When Faith Becomes De Longest River

Or: “Faith and Mixed Metaphors.” I see I have incorporated a hamster wheel, a river, a road with a driver, and a pair of rough shoes. Let us pray they do not all converge. It seems that would not be advantageous to the poor hamster.

These are the thoughts I wrote as I surrendered my foster baby last week. I have lived through ten days without her, which gives me reason enough to hope for one more.

I recognize the hamster wheel when it materializes in my brain. Without my knowledge or consent it constructs itself up there, and I am running, running, running. “Surely it doesn’t have to be this way. Surely it’s best for her to stay in the home she loves and knows. Surely with us. Surely. Surely the Lord will move his hand and intervene to spare us grief. Surely.”

I’ve worked this wheel before. I’ve been here in this space.

It is not rational. It is a protest that cares nothing for rationale or legality. It is desperate, frantic, and constructed from nothing but the thin air of pain.

I spin big scenarios on that wheel. I write eloquent appeals, I devise cunning strategies that make everyone happy, I imagine miraculous overturns of court orders. I spin and spin and spin, and when I am done spinning my ideas, they whirl into nothing and I am still a hamster and I am not getting anywhere.

This grief, our specific grief, is for the healing of nations. Our loss allows a family to rebuild. This I believe in more than anything else in my universe. I believe in grief whether or not there is a higher good in the world. I believe in sacrifice like I believe in breathing, I don’t know any other way to live. These are good, big picture ideas, very altruistic, very sound.

But in the moment, when it comes down to the last days. When my-baby becomes not-my-baby before my eyes, the moment they walk through that door. When I kiss her skin for the last time. When I mark the last walk together, the last rocking to sleep, the last twinkle, the last grin, the last breathing-in of her so perfect scent. When goodbye breaks, my philosophies wind down like the spinning of a hamster wheel and I just want out. Back to Before, when I could still close my heart. I want it to stop.

Being in public during grief is like being in public during labor, and trying to act normal. Trying to breathe through the contractions. Trying not to scare anyone. Unable to think of what to say. Wondering when and where I’m going to collapse. Not if.

In protesting my loss, I find myself saying, “She is leaving on Tuesday,” but always in my mind adding a secret postscript: “…short of a miracle,” or “…Lord willing,” or “…but probably not for real.” I find myself holding out irrational faith for a cure. Perhaps unhealthy faith for a cure. That is hamster wheel talk. The more I hold to the certainty of rescue, the more devastated I will be when the blow falls.

I am pleased to see that I have grown, since my last grief. I still walk through inevitable protest, but I can see when it’s swirling round me and call it what it is.

In the past, I have found myself in places where my longing turned to insistence, and hardened into a desperate faith-in-deliverance that did not stand me in good stead. I did not begin to process my grief until the last breath was breathed, because surely the Master would come through to save, and then suddenly I had outrage and abandonment to face as well as loss and sorrow.

I have found that Faith can be another face for De Nile, something we talk about a lot in recovery. Denial tells me that nothing so painful could possibly be true. Denial tells me I don’t deserve it. That this kind of thing doesn’t happen to people like me. If I tack God’s name onto my hope of rescue, it sounds pretty holy. But it’s still denial.

I’m not sure anyone has mapped the exact latitude and longitude where one becomes the other, but I know it’s there, somewhere in the netherlands of grieving. I know there is a place where the waters mingle, and you’re not sure which is which. Usually the current is strong there, some form of insistence tugging at my craft because “It has to be this way. God could not do otherwise.”

– flowers from a friend who’s been there too –

Jesus asked for faith in some situations where it looked like denial. He looked into the loving, tear-filled eyes of a woman whose brother had become a decaying corpse and said, “Do you believe that he can live?” She said, “I mean, I’m trying, but he’s pretty dead, Lord.” He asked that of her. But I don’t think he meant for every maid in Israel to exhume her dead relative in hopes of immediate restoration. For every wake to hold a prayerful arm-twisting to coerce God into flexing his muscles.

In the old days, I thought that belonging to God meant we wouldn’t shatter, that our negative emotions would be minimal and our stories would work out. I don’t believe that anymore, though I suppose it depends how long term we are talking. It doesn’t take an extensive perusal of history or the Scripture to see that God’s people are led through anguish. And yet when it comes down to it, when the pain hangs poised to strike, somehow I still find myself believing that we will be spared. Or begging for it, whether I believe it or not. And I am in good company, for I know someone who was born to die, but on the eve of the appointed day he begged for rescue. He knew the plan; he was on board with the plan; he was fully surrendered to his father’s will. And he cried for the deliverance that would have ruined everything.

Faith-filled prayer for rescue walks a fine line between holy acceptance (“This is His will, here at the end of all things”) and holy dissent (“He can deliver me, even now”).

In history, you see people of faith balancing their positions and hedging their bets. “We know that he is able to save us from your fire. But if he does not, our minds are made up anyway.” In today’s world, we struggle to find our footing on that tightrope too. A family gathers around a dying man in a hospital bed. Do they hold the 24-hour prayer vigil to pray the cancer out of his cells? Or do they say, “He is dying.”

I don’t mind protest. That is, protest hurts like Gehenna but I don’t have a problem with it being a normal stage of losing big. I don’t know a way not to put in my ten thousand steps on the hamster wheel, but it helps to know it for what it is. Helps to know it won’t last, to know it isn’t logical thinking, to know not to attach too hard to my fresh-spun fantasies, and above all to know not to act on what I concoct.

Because I am trying not to ride that longest river. Trying not to claim rescue from, and a radical unmaking of, the divine plan. Trying to accept again that the most glorious redemption can include death – and, butterfly-like, I will rise again.

I am relieved to find, in the middle of my grief, that this wound is cleaner because I didn’t insist that he save me out of it. There’s no salt in it, just straight pain. And pain is time-bound.

Acceptance of reality does not have to be opposed to faith. Sometimes faith means accepting ahead of time that illness is taking the life of my loved one. That the state is moving my foster child from a home she knows to a home she doesn’t, because they share a last name and a history. That the worst is going to happen to me in some way, and I am going to survive it. Trying to hold what is. The dying is happening. The baby is leaving.

What if faith doesn’t mean “certainty of God’s plan—and telling him about it until he agrees with me,” but the rougher-shod, humbler kind that means “walking steadily forward, knowing that whatever happens will be of him”? What if it means less fighting, less wresting of the steering wheel? What if it means trusting that the road he has me on is good, whether or not I can see it now? What if it means laying my head against his chest like a child and letting him drive unassisted? I tuck a little dissent in, enough to remind myself he can still step in with power, and I fantasize a bit about that gearshift right there beside me, especially the Reverse, but I do not grab for it. I keep my hands still, free of the controls.

Because this I have learned from my Father in my griefs: He is a very, very good navigator.

I am growing.

Our-baby-not-our-baby is doing supremely well in her new home; she is so very loved, so cared for. I am more than grateful every moment for this grace, and for the chance we had to be her people when she needed us.

Where is Jesus asking you to trust him?

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A reader
2 years ago

Oh wow! This is good. For roughly 1.5 years, I’ve been more free of a lot of my physical trauma symptoms. I am so grateful for the emotional healing that is happening. Suddenly and rather unannounced, the physical symptoms are back again. (Who else’s body acts like mine in public places….the heavy breathing, the seizure like responses). Not sure why it’s this bad again…..however, Jesus seems more concerned about me knowing that He is with me than anything else.

A pastors wife
2 years ago

As a pastor’s wife, trusting God to help me navigate a woman thru intimate deception, knowing the path will be painful, ugly and heartbreaking…yet believing that redemption is reachable! I too know the hamster’s wheel that spins in the mind…the ‘if only’ and ‘what if’s’…”Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee…”

2 years ago

“In the old days, I thought that belonging to God meant we wouldn’t shatter…..” That was my belief exactly… and as I see you put into words some of the very journey God has me on, my heart says Amen, sister! That wrestling between up-to-the-last -minute faith it will change and surrendered trust in the ultimate Navigator… I know it well… God bless you, Shari for sharing your heart .

2 years ago

I’m on that hamster wheel too. Thanks again for writing realistically about fostering and pain. I especially loved the words on faith and denial. (And public grief being like public labor. ???? Never thought of it that way before. Best description.)

2 years ago

Well. Relinquishing the things that look like the good life for my loved ones, and accepting the thing that has been given. I am not there yet.
Also, I know the signs of public grief. The careful movements, as if something might spill. The holding the hands very still in one’s lap. The unblinking eyes trying to see forward, toward others. I see all these things, and I know and I care.

2 years ago

Your words are true and clear and they rearrange some furniture in my heart–perhaps a few walls even. I will be thinking of them.

Also, there was a butterfly in there as well as the river, road, rough shoes, and driver. Maybe it could help the hamster escape? ????

2 years ago
Reply to  Julie

Oh. Yes! The butterfly. He was a latecomer to this party and missed his honorable mention.

2 years ago

“this wound is cleaner because I didn’t insist He save me out of it” The truth of your words grip me as I stare at my own wound & try to get rid of it. What is faith in this? And what does surrender look like? It doesn’t mean no wound & no pain.

And this picture….”what if it means laying my head against His chest like a child and letting Him drive unassisted?” I needed this. Thank you for sharing healing out of your wound.

C Zimmerman
2 years ago

I feel your pain and know the heartache of a foster child leaving. We are still grieving after having a little one in our family almost 2 years, a half brother to our adopted daughter that they moved to relatives. He was 2 1/2.

Thank you for the encouraging writing. It helps to know we have a God who is watching over them. I can’t imagine not having that promise.

2 years ago

I love this post in so many ways. Grief and loss and hope and disappointment and devastation and pain touch us all, I think, and when I read your post I see that I am not alone in the mental gymnastics I go through protesting that God allows this. Sometimes I surrender well and I am at peace, and then someone else comes along and suggests that I insist on God saving me from my situation. We know He can heal, after all. So I love these lines from your post: I am trying not to claim rescue from, and a radical unmaking of, the divine plan. Like you, I look to Jesus, who surrendered to a plan that included pain and death. And like you, I find comfort in laying my head on God’s chest. I like that image. I grip God with an intensity that parallels my pain and I find that as much as I hate suffering, the intimacy forged during these horrible moments is beautiful.

2 years ago

I have read this post five times, savouring not the words but the wisdom. “Being in public during grief is like being in public during labor, and trying to act normal…Faith-filled prayer for rescue walks a fine line between holy acceptance and holy dissent…What if it means laying my head against his chest like a child and letting him drive unassisted?”
Thank you, Shari.

2 years ago

Your post was beautiful and heart wrenching. I’ve said this before, I admire you and all the foster mothers here who have had to surrender children to their birth families.
I’m going through a grief that has almost caused me to leave the faith. Someone in my family said something recently that was so upsetting that I was feeling like everything I learned about God and His Word was a lie and that our family is cursed.
I was going to donate my headship veilings and call it quits. But, those thoughts lasted only for a few hours and overnight.
I know I can’t live without Jesus. He is my peace and I want to trust Him for my family situation.

Needing Miracles
2 years ago
Reply to  Regina Shea

“Dear God, I thank You for Regina Shea! Thank You that You have a unique plan for her and that You are able to protect and provide for her! I pray that all forces of evil be removed from her life and that she would be able to walk the pathway you have chosen for her! Thank You, God, for all the ways you help us! In the strong name of Jesus and in the power of His shed blood, I ask. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

2 years ago

Thank you for praying for me! That was so sweet of you and it means slot.

2 years ago

Beautiful. Thank you!

2 years ago

What strong brave words Shari! This post spoke deeply to me in my journey. Grief is so complex and messy. Thanks for your honesty and wisdom.

Kendra Sensenig
2 years ago

I’m so grateful for Jesus’ grace, but I hurt too for your pain. Your brave revelation prompted tears and raggedy breaths, and also deep gratitude that we have such a broad Chest upon which to snuggle, especially when we’re feeling small, impotent, angry, and hurt.
Hugs ♥️

Another reader
2 years ago

The paragraph at the end that begins with “what if faith doesn’t mean” speaks deeply to me, and I’m going to be re-reading it often and letting it sink in deeper each time. It goes right along with what I’ve felt God asking of me recently. The struggle to accept life and circumstances as they are RIGHT NOW, while still keeping alive in my heart the prayer and desire for growth in areas that deeply affect me but that I cannot control …
I long to be better at putting the “letting Him drive unassisted” into practice. It’s hard. But the peace that comes from it is so worth it!

2 years ago

“What if it means trusting the road he has me on is good, whether or not I can see it right now…” thank you Shari for these beautiful words and so many more in this post…reminding me God is so trustworthy, even in the hardest things.♥️♥️♥️ And btw—your book is such a balm! Definitely hard to lay down!
Thank you for letting God use you.????

2 years ago

I needed this today. Thank you.

2 years ago

Thank you. I needed to read this again this morning.

1 year ago

“Our loss allows a family to rebuild.” That is why we do this difficult loving and giving up. Rebuilding is why Jesus came. It is our gift back to Him.

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