Trusting God When Life Hurts
Contributed by Meadow Rue Merrill
When our daughter Ruth, who had multiple special needs, died before her eighth birthday, my husband, Dana, and I were devastated. I don’t say “completely” devastated or “profoundly” devastated, because by its very definition devastation is total. There are no degrees. Rather, we experienced a black, bleak ruin where the flowering, fruitful garden of our lives once grew.
Born in a hospital in Uganda and quickly abandoned, Ruth had spent much of the first year of her life in an orphanage before being diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She then came to Maine for six months of physical therapy. We met her through friends, fell in love with her laughing eyes and contagious smile, and completed a lengthy and complicated international adoption to give her a home.
Was raising Ruth hard? Yes. It was also the most unexpected, amazing, life-affirming, heart expanding experience of our lives. Because Ruth could physically do nothing for herself, our new routine—and our three older children’s—involved daily sacrifice. Yet, loving and serving Ruth filled us with joyful confidence that we were living out God’s will, expressed throughout scripture, to share his love with others. Our purpose was to love Ruth, and we did. Completely.
Then, without warning, Ruth died in her sleep after a mild illness. Not only did we lose a beloved child, I lost my trust in God. How could he allow this to happen? Here we had deliberately sought to obey God, and he had broken our hearts.
For months, I struggled to pray or read my Bible—once familiar practices that had often strengthened and comforted me in the past. For me, there was no comfort, only the aching question of who was to blame for Ruth’s death: us? or God? If us, how could I forgive myself? And if God, how could I trust him?
Discovering a hidden, underlying cause for Ruth’s death—something we could not have anticipated or prevented—slowly helped me let go of the guilt I felt. In the weeks and months that followed, I gave myself permission to feel and express the anguish of having lost our precious Ruth. I needed to mourn, but I also needed to be comforted. For those who trust God, grief is not the intended legacy of life. Love is.
And so, not quite trusting this God who had allowed Ruth to slip from our tender grasp, I opened my Bible to the most melancholy books I could think of, to see if perhaps God would meet me there. Ecclesiastes, which opens with the words, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” seemed like a safe bet. So did Lamentations, which is written in the form of a funeral dirge. I also found comfort in the Psalms, which are full of laments.
“I am exceedingly afflicted,” Israel’s ancient king David wrote in Psalm 119:107. “Revive me, O Lord, according to your word.”
This was what I needed: to be revived. The more I read, the closer I drew to God and the more tangible his presence became to me. I also became more aware of the hurts of others—not just my own. The Bible is full of misused, abandoned, downtrodden, and grief stricken people, including those actively following the will of God. To deny this is to deny the very suffering of Christ and that of other innocent people around the world—those caught in the modern slave trade, those struggling to find water, food, and shelter, those who lack proper medical care, and the millions of children like Ruth, who are still waiting for homes.
While I still ache from Ruth’s loss, looking in the word helped me to connect with the suffering of others and trust God so that I could keep sharing his love. If you read to the end of the book, you’ll discover this story’s not over yet. One day God’s redemption will be complete and suffering will be no more.
Meadow Rue Merrill is an editor, speaker and Christian columnist who writes books for children and adults from her home in Mid-coast Maine. This is the third essay in a summer-long blog series on trusting God when life hurts. To read other excerpts, please visit www.meadowrue.com