Her eyes held me. My pain was reflected there. She added a mix of empathy and grace but I wasn’t ready for it. I needed more time. I needed to be angry first. I couldn’t understand this ‘laying down my Isaac’ concept. Or, rather, I didn’t want to understand.
“What type of alter do you see?” she asked again.
“I see a white room. White walls. A white slab. Sterol. Everything is sterol.” I replied, anxiety welling up in my eyes.
“Where is Jesus?” she asked.
I hesitated, seeing again the white room and white slab in my mind. “He’s not there. I don’t see him.”
“What if you pictured, instead of nothingness in a bare room, laying your son directly into the arms of Jesus?”
Bile soured my mouth. I began to sob. “It just feels like I wanna be sick. I can’t look at that picture. It’s too painful!” I said with head bent, tears falling to the ground under my chair.
“What about Jesus’ arms feels painful to you?”
My shoulders heaved with a grief I didn’t yet understand. A flood of emotions poured through my tears. My inhales and exhales became frantic for stability. This was a three-day retreat. A safe place to process, to feel, to be cared for. It was a break from the care-taking so we could be the cared-for. This session with the counselor felt more like surgery without anesthesia than care and comfort. It was a long-overdue, necessary cut to relieve the fear poisoning my soul.
I blinked ferociously at my blurred surroundings. The lake. It glistened in the high sun. One. Two. Three ducks in an easy line. Lots of trees. Green trees. Slight breeze. My room in the building on the other side of the grass. On the third floor. Three ladies on the path across the footbridge to the dining hall. Threes. Everything happens in threes. People die in threes. I feel like I’m dying. I can’t. Concentrate. Three counts in. Three counts out. Breathe. Inhale. One. Two. Three. Exhale. One. Two. Three. I wiped at my face and shook my head for some attempt at composure.
“What about putting your son in Jesus’ arms feels painful to you?” she repeated.
A rush of hot tears stung my cheek. “Because I don’t know what He will do with him. I’m sure Rick and Kay Warren prayed the same prayers of hope and healing and promises that I have and…” I hesitated. I needed to give voice to the confusion but my lungs were closing in the sobs. “…their son still died, he still took his life,” I choked out. She winced at the mention of the elephant lingering in every room and every conversation throughout the weekend. We were mom’s with kids with mental illness. All hoping for a different outcome. All wanting God to heal our kids from this terrible disease. I felt sick; relieved that I had said it, because I so desperately needed an answer to the pain, but ashamed for bringing their son Matthew into the conversation. Matthew was their son, not mine and at that instant I felt I had betrayed them by speaking something that wasn’t mine to speak. Still. I needed answers to the apparent contradictions in the Bible.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)
“I’m asking for my son to be healed, we all are, and he’s not healed. I’m praying that verse every day and nothing is happening. God is not giving me what I’m asking for,” I said, wiping my puffy eyes.
“Do you trust God?” she asked through her own empathetic tears.
“I guess I don’t. No. I thought I did. I go around saying I do. I read my Bible every day. I sing praises. But I guess I don’t really trust Him after all,” I said with a matter-of-factness that surprised me. I grabbed a tissue as a presence moved toward me. Blanketing me in warm validation and security. It was as if the Spirit breathed a sigh of “finally.” Finally, I had come to an honest answer. Finally, I had uncovered the source of my own contradiction.
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Mark (9:24)
She still held me with her eyes. Now with a look of apprehension. I had given her a tough task, to try and explain the unexplainable.
“Yes, Kay’s son died ‘anyway.’ Our Hope isn’t in the healing. Our faith isn’t in a requested outcome. Our Hope is in Jesus, the One who heals, the One who redeems and rewrites our stories. Our faith is in God, not the outcome. We can pray for healing, and we should. Sometimes the physical healing comes on this side of eternity and sometimes it comes on the other side in heaven. Emotional healing, however, is available now, right here in the living in the middle of the mess.”
I had never thought of it that way. I had been so busy trying to control every aspect of my son’s illness that the thought of relinquishing control to God, not knowing the outcome, was not something I had wanted to take a chance on. I wanted my son safe and I had put myself in charge. I hadn’t the courage until this moment to fully let go and I was exhausted. I now saw that my efforts were futile. I was not in as much control as I thought I was.
I spent the rest of the weekend grieving, purging pent-up fear and anger. I allowed myself to take a deep breath in the safety of His arms. Instead of rejecting or abandoning me for admitting my distrust of His care, God pulled me closer. It was an undeniable embrace. I didn’t have all the answers I came searching for, but the walls came down. I was free. Free to ask questions. Free to say in my prayers, “Lord, I don’t trust you. Show me Who you are. Teach me how to trust you when I don’t receive the healing I’m asking for. Show me what it looks like to trust you in all things.” Honesty is a good place to start.
To listen to this story verbally and watch the entire conversation at the beach, go to the “Podcast Video Library” tab on this website to see the two-part YouTube version in Episodes 41 and 42, “What Are You Putting Your Faith In?” in regards to relationships, physical health, mental illness, parenting, finances, the government, God, etc. We are @TwoStepsAheadPodcast Highlighting the stuff we’ve stepped in so you don’t have to! Listen on all major podcast platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, iHeart, Stitcher) and watch weekly on public access TV in Santa Clarita, CA, Long Beach, CA and Pasadena, CA.
Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for “Wear Your Character.” All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com