‘When you bury your child,’ he hesitated, his voice full of emotion,
‘you had better know who your God is.’ Julian had recently buried his firstborn son who was only a year old. As I took it all in, my mind was not able to comprehend the pain. I found myself fighting back tears as I imagined him at his son’s grave. He continued, ‘you know those words that Jesus spoke in the garden of Gethsemane – not my will, but your will be done?’[i] I nodded in recognition and he went on, ‘well, they have taken on a new meaning for me.’ I knew immediately what Julian meant; they were profound and challenging words. In these desperate days Julian had cried out, as Jesus did in the garden before his grueling death. I asked myself the question, in the same circumstances could I cry out, not my will but your will be done?
One of my greatest fears is loosing a child. It is the single most haunting factor in my life. There have been times, especially when my children have been ill that my heart has been consumed with the fear of their death. This fear savagely gnaws away at the flesh on my bones. It muddles my mind. I am unable to think straight. In one sense it is totally natural for a mother to worry about her children. My grandmother once said, ‘once a mother, always a mother, you will never stop being concerned for your children even when they are adults.’ Yes a certain amount of concern and care is totally normal, after all God made mothers to be nurtures, to be carers. A healthy concern is not what I am talking about; I am talking about a creeping fear that takes over. It moves in, captures my heart and mind, and sets up a tyranny. A fear that consumes me and rules me, a fear that predicts the future and imagines dead children. I hear Jesus’ rebuke, ‘why are you so afraid, do you still have no faith?’[ii] This guttural fear is a failure to recognize whose hands I am in and who my God is. This has been something that I have had to bring before God over and over again, asking him to show me the way out of a life of fear and into a life of faith.
How God has shown me out of a life of fear and into a life of faith
This is the story of how God has answered that prayer through his word, through my experiences with my own children, and also through the pain and suffering of dear friends. The Lord has graciously opened my eyes to a couple of truths that have helped me and calmed my fears. I wanted to write these things down for fear that they would be lost, but in many ways I was hesitant to write, this is a weighty subject that requires a great deal of care. I have never lost a child who has been born and whom I knew intimately, that has not happened to me yet. It has happened to others, but not to me. Other women have lost children and I have met a few, I want to thank those women for what they have taught me. My dear mother-in-law lost a child and I have seen and observed her grief.
‘I don’t know what it feels like to lose a child,’ I confessed to Adri as we spoke about the loss of her husband and baby in a car accident, that she and her other daughter survived. ‘You are not meant to know what it feels like,’ she said in a reassuring voice. Not everyone buries a child, but I live in dread of it, as I am sure many mothers do.
The first truth given: God is in control not me!
My pilgrimage into motherhood began 11 years ago. A boy was born full of life and energy, he is still like that. As the euphoria withered, I was left wondering if my life would ever be the same again. The answer is no, everything had changed forever, like my grandmother had warned. With my boy came 24-hour responsibility, 7 days a week, I was never off duty and I was in over my head. I was the one who had to make sure this small boy survived. I was not the kind of mother that had many dreams for what my precious little one would achieve or become, I took it one day at a time. The sheer weight of his survival, making sure that this boy lived another day was enough for me. Of course the burden of the life and death of your child is too heavy for any mother to bear. My children came from my body and in that sense I gave them life. But not ultimate life! As Adri has encouraged me to think – I am the mother of Joshua, Lola and Tilly, but God is their creator. It was God who knitted them together in my womb[iii], who gave them life and breathe and who still gives them life and breathe today. Life is God’s to give and to take[iv]. I know that He has ordained the days of each of my children, He knows how many days they will walk on this earth and He knows when they will depart. A significant part of my fear is due to giving myself too much sovereignty and control. I think I can plan, I can prevent, I can take precautions, and I can keep them safe. But I am not in control, God is. I cannot control circumstances and events, diseases or parasites, or the intricacies of my children’s growing bodies, the breath that flows and the blood that pumps. I cannot control every stumble, trip or fall, or that freak accident that may end life. Adri shared a verse of scripture with me, ‘who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life.’[v] Then she added, ‘I realized no amount of worrying could have added one minute extra to Micaela’s life, because we have no control over life or death’. With the knowledge of God’s sovereign control I can rest, God knows all things before they happen. I can place my children in the care of their Heavenly Father who loves them, with a more perfect love than I will ever be capable of giving.
The second truth given: my children are not mine to keep
My little girl lay beside me on my bed gasping for air, she had a nasty virus that was making it difficult for her to catch breath, I could see her abdomen indent, struggling to get air, her breathing was hard and labored. This had happened before but I was still not prepared. I did all I could and nebulizer her hoping to ease her breathing, but she still struggled. I lay praying beside her, ‘Lord please do not take my daughter, Lord please let me keep her, Lord please give her breath’. At that moment I realized that she was not mine to keep, but that she was God’s child to take. It dawned in my mind as the rising sun illuminates. God had given her to me to look after; He was the one who gave her life and breath. She is not mine to keep. She is His creation, and He can do with her what He will. The other question that presented itself in stark daylight was, do I beg God as much for my children to have eternal life as I do for them to have physical life? That night was a test for me, would I be prepared to accept God’s will if it meant the death of my daughter? Would I give up Lola like Abraham gave up Isaac? Could I say ‘Lord have your way!’
I asked Adri how she coped with loosing one child and still having a living daughter. I asked her if she lived in fear, wanting to protect her child at every turn. She looked me straight in the eyes and told me that early on in her grieving process the Lord had given her a verse in Matthew, ‘whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’[vi] The message was both clear and challenging. I realized again that a significant part of my fear was due to needing my children to live more than I needed my God. It was as if my life and faith depended on my children living healthy, long lives. My adoration and dependence had become misplaced. May my heart turn towards the Lord and say – ‘There is nothing on earth I desire more than you’.[vii]
May I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave himself for me…
This takes me back to those words that Julian spoke of, the words that Jesus spoke in the garden. ‘Not my will but your will be done!’ Jesus prayed this prayer knowing that He was about to suffer and die, and yet knowing that this was his Father’s will. Jesus submitted and accepted the Father’s will because he ultimately trusted that the Father meant it for good. Jesus suffering was not meaningless, because through the death of Jesus eternal life came. I often ask myself if I can truly say in my heart ‘Lord not my will, but your will be done!’ Jesus could say those words, just like Julian could say those words, because they know that God is good, and that his plans are perfect, even if His plans include suffering and pain. After all of this has been said, how can I not entrust my life, and the life of my children to a God who has not held back anything from me? He has sacrificed the life of His one and only beloved SON, He has given His child for my sake and the sake of my children. God’s love is so overwhelming, that He was prepared to give up His SON so that I may go free. May I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.[viii]
The Giants who have walked out in faith before me…
I want to thank the friends who have walked out in faith before me, those who have taught me so much and those who have shown me that when it comes to the life and death of their children, their faith, reliance and acceptance of God’s will is resolute. I thank each family for the great encouragement you have been to me over the last year, and I want you to know how the Lord has used you all to strengthen my faith and acceptance of his will.
Thank you Julian and Esmarie. You lost little Luc when he was only a year old. I thank God for the time that I was able to spend with you last summer. Thank you for sharing your story with me, your pain and your struggles. I treasure the conversations we had. You are a great witness to the power of God at work in the lives of those who love him and depend on him. May the Lord give you great joy as you raise Luc’s little brother Gabriel.
Thank you Chris and Lara. Your triplets Joel, Zoe and Kara were born at 25 weeks prematurely and we didn’t know if they would make it. We prayed for all of you and followed the updates. Because of geography we were not able to be with you, but we have been able to ask Nic how you are doing. Thank you for your words that showed an uncompromising dependence on the Lord at a time of great trial. Thank you for teaching me to say ‘Lord have your way!’ Praise God that the triplets are doing well and that they have super woman for a mom.
Thank you Adri. You lost both your husband Gareth and your baby Micaela in a car accident 6 years ago. I have only met you twice but you have had such a profound impact on my life. Thank you for showing me that my children are not mine to keep, but that I need to give them back to God. May the Lord be with you and Cami as you continue to live lives of faith.
Thank you Lance and Tiffany. Selah had a near fatal accident last year, we sat at the hospital in Kigali, while she lay in ICU with a fractured skull. Living in Rwanda we have all feared this reality, but we watched as you gave this over to the Lord and declared time and time again that He may receive glory through your tragedy. Thank you for all you have taught me, for allowing me to walk this road intimately with you and for seeking to love the Lord despite your trials and suffering. Thank God for Selah’s amazing recovery and for her little smile that reminds us all of the great miracles we have seen God perform in her life.
I would like to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment…
[i] Mark 14:36
[ii] Mark 4:40
[iii] Psalm 139:13
[iv] Job 1:21
[v] Matthew 6:27
[vi] Matthew 10:37
[vii] Psalm 73:25
[viii] Galatians 2:20