Saturday, January 23, 2010


"i think it's because there's electricity under the ground and the static from my hair is attracted to the electricity," is luke's explanation for why a helium balloon, when rubbed on your head, will stick to the carpet instead of rising to the ceiling.

"i already got rid of all my food and now i'm working on getting rid of the germs," says luke, in explanation for hours and hours of dry heaves during a recent bout with a stomach flu.

we chuckle when our kids use what information they have to explain things they observe and come up with such creative--however implausable--explanations. but don't we do the same thing?

"God gives you only as much as you can handle," followed by the implied, if not verbalized, "so you must be very strong and able to handle more than most people."

"God is teaching you something/refining you/using you to teach something."

"one day you'll look back at this and laugh."

"it's for the best/better off this way."

of course, my own experience of losing a child colors my collection of the explanations i have been offered, but we all do it to each other in the face of all sorts of inexplicable griefs, be it death or divorce or miscarriage or job loss or any number of other terrible things we face. we all do it.

because, just like luke who takes what little information he has about static electricity and helium and the way he knows them to behave, we too take what little we know and try to make sense of what we observe. in my case, many well-intentioned people who know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and who knew that sam and i would survive caring for and losing eliza put two and two together and concluded that eliza was given to us because we were somehow more equipped to deal with her life and death than would be another family.

pardon me, but that's crap. (and hear me say this, please, if you have ever made this comment to me or to anyone else: the well-meant intention was heard and received as love. absolutely, unquestionably. thank you for loving me enough and being brave enough to want to say something, and thank you for the compliment implied in your gesture.)

but just as luke's dry heaves had very little to do with his stomach trying to rid itself of germs, so were eliza's life and death not some cosmic consequence proportional to the strength of my family. God knows better than that. which is not to say that God doesn't use stories like eliza's to teach people things, and no one more than her family. and of course, you may someday look back and laugh at a terrible situation with a friend. maybe it is for the best that you lost your job or had to move out of your house. but i refuse to believe in what one friend calls "eliza the concept," that is, that eliza was an object lesson sent to our family so that we and a whole bunch of other people could learn some stuff. bull-loney (everybody loves raymond, anyone?). it's just not true.

eliza was a person with a purpose, yes. but that purpose is so much more than we can cobble together from our feeble understanding of a few things we observe. can you neatly summarize the purpose of your healthy child? i can no more tell you the reason for luke than i can for eliza. can i tell you some lessons i've learned from him? sure. is God using very specific parts of his little personality to refine me as i parent him? of course. did i reach the "one day" when i could look back at his nearly-life-ending 30-minute-nap phase and laugh? sure (although some days it still makes me shudder six years later, i must confess). but none of those things, nor the summary of those things, is the reason for luke.

but what to do? we're wired to search for reasons. indeed, God gave us the very brains that are made for such questions, such searches for purpose. some of us like to think--myself among them--that the answer is just to store up all these questions for that someday when we get to heaven and can rattle of the list of why-why-whys and get all our answers. what a relief it will be to finally know it all! but isn't that the trap that adam and eve fell into, too, when the serpent promised them they would be like God if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? didn't they want all the answers just like God had? (oh, how frustrating! what questions did they even have in their perfect prelapsarian world? fools!) as for me, when i covet all the answers and want to rush to get to God so i can tick off my whole list of whys, i'm reminded of c.s. lewis's answer, which i much prefer: in the great divorce (yup, still hung up on it, so i still think you should go read it if you haven't!), when one character (referred to as the "big ghost") arrives on the cusp of heaven and is met by an already-resident who was once upon a time a murderer, the cusp-dweller is up in arms and ultimately refuses to go, determined as he is for heaven to be a place where justice is finally served.

"What I'd like to understand," said the Ghost, "is what you're here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I've been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigstye all these years."
"That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is all over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it."
"No need to bother about it? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"No, not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what it did for me. And that was how everything began."
"Personally," said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, "personally, I'd have thought you and I to be the other way round. That's my personal opinion. [...] I'm asking for nothing but my rights. [...] I got to have my rights, same as you, see?"
"Oh, no. It's not so bad as that. I haven't got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You'll get something far better. Never fear."

something far better. i find myself hoping that, rather than the answers to all my feeble human questions, when i get into the presence of God, i'll get something far better, something that erases the fact that my questions ever even existed, something that erases the fact that eliza ever suffered, that relationships ever failed, that people ever hurt each other, that expectations were never met, that people died or lost or left or failed. all of which misses the mark, of course, of solving the problem of all the questions that still rattle around in my head today...but to imagine something better than answers? i can at least rest on that.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9


Patricia Berman said...

Your quote at the end is my daily prayer! I think rather than God gives you what you can handle, He helps you handle what he gives you. Oh...and I have so many questions!

Laura L. said...

It's so distressing how we humans feel compelled---obligated even---to say something in these situations. As if we could actually put into words something we cannot begin to understand... Why can we not sit silently with a heartbroken, struggling friend; hold hands; and just let that be whatever comfort it can be? It's like silence is against our very nature, and we must fill it with words, no matter how empty and ridiculous (i.e., crap!) they turn out to be. Like you, I look forward to a day when I will not be driven to question again and again these untenable events that happen to my loved ones and to me, trying to explain things that simply cannot be explained. It will be such a relief to let God turn off that drive and fill my head and heart with the contentment only His heavenly presence will provide.

Love you.

Rebecca said...

It's funny how we turn such things around as that concept-- He'll never give us more than we can handle. I think that's enough said. Why think we can look at it the other way and "know" that this event, this suffering, this loss must be what we can handle? I don't think the verse is meant to be thought of that way. I think it's meant to give us the peace of trusting him and not, as you say so eloquently here, to try to figure things out, or even to protect ourselves. We want to understand why, and the answer is always only more of Himself, which is enough. Or will be.