Tamara Lexow here again. Some of you may know that I am a suicide survivor. When I was nineteen years old, my mom took her own life; leaving me, an only child, to deal with the grief. My dad had recently left us, and I felt very alone.
For a long time, I didn’t want to think about it, remember it, or talk about it. I shoved bits and pieces of my memories surrounding her death into the deepest places of my mind. I wasn’t angry at God, and I didn’t blame God; but I was angry and I blamed. I was angry with my dad, myself, my mom’s friends and family…I was angry with anyone who could have possibly stopped her and didn’t. Knowing it was done, over and irreversible, though, meant knowing nothing could be changed. It meant remembering was pointless.
But, as most of us know, stuffing trauma never works. Trying to ignore it and forget it only lasts for a season and usually ends in an explosion of our heart, mind, and soul.
There is a passage in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6, where Moses speaks to the Israelites, imploring them to commit to the community of God and remember His commands. It’s just after Moses came down from the mountain with the ten commandments and is leading them to the new land God has promised.
He says, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Moses continues, asking them to never forget how God had rescued them from slavery, and was leading them to a land where they would enjoy food they didn’t plant, goods they didn’t produce, and draw water from wells they didn’t dig.
Never forget God was with you, and is with you now. That was the message.
But what about when you aren’t sure where God was? Where was God on August 27th, when 13 U.S. Service Members and hundreds of Afghan civilians were murdered? Where was God on September 11th, 2001, when thousands of innocent people died? Where was God when you were wronged? Why didn’t God step in and stop your abuse? Why doesn’t he stop the hurt, pain, and suffering you and I encounter daily?
There is no straightforward answer to any of these questions. I have heard many pastors and leaders try to explain that when God created the world and gave us the beautiful gift of free will, of choice, and we chose sin over obedience, a door was opened for pain and suffering; a path made for evil. And while I know this is true, it doesn’t answer how a loving God could let his children suffer.
I don’t have an easy answer because I don’t think there is one. But here’s what I know:
God loves us so much that he sent his one and only son, Jesus, to suffer on the cross and take the punishment for all the sins of the world. It pained God so much to see his children suffering in sin and from the effects of sin; he had to come up with a plan for our rescue. And while Jesus’ death and resurrection didn’t take away our current suffering, it means we have the promise of a future where there will be none. It means God does see us, know us, and want what’s best for us.
And with that act of love, I have to believe that on September 11th, God was sitting next to the woman on the plane, holding her hand as she called her family to tell them how much she loved them. I want to believe God was giving the firefighters strength as they climbed the stairs of the towers to rescue those who couldn’t rescue themselves. It means he was with the Marines last month, as they rescued families leaving Afghanistan. God was with the little girl, hiding from her abuser, wrapping her in his arms. He was with the teenage boy, whispering words of truth, when the enemy was screaming lies. He was with me, in the days after my mom’s suicide, helping me put one foot in front of the other.
So what’s the point of remembering, as Moses told God’s people to do, especially when we can’t make sense of it all? Remembering requires us to look at the entire situation and find the good. Remembering means we have to be honest about our life and reflect, not only the hurt, but the good.
My mom’s suicide was and remains the most painful period of my life. But if I am honest about the time that surrounds that terrible day, I can make a long list of places I see God taking care of me.
God loved me through the people who rushed over to help me make immediate decisions. He was taking care of me through friends of our family who brought food. He held my hand at her funeral when hundreds of people cried. He gave me strength to help me put one foot in front of the other in the weeks and months that followed.
When we remember the terrible, we can get sucked in to the sadness and heartbreak of the hurt. When we focus on where God was, in the midst of the terrible, we can remember his promise of an eternity with him where the hurt will be forgotten forever.