Today I want to give you one of the sweetest, most liberating gifts I’ve been given during the past five years as I’ve learned to live with the death of Ethan, the hardships that arose from his journey and now the acceptance of my son Bodey’s rare muscular dystrophy and many, many things in between. This gift has taken me from bitter to peaceful; from imprisoned to free. I want to give you permission to wrestle with your faith. Whatever deep, burdensome questions plague your heart, today you have the liberty to ask them.
When hard things happen to us, as they inevitably do, it’s natural and essential to ask “why?”.
It’s okay to ask “why me?”.
It’s okay to scream to the heavens “this is not fair!”.
But please don’t stop there.
Let your heart’s questions spill out.
Don’t push them away.
Rather, invite them in.
A few months after Ethan died an acquaintance suggested, in explanation for Ethan’s death, that God said “no” to us. This comment haunted me and added to my already seething fury. I could not reconcile Ethan’s death with a loving God. I could not reconcile his profound suffering, all the prayers implored and the catastrophic ending.
Speechless, I could not even react to the comment. While this idea of God saying “no” was beyond hurtful, it was actually a gift since it catapulted me to facing my heart’s deepest questions. Nothing is wasted. Not even this painful comment.
Shortly after that time, my husband Erik and I met Tom Zuba. He was the first person who audibly gave me permission to ask the question “What is God?” He calls it one of Life’s Fundamental Questions. I had to add on “Who is God?” for I had to understand the character and essence of this being. Tom was not the only person who gave me space to question. My parents, husband, siblings and friends were in many senses questioning too. And as I whispered my questions they responded, "yes me too, I wonder that too".
Does prayer change the mind of God?
Could I have done something different or better to save Ethan? Is there a prayer I could have prayed? Or relationship I was supposed to repair? Did I miss something?
Does God love me? Does he love Ethan?
Why does God allow so much suffering? After all, I watched many children and families suffer, not just mine.
Is there a Heaven? If so where is it and what is it like?
I could not come alive until I wrestled earnestly with my faith. I would not be free until I had a knock down drag out fight with God and dismantled who and what I thought God was. I could not believe in God until I considered the idea that maybe there was no God. I needed to let my anger run its course. I needed to sit in a place of total disbelief to be able to enter a place of belief. I could not be free and loved until I wrestled hard with all the beliefs and ideas that had filled my heart and mind up until that point.
If I’m honest, I deeply desired to find God again, in a new way. I wanted to figure out who Jesus really is. But I felt so rejected, so abandoned, so angry I did not know how to fit it all in the same space. Even in my deepest place of question, there was a part of my heart that was not completely dead. After all, I was gifted with the most fascinating son Ethan who loved me fully. If anyone was the personification of God’s love, it was him. He gave love freely. He was full of joy on the roughest of days. He held my hand and told me thousands of times, often at the most random times, he loved me.
Your inner freedom is a most worthy pursuit. Free people are better parents, better citizens, better friends and can step into their life’s purpose more readily. What most people don’t understand or acknowledge is that freedom requires hard, hard work. And most people are afraid to do it.
The conduit to freedom is wrestling. It’s digging in and asking the tough questions. The ones you are afraid to ask. The ones you might be judged for asking. It’s putting all your beliefs on the table that bring pain or angst to your heart. It’s rending and releasing each question and wonder.
If you are struggling with your faith, wrestle with it. If you are struggling with your self-worth wrestle with it. If you full of anger, wrestle with it. If you are so sad you don’t think you can go another day, examine every belief that makes you feel that depth of grief. Acknowledge each belief, each question that is festering in your heart.
Now I must add, there is a difference between wrestling and railing. Railing is against, wrestling is with. Wrestling means the end goal is figuring it all out. Railing means the end goal is more anger and angst. Wrestle, stop railing.
For me, wrestling with my faith has been my avenue to freedom. Ironically Ethan’s suffering gave me this gift. I still wrestle, but not in the way I used to. I’ve moved into an open space of fullness, a well of peace whose core is love. This place is a quenched thirst after a long journey. The fruit of suffering, and wrestling, is freedom.
So today I invite you to wrestle and ask. It’s okay. God is okay with your questions. God is love and relationship, and in that space there is ample room for your questions and Y-O-U.
P.S. I've been reading and highly recommend Wm. Paul Young's new book Lies We Believe About God. It will certainly give you pause for thought.