I remember the day I looked into Brody’s crib and told him – told myself – that the nightmare was over. It was Monday, November 7, 2016 and he was 11 months old. He was doing so well. He was doing all the things doctors told us he would never do and he’d been doing them successfully for months. I remember he was smiling up at me and I was smiling down at him and I felt such gratitude and relief.
I felt victorious.
I never would have guessed he had only six months left to live.
Yesterday, sitting in church, I listened as the pastor explained that God does not allow bad things to happen in our lives. We are meant to be victorious, and when we fail, he said, we fail because our hearts condemn us. He was teaching from 1 John 3: 19-23 which reads:
19And by this we will know that we belong to the truth, and will assure our hearts in His presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows all things. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God, 22and we will receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight. 23And this is His commandment: that we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and we should love one another just as He commanded us.
I couldn’t listen to that message and not feel like a failure. I’m not sure how this can be interpreted as anything other than: your son died because you didn’t have enough faith. I have to acknowledge that I don’t think anyone, including my pastor, wants me to take it that way. But, I’m listening in church, I’m trying to understand, and that is what I’m hearing.
I was in a terrible mood after the service. I felt like never going back to church – never putting myself at risk of hearing words that hurt so deep. I decided this was an extreme overreaction, however. There’s no point in being offended.
Still, I found myself sitting in my closet today, crying and asking God why the world is such a hell of a mess. I know the answer is largely because we all feed the bad wolf sometimes and make terrible choices. We hurt ourselves, we hurt each other. We obsess over what we think we need. We choose fear over love. Our hearts betray us.
“Why did you let it get like this, God? Why do people have so much and so little power all at the same time? Why did you trust me with Brody if I wasn’t enough to keep him here?”
And the words of 1 Corinthians 13 started to fill my mind. “If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
I cannot fathom all mysteries. Not all of the mountains in my life have been cast into the sea. But even if it is somehow true that Brody died because my heart condemned me, I will stand in the confidence that I had what matters most. I have loved and will always love Brody. Even when I learned that I might have to watch my son die, I chose to love him.
And I believe that’s what faith is really meant to motivate us to do. Understanding faith is not meant to be this obsession with getting a miracle or finding the path that leads to answered prayer – as it has certainly been for me at times. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians that the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.
The only thing, he writes in chapter five verse six, the only thing is faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love.
I am not saying to stop learning the promises of God for healing, or to stop praying for God’s will to be done. Certainly giving sight to the blind was a powerful way Jesus showed love.
But, if you want to measure your faith, don’t measure it in answered prayers for mercy and favour. Don’t measure it in prophecies or mountains moved. In my experience, that is a futile distraction that leads to heartache.
Instead, measure faith by the risks you take to help someone. Measure it by generosity, patience and unmerited kindness. Measure it by forgiveness, commitment and sacrifice.
Measure faith by the strength and determination with which you love.
1 Corinthians 13
New International Version (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.