This post is republished with permission from Erin Hougland’s blog. – Ed.
This month, I was present with a child as his life ended. In the hospital room, he laid in his mother’s arms so small, with fresh soft skin and a badly broken body. He was surrounded by family, medical staff and friends. We all gathered around and gazed at him through wet eyes, hearts heavy with disbelief. I watched as his mother and father spoke to him, sobbing hot tears of pain, whispering words of “I love you” and “I’m so sorry.”
In the moments before he left this world there was a holy stillness, a deep intake of breath, a vibration that hummed our hearts. Then I watched as the line on the monitors indicating his heart beat went putter, putter and then quietly still. And as I sat there, watching mother kiss his small mouth, dad kissing his tiny hands and fingers, I realized how deeply beautiful and truly precious this moment was.
Creation was not made to last. Accidents happen. We get sick. Mistakes are made or we simply wear out. God did not make these bodies to last. We are fragile, we are vulnerable and we are not here for very long. And as I sit here wondering why it is that we must die a voice returns to me with a phrase that both scares me and moves me to tears: “We die, in order to love.” Love.
How would we know love, true love, without its companion death? If we lived forever how would we love? Would it be possible to love the way we do without the possibility of loss? We love, the voice tells me, because life is short and fragile. We love because living is risky and vulnerable. Our existence is confined by time and this is what makes our life so precious, so beautiful, so holy. And in this fragile preciousness of life’s grounding, love takes root and grows.
As a person of faith I struggle with wanting to believe in a God who has a plan, who intervenes and makes miracles happen. This is the God that I was taught to believe in. When bad things happen I want a God who has a plan, is all knowing and all powerful. When a child dies, I get angry with God, “Why God, did you let this happen?” When I lost my dear friend to an accident 5 years ago I demanded to know why the God I believe in would let something like this happen. When tragedy strikes, countries are bombed, families are torn apart by war and disease, I want to know: Why God? Why?
But, when I think about the God I know, the God I’ve witnessed, the God I’ve seen walking around in the world, I realize I don’t believe in a God who makes good things happen and undoes the bad things. No. As tempting as that is, that is not the God I know.
The God I know weeps with me, cries with me, screams with me, gets angry with me and sits patiently with me in utter silence. God mourns with us, cries with us, suffers with us. God even suffers death and dies with us. A God that would enter our pain with us, suffer loss with us and grieve with us––that is the God I know. That is the God that was in that room, a God that cried with that family as their child passed from this life.
This week we celebrate All Souls’ Day, a day where we remember those who did not last. During this holiday we feel that stabbing pain of grief rise up again. We come together and share with each other in our grief. We remind ourselves that death happens, that it hurts and it’s hard. We shed tears together. And when we share in this grief, when we gather together and speak the names of those who have died and tell stories about them, it is truly beautiful.
This God I know, the God that feels and cries, suffers and dies, this is the God of love. God did not make creation to last because our God is a God of love. So while we remember our pain, let us also remember our love. I witnessed a child pass away this month, but I also witnessed a holy beauty. That room was full of pain. It was also a room intensely filled with the power of love. God cries, weeps and suffers because our God is one that deeply loves us. When we are able to bear witness to this love in the pain and suffering of grief, we are walking with God on very holy ground. The holy ground of true love.
God promises that those who mourn will be comforted. May God comfort you with love today.