Can you remember a day that made you feel like you’d finally grown up? Maybe it was getting hired for a certain job, moving to the big city, getting your own dog, or buying your first car. For me, it was my wedding day. The big day. The white dress. The whole deal. It felt like adult life had finally started. Finally, I was finished with the relentless changes of growing up.
Somehow, on that glittery day it felt like everything was coming into focus. I had graduated university, started my first job, and gotten married. I thought things were set and I knew what was ahead of me.
I had no idea.
What I don’t think I understood about adulthood was that the process of learning, growing, and changing continues. With each year, there are new changes and challenges. These experiences continue to shape our relationships, including our relationship with God. There’s no arriving in life.
Before I was out of my twenties, my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
I lost two children due to miscarriages.
I gave birth to my daughter, and then suffered complications afterward that almost killed me. Twice.
It would be an understatement to say that those experiences changed me, and altered my relationship with God.
“Holding on with open hands” is a phrase I once heard used by a missionary. It sounds like an oxymoron, and yet I can’t think of a better way to describe how I’ve felt about my faith through these seasons of life. My faith is not the same as it was before all these things happened because I am not the same.
However, faith is the constant in the midst of all of these challenges. It has anchored my changing relationship with God.
Somehow, faith seems to endure change and loss. I’ve had to hold on to what I know, while at the same time being open to allowing God to change what I think I know, and how I experience him. It seems that holding too tightly often restrains what I can learn, and what I can apply from new experiences that come up throughout life.
I’ve found that if I hold things “with open hands” it helps me retain what God wants me to, and change the things I need to—without losing the faith that holds me together. It takes the perception of control further from me, and puts it into God’s hands, where it really belongs.
One of those things I thought I knew about was honesty with God.
I prayed about what I hoped for.
I told God about things that upset me.
I confessed when I did things wrong.
I asked him questions about what he wanted me to do, and how I could serve him.
I thought that I knew what it was to be honest with God. But after the loss of our second child I learned what real honesty was.
Losing those babies before ever knowing them, or knowing what our life would be like with them, was so hard. I blamed myself––I thought it was some kind of punishment for a fleeting thought I’d had that maybe I wasn’t ready to be a mother.
Throughout my grieving process, God would bring Scripture to mind. Yet I couldn’t fully feel its comfort because I was too busy being “fine.” I was trying to be okay, to accept that a bad thing had happened, and to be a “good” Christian by carrying on and seeing it as God’s will.
At the time I didn’t think that I was hiding anything. I was just shrugging off the messy feelings of guilt and betrayal, and telling myself that I shouldn’t feel that way.
I thought that I was being honest with myself and with God. But it was the polite kind of honesty that says “no” to the last cookie offered in a crowd because even though you really do want it, you don’t want to take it away from someone else.
What I didn’t understand was that until I moved past these platitudes, and laid my deepest feelings and thoughts bare before God, I couldn’t discover true and lasting healing. God doesn’t take more of us than we are willing to give. And I wasn’t willing to give him the depths of my pain because I thought that meant I lacked the faith to see his perfect will and be okay with the hurt it caused me.
That wasn’t true—what I did lack was the faith to believe in his love for me, in his forgiveness, and the work of Christ to bridge the gap between us so that we could have a real relationship.
Although, I didn’t see it that way at the time.
It was when I read the account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane during that season of grief that I began to grasp what it meant to be truly honest with God.
As I read the words in Matthew 26:39 that said Jesus “…fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will,’” I felt them in a whole new way.
Jesus, who was at the very centre of God’s will every second of his life, in whom there is no sin, fully knew the ultimate and glorious result of the pain he was experiencing. And yet was fully honest before God, asking that this cup be passed from him. With his next breath, he declared his trust in his loving Father, saying, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
This was real honesty. He said exactly how he felt, and he trusted God. He held his life with open hands, allowing God to take it away if he chose to.
Seeing this in Jesus’ life helped me realize that it wasn’t wrong to tell God how I was feeling. How I was really feeling. It didn’t mean that I lacked faith, or wisdom. Reading this passage showed me how to be truly honest before God.
So I finally told him exactly how I felt: that I was hurt, tired, and devastated. That I didn’t understand why these babies had to die. That I didn’t want this for my life.
It was true honesty that paved the way for me to finally feel what I knew to be true. That this just sucked.
There was no silver lining.
There was nothing that was ever going to make my loss okay.
And that I served a loving God.
He is my Father, and he loves me. He doesn’t delight in my pain, nor does he scorn my questions. As a Father, he wants a relationship with me. He wants me to come to him. He’ll stick with me in the pain, even when there are no answers given on this side of heaven––he is still there with me.
Being brutally honest changed my relationship with God. It actually brought me closer to him. I had let it all out, and he was still there.
He didn’t punish me.
He didn’t scold me.
He didn’t shame me.
He didn’t laugh at me.
He took me in his arms like a dearly loved child and he cried with me. He loved me. He comforted me.
So, as this journey through life continues, I know that I will continue to change and grow, and even experience more loss. Yet, I am thankful that I know a God who is alive and full of grace to allow me to do that.
His love is unchanging, and dynamic. He is interested in a relationship with us, not ceremony; and that relationship isn’t a static thing that we achieve and put safely away. Our relationship with God is something that continues to grow and change as much as we do.
[Editor’s Note: Everyone has mental health experiences on the spectrum between thriving and struggling. Perhaps you (or a friend) are in a season where you need extra mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical support. In this #mentalhealth series we want to balance personal experience/story with input from mental health and medical professionals. We want to also explore, “How does our faith in Jesus relate to our mental health?” Our desire is to support you as you work towards mental well-being.
If you are considering hurting yourself or someone else, or you know someone who is, please contact a mental health emergency hotline. If you need urgent counselling support, Kids Help Phone is also available for young adults up to age 29 for phone calls, Facebook Messenger, or texting conversations.
This article was written by Beth R. Beth appreciates every opportunity she gets to write, whether it’s a quiet space with a pen and paper or an article shared online. When she’s not behind a desk with a warm cup of tea, she loves to be outside with her family, no matter the weather.]