, please read and share.

After the funeral and commotion calmed down, we were left to deal with our loss and grief.  We had the impossible task of finding a way to live without our 7 year old daughter, Amanda.  We were devastated and in shock. We knew our lives would never be the same.

We were about to begin an incredible journey where we would find out the depth of God’s love for us through our suffering.  In the beginning we just cried all the time.  We could hardly sleep, work or eat. Our bodies ached and a feeling of dread and fear overwhelmed us.  We needed to feel like someone understood the enormity of our loss.  But who could?  We found this understanding in the Word of God. We would sit on the couch for hours reading to each other.  We found so many verses about weeping and were assured that God was aware of our grief.  As I read the Psalms it seemed that my very thoughts had been recorded.

Ps.42:3 My tears have been my food day and night

Ps.6:6 I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears

I found in Psalm 56:8 that God records my lament and lists my tears on a scroll.  In another version it says he collects my tears in a bottle.  It was comforting to know that my tears were that precious to him. He understood that it would take many tears to mourn the loss of one so dear.   Every possible emotion was expressed for us in His Word and we were comforted by this affirmation of our feelings.  We were assured that even our physical and mental suffering were perfectly normal .

As we read, we also noticed that not only were our feelings affirmed, but after almost every verse about suffering there was the promise of deliverance. As I read the following verses, I believed in that hope even though in my mind it seemed impossible.

Ps 128: 5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

Ps 30:5 Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning

Revelation 21:4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

As the days wore on I really felt as if I was in a deep dark pit. So, I began to find all the verses I could about the pit.  Sure enough there were a lot of them, and once again I knew I was in good company. I would often use such verses as my own personal prayer.

From Ps. 88: 1-6, I would pray:

O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

Actually I didn’t really mind the pit, because it actually seemed an appropriate place to be considering what I was going through. And then I began to feel a strange sense a peace in the pit, and I realized that God was there with me.  I was aware that his Word was being fulfilled in my life.  He was not going to forsake me, he was always there. What a relief!

You know when you’re in the pit, you can learn a lot.  I was free from all the worldly distractions and was totally focused on God.  I couldn’t see in the darkness, but I could hear the voice of God and feel His presence.  He was my refuge and underneath were his everlasting arms (Deut. 33:27).  I was in his hand and for the moment it was enough.

There were so many things that God revealed to me in the months ahead as I continued to pray and depend on Him. I began to comprehend the enormity of God.  These were not new revelations, just new to me.  He was actually showing me the attributes of Himself that I had believed in but not experienced.  As time went on, different subjects would fill my mind and I would search the scriptures for what God had to say. 

One of these was heaven.  I had a deep desire to know about the place where Amanda was.  I felt that I now had a treasure in heaven and that was where my heart was (Matt. 6:21).  I had never really anticipated heaven before because I had so many blessings on earth.  I now had a deep longing for heaven, I knew the first person I wanted to see was Amanda, but the more the Lord showered his love upon me, the stronger my desire became to see Him.  He showed me that Jesus was my first treasure.  For without his death on the cross for our sins, there would be no eternal life, no heavenly home for Amanda or anyone else.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  Death had brought the glory of heaven closer to me.

At times I would ask God “why”. To answer these questions God showed me his sovereignty.  I can’t say he answered all my why’s but because he has shown me who he is I no longer need to know. I know that His thoughts are not my thoughts nor his ways my ways. (Is.55:8). His will is perfect.  He has reasons far beyond our capability to understand.  The fact that I can’t understand doesn’t change his love any more than not understanding computers changes how they work.  God is always in control and he doesn’t make mistakes.  I know that Satan didn’t snatch Amanda away when God wasn’t looking. 

For God says I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal. (Deut.32:39).

 Job said the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away (Job 1:21)

And in Psalm 139:16, All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

I can now say that whatever God wants is what I want because I know his plan for me is the very best. His plan for Amanda is also perfect.  

Jesus said “Let Amanda come to me.”  (Matt.19:14).

Although I miss her tremendously I no longer want to hinder her from going to Jesus.  I trust him completely to care for her.

When I left the “why” questions I then asked God how am I to live with this loss.  To think of living without Amanda for the rest of my life was incomprehensible and painful.  He gave me a glimpse of his eternal perspective and I realized that I needed to view life from his perspective not my own.  His timing is so different from ours

Ps. 90:4 says that a thousand years in his sight is like a day that has just gone by

There are many verses that talk of life being just a breath or a moment. I began to think not in the years without Amanda but just today. I found like Paul that though outwardly I was wasting away, He was renewing me day by day (2 Co. 4:16).  God gives me his power one day at a time and I am able to do the impossible.  God sees everything at once, past, present and future. When I view death by itself I can feel depressed, but when I see death and resurrection together as God does, I find joy.

One of the most amazing things that I found from experiencing his constant presence, and Word in my life was that He was increasing my faith.  People were under the mistaken impression that I had somehow stored up this faith.  They would say that they couldn’t have the faith I had.  I would say yes you can because you have the same God I have.  Although I had stored his Word in my heart I didn’t have the faith I needed to deal with my suffering until  he gave it to me.  He seems to give in direct proportion to the need. 

Deut. 13:3 says that The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 

I think this is for our benefit not his. He already knows our heart.  Although I always felt that I trusted the Lord, I never was really sure because my life easy.  I often wondered if I would still love God and have faith in the tough times or would I turn away. It seems easy to trust when everything is going well.  But I found it was easy to trust in the hard times too, because I knew there was only one who could help me.  I could relate to a passage just this year in John where Jesus asks his disciples if they are going to leave him.  I love Peter’s response when he says to Jesus “To Whom would we go?” (John 6:68) I know now without any doubt that He is my Lord in the good times and Lord in the hard times. 

I must tell you that there have even been times when I tried to give up but God would not let me go. It was like I was climbing a rock mountain holding onto the rope of faith, but when I let go I found that God was still pulling me up by his cord of love.  Of course, this encouraged me to take hold of my faith again.

In addition to God’s Word and His Presence there was still another way that God showed his love to me.  This was through the support and prayers of other believers.  We received cards, letters, hugs, prayers from hundreds of people.  We don’t have that many close friends but they came to us through the extended body of Christ.  We would hear from total strangers who had heard of our grief through friends. We were amazed that they felt compelled to comfort us.  I know that many of you in this room prayed for us and we were keenly aware of the powerful effect these prayers were having on our lives.  So often at bible study or church, I would hear just the words of comfort and encouragement that I needed.  Many times tears would stream down my face, not from sorrow but from gratitude. We needed so much, and God provided more than we could have ever asked or imagined.  I pictured each prayer and act of kindness as a patch of love sent to mend my broken heart.  There was a huge hole and it would need many patches.  Each one was so precious and once again I was awed and humbled by the length to which God would go to  ove and comfort us.

There was also a group of women who came to me and told me that they wanted to commit to pray for me and support me in a special way.  In addition, they said they wanted to meet with me weekly to pray with me as well as allow me to express my feelings of grief.  I felt very apprehensive about this.  I think this was partly because I knew I would have to be very vulnerable and honest.  No room for denial – no faking.  It was difficult for me to admit that I was going to need that much help. Perhaps even now there was some pride.  I knew that I had a heavy burden and was filled with pain and anguish but I thought it absurd to ask my friends to share this with me.  It seemed almost cruel.  It was bad enough that I had to suffer.  Why inflict it on others unnecessarily?  I politely declined their offer.  However, these women had a calling from God and they boldly approached me again.  They came back and basically said that they were going to do it because I needed it.  I’m forever grateful that they persisted and did not let me say no to God.  It has been such a great sharing and prayer time and we have seen God’s glory through it.  God answered our prayers in amazing ways and healing was evident.  When I read

Ecc.7:2 states, It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.

I realized that it was wrong of me to deny them entrance to my house of pain.  I might have saved them from some of the pain but I would have also denied them the glory and blessing of God.

These same women called me everyday, came by and ate with me.  They wouldn’t call and ask me what I needed because I really couldn’t think.  Rather they would come by, open refrigerator and say you need this, this, this, and I’m going to go get it for you.  I literally could not go to the store for the longest time because I would break down.  Just seeing the cereal that Amanda used to love was unbearable. They helped in every area from meals to carpool.  And I’m not talking about days or weeks.  This went on for months. So when people would see me out and would marvel at how well I was doing, I was frustrated because I couldn’t explain everything that God was doing behind the scenes to make it possible. Our prayer group still meets once a week although it has been expanded so that the focus is not just on me. I had no choice but to bear my pain, but they volunteered to share it with me at great personal cost.

I was amazed to find that in this sorrowful experience I developed the same feeling of joy that I had had on my mission trip.  It was baffling to me for the one was a happy mountaintop experience while the other was grief in the valley.  I began to understand fully the saying “Joy is not the absence of sorrow, but the presence of God.”  This is why I can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Co. 6:10) because the joy of the Lord is my strength (Neh 8:10). I know without a doubt that he will always be with me, he loves me, and that everything that happens is for my eternal good.

2 Co. 4:17 states that our troubles are light and momentary and are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

I cling to this promise and pray that will I not waste my suffering and miss the glory that God wants to give me.  I want to always remember what the Lord has shown me in the darkness.  If not for God, I would have perished in my affliction. He has set eternity in my heart (Ecc.3:11). I know that I can experience joy no matter what my circumstances for his grace is sufficient (2 Co. 12:9). There is a song that beautifully expresses my thoughts.

 Turn your eyes upon Jesus/Look full in his wonderful face/ and the things of earth will grow strangely dim/ in the light of his glory and grace.

When I was asked by someone to give my testimony, they realized that my grief process was not complete and they were right.  There are days that I fall back to the pit.  This is usually because I am trying to do too much on my own power.  It reminds me to stay dependent and obedient. I no longer fear the darkness, I simply wait for the sure deliverance I know God will give.  I do not despair when I am weak for I have seen how his power is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Co. 12:9).

I would like to close by reading Ps.116.  I used to read it and long for the day when I could claim it as my own song of thanks.  That day has come.

Psalm 116:1-9:

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, save me!” The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

The Rev. Dr. Nicole Foster the T.V. Host and founding minister of The Hippie Theologian. She holds a Doctor of Ministry from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, a Master of Divinity from Redeemer Theological Seminary and a B.A. in History from Southern Methodist University. She’s an ordained Anglican minister and teaches Old Testament for various organizations. She loves to hike, camp, make organic soap, and be a beach bum as often as possible.

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