“I have prayed so many times that God would bring Ginger home. Why doesn’t he answer my prayers? It’s like he doesn’t hear me. Does he not hear me, Mom?” I walked beside my 8-year old daughter in the chilly moonlight, having checked the fence line where she thought she heard a meow for our beloved, and lost, cat. My eyes misted over, my breath producing clouds in the cold winter air. “I know, babe, I know,” is the only answer I could muster at that moment.
How hard is it for God to bring back a lost cat? I can’t deny I have asked that very question. This is a small thing, God, such a small thing, but so important still. You could show the girls your power! How you answer their prayers! But perhaps what I meant was… you could show me your power. How you answer my prayers. You know I need to see it.
It’s been a season of deep darkness for us, of deep loss. Our hearts are sore and fragile, from brokenness. I had traveled alone back to the States to be with my family at an unimaginable time, to help plan a service I never imagined would need to happen. I had explained to my children how someone they love dearly had to meet Jesus before us, and how yes, we can still be very sad. I had been asking God all kinds of questions, not out of anger (yet) but out of pain.
Within two of weeks of my return, Ginger went missing. He (yes, he… I know) had been an unexpected, unrequested gift from God over four years ago, during our family’s first year in South Africa. That first year was filled with transition, grief, and stress, and then, this cutie, tiny kitty showed up in our lives and stuck around, providing much needed joy and humor. We weren’t allowed to acquire pets, living on a communal college campus, but he had acquired us, and so he stayed. Our children formed deep attachments, and if you asked them who they missed the most while in the US two years ago for our first home assignment, they would answer without hesitation, “Ginger!” But even through that long transition, he loyally waited for us, for eight months, and settled back in joyfully with his family upon our return.
Salt on an open wound, my mom had said. Yes, a very open wound, the wound of loss. The loss of our pet does not compare to the loss of our loved one, and I found myself saying, really, God? Can’t you just bring back our cat? Haven’t we lost enough already?
As I pondered how to help my daughter’s sore heart, I thought of the Psalms, where I have been spending a lot of time lately (a good place for a broken heart) and of how the psalmists asked very similar questions, in the midst of pain and suffering:
“My soul is in deep anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:3)
“Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. LORD, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1)
“Our heart has not turned back,
nor have our steps departed from your way;
yet you have broken us in the place of jackals
and covered us with the shadow of death.
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?” (Psalm 44:18-19, 23)
The following evening, at dinner, we talked about my daughter’s questions. I explained that I have these questions of God too – and that others throughout the Bible have asked God, why? And some times, many times, if we are honest, there are no real answers to the hard things happening to us. Even if there were answers, how much comfort would they truly provide? Our losses will still be immense, the pain still deeply real. We talked about how nearly every person in the Bible had difficult situations in their lives, and that following Jesus does not mean our lives will be easy. And we explained that it is okay to not understand – because we don’t either – and yet we can tell God all that’s on our hearts, because he truly wants us to.
We could give the pseudo-spiritual pat answers, but where does that leave us? Those answers have not been a help to me, in deep loss, and they won’t comfort our children either. Our pain is real, it’s raw. If God is truly our Father, he wants us to honestly come to him in whatever broken place we find ourselves. And sometimes, just curling up with him in the unanswered questions is all we can do. And we wait.
God, we need you, we need to see your power, your goodness. So we will wait, we will wait for you.
“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” (Psalm 130:5)