“If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.”
Or maybe, like me, you were crazy with grief and He found another way to send you a message. The following story is true.
I turned away from God the day that man killed my sister.
The details of her death are not important here. Suffice it to say it was a cruel and violent end to a strong and beautiful woman. A woman who should be here now full of life and irreverent wit. A tiny wisp of a woman with a heart so big it wouldn’t fit in her body. She had to carry it around on her sleeve for all the world to see.
Throughout her life she embraced the weak and the small, the daft and the needy. She laughed at the pompous and stood up to the bullies among us. She smoked and she drank and always fell in love with the wrong man. Because of these things she had reason to cry far too often. Because of these things her passing ripped a hole in my heart, altering my world.
I knew from harsh experience long before she was taken that life could be cruel. Babies, including one of my own, are conceived never to be born, fading away before ever drawing a breath, children cry from hunger and young men go off to fight in distant lands, never to return. Life is fragile, we know it is. But this… this Lord… is far too much to bear.
“How dare you?” I cried, shaking my fist toward heaven. Ironic in that I no longer believed in God, don’t you think? I railed at this nonexistent being for failing her, for failing me, for taking her away when I wasn’t ready to let her go.
“Damn you!” I told Him. You could have saved her if you tried. Why didn’t you try?
When He didn’t answer, didn’t bring her back or bother to explain himself, I closed my heart against the pain. I wrapped my grief in anger and slammed the door on faith. God didn’t listen to my curses. Paid no mind to my tirades accusing Him of being a fraud. A sham. A made up being created by the weak minded and the gullible. Apparently he wasn’t ready to let me go. He kept tweaking me, reminding me with my own words that He was there, waiting for me
“Oh for God’s sake!” I said when I dropped a plate emptying the dishwasher.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” popped out when I came upon one of the kids bathing the cat in the sink.
“God damn you!” I yelled when the speeding car cut me off at the intersection.
“Good God girl!” was my exclamation when my best friend told me some delicious gossip
“God Bless You,” I said when the grocer sneezed.
Words, meaningless words, I tried to tell myself when I heard them coming from my own mouth. Even at night I’d catch myself falling into my life-long pattern of prayer as I drifted off to sleep.
“Our father who art in heaven…”
I’d make myself stop. Force myself to think of something else. The car needs new tires. I forgot to put $5.00 dollars in my daughter’s lunch bag and she needs it for the field trip. What time is it?
“Hail Mary full grace…”
That’s enough, I’d say and pull the pillow over my head only to go on thinking. The mortgage is due and I’m short again. Why can’t the support check ever be on time?
In spite of the pain I smiled in the dark remembering the time my sister had that same sort of problem with her rent and we all pitched in and helped her. I see her face, remember how she laughed and cried and promised that as soon as she got back on her feet she would help the next person who might need it. And she did, often.
“She won’t get back on her feet this time, will she God?”
“Stop it! Get out of my head and leave me alone. Isn’t it bad enough you let her die? Let me sleep, please just let me sleep.”
“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…”
“No, I’m not sorry for anything. I did not offend this time, you did! You offended me by taking my sister away. You offended my mother by taking her child. You offend me today by being a fake and a liar. You promised you would answer our prayers. You promised to watch over us. You promised us life everlasting.”
“I know she must have prayed that night. In the fear and confusion of what was happening to her she would have asked for your help. How could you turn away and leave her to her fate? Tell me. How could you turn your back on your child?”
Tears stained my pillow every night for months on end. I was so tired and worn out I could barely function. I had no place of solace to offer comfort, no faith to carry me through the unending days of darkness and despair. I was failing my children, sleepwalking through my job. Life had become mere existence.
Finally one night, out of sheer exhaustion I forced everything from my mind and drifted off to sleep. That night there were no dreams to disturb my rest. No memories of two little girls playing house or running through the grass. No recollection of silly teenage fights over clothes and make up. And blessedly, no nightmare imaginings of her final moments. Finally I slept.
The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed for the first time since the funeral. There was some hint of clarity to the world once again. I began to think I might survive this. Altered, diminished by my loss, irrevocably older, but I would live on and carry her spirit with me. Looking at her picture on the dresser I could feel her love. Hear her insistence that I continue to live.
Eventually, over a great deal of time, after much soul searching and months of questioning I began to see the truth. God didn’t do this. He didn’t allow it to happen. A man did this. A broken justice system failed to protect her. And since God didn’t want to see his child suffer he was there easing her fear, enveloping her in his love. When the time came he took her home, fulfilling his promise of everlasting life. He then began to focus His attention on healing those left behind. What I failed to see in my grief, what I turned away from in my anger and fear was the vision of His everlasting love as God turned toward me the day that man killed my sister.
“Our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name…”