This is part two of a three- part series. (March 2022)
First of all, a disclaimer. This is just me sharing bits and pieces of my journey. It is not a quick fix or “how to” manual. More like the desperate attempts of someone trying not to sink into the abyss. This is me telling you what helped me survive when the rug was pulled out from under me.
Let’s start with one of the hardest realities I’ve had to work through and it is this: Yes, unexpected tragedies do happen to people who love God. And yes they can happen to me. Not just that other family that we feel sorry for and breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t us, hedging our bets with the latest, most effective techniques for personal and family safety. We live in a world full of tragedy. Right now we have the unusual experience of going through a worldwide trauma. But it is by far not the first time our world has gone through this. Just think of World War 1 and 2. One of the first things my high school history students said to me when our school suddenly went online on Friday the 13th in March 2020 was “Mrs. Aasland, we are experiencing history right now.” I was glad that they recognized this. To me, part of dealing with unexpected, huge change is to realize this is part of the human condition and I am not immune.
Another one of my realities has been experiencing very big emotions. I think this is something we all are living in right now and we keep bumping into each other in those strong feelings. My experience was that at first I couldn’t contain my emotions over the death of my son. This was very hard on my family who were also going through equally deep grief and trauma. But over time I learned that I could just experience my big emotions in myself, let them wash over me and then move forward. They didn’t have to mean everything I thought they meant at the time. I didn’t need to put them on other people or demand that they feel the same way I did. I needed and still need lots of contemplative time journaling, thinking, writing, praying, processing. The brain tries to make sense of trauma and will slow your body down so that you can take the time you need. So making time to process and think deeply and prayerfully can be helpful when facing a huge, traumatic change.
In our whole, difficult, painful family tragedy that we have been walking through for many years, I have been forever grateful for love. This verse has rung like a clarion bell over and over in my soul. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Our bottom line has always been love. When we don’t understand each other’s reactions, we try as best as we can to hold them in love and grace. We have been deeply committed to each other and for this I am eternally grateful. Furthermore, we have continued to preach hope to one other. Sometimes when you can’t believe for yourself, someone else can. Not only my family but also my sisters in Christ have been so dear and important, holding my sorrow with me and reassuring me that this is not the end.
I don’t know how, but from the beginning I had a revelation that blame would not help. Honestly, I never for one minute blamed anyone else. However, I have struggled tremendously with blaming myself. But that doesn’t help either. It is not an answer, just a quick fix, and it never gives you what you want. Blame is a hostile prison with no way out. Some say the opposite of blame is forgiveness. I disagree. Forgiveness indicates that you still think that person is at fault. I think the opposite of blame is thankfulness.
A very long time ago my husband and I were going through a series of challenges as newlyweds. I honestly can’t remember what we were facing. But I have a very clear memory of driving in the car, processing our situation, and suddenly calling to mind a sermon on a radical verse which says we should be ”always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:20). Not in everything, but for everything. As counterintuitive as this may seem, my husband and I decided to try it out. I can’t remember exactly what we prayed about but it was something along these lines: “Thank you God that we don’t have enough money. Thank you for our trouble at work. Thank you that we have been sick.” It was so strange. As a friend pointed out, we didn’t pray “Thank you for [fill in the blank] because….” No, it was just thank you period. Thank you for this thing that we don’t want and don’t understand. I do not fully comprehend why but it really took the sting of those issues off of us. It was like, yep we are suffering just like people do but that is not the full sum of who we are and what our life is about. When I recently told this story to some people, I realized that I have never once prayed “Thank you God that I have to wear a mask. Thank you for the political turmoil in our country. Thank you that there is so much unrest in the world.” But the hardest one of all to pray would be “Thank you God that I won’t see my son again until heaven.” I think God would understand if I never prayed that.