Tuesday, August 17, 2010

God, Faith, Suicide, Surviving

 Yesterday:  Summer Sky

Over at my other place, I've been writing about the journey of faith and suicide survivorship. I've decided to cross-post one of the entries over here.  But I wanted to add something, which perhaps should go at the end but . . . perhaps at the beginning.

I think it's not just a witness to the experience of the way back that I'm writing.  I think it's a witness to the reality that there is a way back.  It seems important to chronicle, because so many of us never find it.  In  my own family, as I've said recently, the general theological stance is: Too Much Suffering = No God.  Everyone pretty much gave up.  I am surrounded in  my daily life by people for whom God is not of great interest or importance, or who have concluded that God does not find them to be of interest or importance.  When I attend suicide survivors' groups, God almost never comes up.  (Except for sometimes when people say to me, increduously, "You stayed in seminary?"  God seems like a far-off and unreal concept after the suicide of a loved one.) 

And what I think is that most of these folks can't or won't engage with God in their suffering.  Knowing that the response is likely to be silence, they either shrug their shoulders and move on, or resort to the kinds of platitudes that stir thoughts of murder in my own particular heart.  Or maybe they don't know how to start, or have no one with whom to talk honestly, or discover that the answers are even harder than the questions ~ which is not exactly motivating.

So, for what it's worth, a post.  I might have some more to say about where I am now, maybe in a few days. 

I think that it would be fair to say that one of the basic threads of discussion which I have pursued with my spiritual director for the past two years goes something like this:

Where was God?

Not exactly an original question in the wake of catastrophe. But then, originality is not a requirement.

My daughter is driving from North Carolina to Ohio as I write this. I have spent the past 26 years waging a battle against terror whenever any of my children are out of my sight. Having lost a mother, brother, stepmother, and aunt all to sudden deaths at young ages, I have no particular sense of assurance about human safety or well-being. Actually, I have none at all. But I did pretty well for 24 years, and managed to conceal most of my fears and not convey them to my children. And then one night something I wasn't even afraid of came true.

So where was God? I have asked tearfully and furiously and tiredly, over and over and over. Not with respect to myself. I couldn't have cared less about that. With respect to my child.

After about a year, I had reached the point at which I could at least acknowledge the promise Jesus makes in Matthew 28:20: "Lo, I am with you always." And hope that it might be true.

And then it was completely ruined for me by a sermon preached at seminary. It happens that that verse is preceded by one in which Jesus says "Go and make disciples of all people." The sermon was an energetic call to mission, and an argument that making disciples of all people is a predicatory requirement for Jesus' continued presence with us. "No 'Lo' without the 'Go!' " exclaimed the pastor.

I was devastated. I had just barely, gingerly, come to a tentative and fragile confidence that Jesus might have been with and fully present to my son when he died, and this preacher essentially told me: No.

It was months before I set foot in the seminary chapel again.

Now another year has gone by.

And I have slowly and tentatively reached the point at which I can barely grasp the hope that the Jesus who is always present to people at their lowest and most helpless was surely with my child; that the Jesus who always extends healing and wholeness to the sick and broken did the same for him.

I am able to say that largely out of my own experience, out of my gradual waking to the recognition that Jesus has been present to me in so many ways through other people since Josh died. And I am not nearly as broken as Josh was. So my only conclusion can be that Jesus is even more interested in him.

I know that some folks are wondering why I am writing this. I sometimes wonder myself. Shouldn't I, as a spiritual director and almost-pastor, be offering emphatic assurance in the hope of the Resurrected Christ?

I think it's important, even if only in this little-read blog, to witness to the genuine experience of the most horrific kinds of loss. The path to a renewed and confident faith is a steep and rocky one, with many slides backward over rough gravel and gnarly roots. Pretending otherwise is of no help to anyone.


  1. You are speaking the unspeakable truth with amazing love. Your last paragraph is more likely to reveal where real truth is planted than any well-meaning blanket answer or short cut. Thank you very much for sharing the sacred gift of your journey.

  2. Robin, although my grief, pain and struggles these last few years are different than yours, I think, like you, Jesus/God has a hold of me and won't let go. There is no other explanation for why I still find the courage and the strength and the faith to get in the pulpit or stand at the altar and pray. So, if God/Jesus has this hold on me, on you, then yes so much more so on Josh.

  3. Oh, Robin, this post is so beautiful. I literally did a sharp intake of breath and my eyes started tearing up when I read the paragraph about how you've come to see that Jesus has been with you through all of this. That's so meaningful to me, and I'm not quite sure why it touched me down to my core. But it did,and I'm grateful to you.

  4. I've read this several times now, and every time I am more deeply moved and inspired.

  5. Robin, it truly is beautiful. I've featured it at the RevGals Wednesday blog...just to let you know.

  6. Thanks, Mary Beth. Although if I'd known you were going to do that, I might have done a better job with the editing. Or, you know, any job at all. :)

  7. It is just right, which is to say profound. I am leaving my marker on Holy Ground.


  8. Last year, I presided at the funeral of a young mother who was killed by her husband, who then committed suicide. It can be damned tough to find God in the middle of the pain that encompasses us at times.

    It saddens--and yes, angers--me to know that there are preachers who put strings on God's abiding with us.

    May you continue to feel the unconditional love of your Savior on your journey.

  9. I'm glad you tell the truth--it makes your words trustworthy. If I hear from you, "Where is God?", and later hear, "Jesus has been present", it gives me the best kind of credible hope. I don't think you can really have the latter without the former.

    Then there is this verse, in honor of your discouraging seminary professor: "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to be, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Rom 8:39 It hinges on nothing but His love.

    May He be ever more near and comforting in the weeks to come.
    Much love and hugs, Karen

  10. Thank you, Robin, this has been helpful in more ways than I can try to articulate... bless you!

  11. Your writing is truly shattering--in the very best sense of the word, because there are so many unexamined assumptions, easy answers and defensive walls that need to be shattered. It's just that the cost is so horrendously high for you. Still thinking of, praying for you through these days. (0)

  12. hoping aug 2nd Infuse video post might be a blessing to you , Robin ~
    just click on the Infuse to link

  13. unfortunately, the link worked while in edit mode, but doesn't now, so here's the url :
    http://infuse.posterous.com/ and it's aug 2nd
    jn mk macmillan's video story on death & love..
    shalom ~

  14. Robin, thank you. I'm catching up on some RevGal reading and came back across this. It resonates with me.

    A few weeks out from my son's suicide intervention and hospitalization, as I was trying to get caught up in my seminary classwork (Doctrine, in fact) I was called to preach at a local church for Valentine's Day. Wrestling with what God's love looks like - giving up a son - was the only thing that kept me sane as we mourned the near-loss of a child ... I can't even begin to imagine how hard this has been for you. I'll be praying for God's grace and presence to be extravagantly thick in your life day by day.