This past week has been challenging on many levels. I lost a precious friend to heart disease, leaving behind a husband and three teenage children. Meanwhile, the vast world beyond my front porch is in chaos, seemingly void of God or moral conscience; the Boston Marathon bombing (friend had children near the finish line at time of blast), the horrific details of the abortion doctor that slaughtered infants who “failed to abort properly” (Dr. Kermit Gosnell), a teenage girl’s suicide after her sexual assault was videotaped and uploaded to the internet by her “friends” who were also her assailants (Audrie Pott), the list goes on. I prayed, and kept asking God why. Why do children have to lose their mother so young? Why did an 8-year boy die in a senseless bombing? Why does America continue to shamelessly embrace the murder of innocent children?
God and I have a good father-daughter relationship; bound by love and challenged by will. I don’t often understand His purpose. He always understands my questions. I listen to Him and ultimately grow in wisdom. Meanwhile, He listens to me patiently, always there to help me navigate through this life. My earthly father and I had much the same relationship.
First, the world events.
I am truly blessed to be not only a daughter of the Most High God, but also devout Christian parents who survived the Great Depression and WWII. Surely a time of doubt and anxiety. Every day bore news of death and despair. People feeling hopeless and committing suicide, robbers and murders with names like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Al Capone, being herald as heroes to many. Then came the news about a dictator\’s obsession to rule the world and to exterminate an entire race of people…and then Pearl Harbor. The world seemed to be ripping away at the seams. People asked, “Has God lost control?” Sounds familiar.
The one and only time my father discussed his war experience with me was when I asked him about photos of Auschwitz I had seen in my sixth grade history class. He served in the U.S. Army in Northern France until D-Day, and liberated a concentration camp. I asked him why God would allow people to suffer and evil to exist. “Sweetheart,” he said, “man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man has been with us since Cain and Abel, and it will be with us until the end of time. Evil is a part of this world.” My mother reiterated, “If there were no evil in this world, we’d call this place heaven.” They both instilled in me the importance of embracing good and combating evil. Jesus had the same challenge on earth in the wilderness. Why should our lives here be any different?
In a recent Catholic Vote article, writer Stephen Kokx gives this perspective greater clarity: “These crimes take place because human beings have free will. And, not to be uncouth, but the only way they will come to an end is if God eliminates human freedom all together. Free will is the greatest blessing God bestows on us. However, it must also be understood as a doubled-edged sword. For free will allows evil men to do horrific things, yet it also allows holy men inspired by God to do good and glorious things.”
God doesn’t “allow” evil to flourish. We do.
Now for my personal loss.
Perhaps due to our closeness in age and that we shared surviving the same cancer type, I had a difficult time reconciling my friend’s death and the loss for her husband and children. Again Scripture and my father’s wisdom gave me clarity.
I live in the Southern part of the United States, where a time honored tradition is still intact. When a funeral procession approaches all cars on both sides of the road pull over to the shoulder until the procession has passed. I first witnessed this tradition as a teenager when my maternal grandfather passed away. I saw cars pull over and asked my father what was wrong. “Nothing’s wrong, Sweetheart. People are just showing their respect. Today is graduation day.” Graduation day? What did that mean? He explained, “Your Grandpa has graduated from this life and returned home. His work here is finished. All these people are showing him and his family respect for a life well-lived.”
Grandpa was 86 years old. He lived a long life. My friend was only 46 years old. Was she really ready to graduate from life?
Although our lives are entwined with family and friends, sharing life experiences, dreams and expectations, our journey is our own. God places each one of us here for His purpose. God’s timing in calling us home is a mystery. We know from Scripture that God knew us before we entered this world. (Jeremiah 1:5) Likewise, He knows our days on earth; “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)
So, if God knows when we are going to die, does this mean prayers for healing are futile?
No, of course not. Prayers have power. They do bring about “miracles,” but only if those “miracles” do not detract from the ultimate glory that God has planned for each of us. We often forget that prayers offered for one who is suffering are prayers that also produce a change in us. No prayer is wasted. I love St. Thomas’ perspective: “We pray, not that we may change the divine decree, but that we may impetrate that which God has decreed to be fulfilled by our prayers.”
We often forget that. We pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Do we really mean “Thy will be done?” Or do we just recite those words secretly hoping our own will be done?
Selfishly, I prayed fervently that my friend would be healed so that she should raise her children. I never considered God’s will for her children’s lives. (Jeremiah 29:11) God reminded me that Moses lost his mother at a very young age. Even in the midst of the Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, God had a purpose for Moses’ life. Look what God was able to accomplish through Moses. How impertinent I was to assume that I knew what was best for my friend’s children.
I’ve grown to appreciate that we each have a tapestry, woven with threads that represent events in our lives. God sees the overall design. He knows that each thread makes the tapestry more beautiful. We only see a single thread at a time. We scrutinize its color, texture, flaws. We often wish a thread be removed, changed, or repositioned. We spend too much time in life worrying about how things turn out, when if we really understood our Heavenly Father’s purpose, we would appreciate that His goal is for each one of us to complete a beautiful tapestry. A tapestry where if one of those threads were removed or altered, it may destroy its unique unfathomable beauty. When our tapestry is complete, we get to see it on graduation day.
Happy Graduation Day, Mary. Peace be with you my friend.
© 2013. Diane McKelva. All Rights Reserved.
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