My faith has been challenged again this past week. I had dinner with a dear friend of mine last Sunday, whose 15 year old son almost died in August last year when an ice cave collaped on him and a friend. The two boys were buried under the ice for over 4 hours before they were rescued. For most of that time, the rescuers and my friend C didn’t think the boys could have survived. Last Sunday, C told me that there was a point when her son had been under the ice for about three hours when she had a sudden image of God standing over her son with a knife in hand, just like Abraham stood over Isaac, and God asked C: “Are you ready to give your son to me?” C says that, stricken with fear, she nonetheless answered,  “Yes, Lord, if you give me the strength to live without him.”

Just a few minutes later, the rescuers heard a voice under the ice, her son’s voice, and he was rescued. His friend was rescued a little while later.

I have always resisted theologies that portray someone’s illness or death as “God’s will” or part of “God’s plan”. As a chaplain I witness the suffering that people go through when someone they love dies, especially when that someone is their child. I can’t bring myself to believe that God would ever be the cause of that kind of pain.

And yet I could hear in my friend’s story that she found comfort in giving her precious son to God. As painful as it was, it was profoundly meaningful and it helped her face a future without her son. 

I’m not sure I am explaining this very well, but I can’t think of what other words to add. 

In my own life, I know that I am a much better parent when I think of my daughters not as mine, but as beloved children of God, who have been entrusted to my care. When I think of the incredible gift they are in my life, and that I am accountable to God for raising them to be loving, responsible, and independent women – that’s when I make the best decisions on their behalf. I am a much better wife when I think of my husband not as mine, but as a child of God, and when I remember that one of my major responsibilities as a wife is to help him grow closer to God.  

My friend C says that after she turned her son over to God, she was filled with gratitude for the 14 years she had had with him.

I still find it hard to think of “God’s will” when a child dies. What I do know is that I am deeply grateful for the people who have appeared in my life and whom I have been fortunate to love and nurture. I hope that my gratitude will always sustain me, even when it is time to say a last “goodbye” to someone I love and give him or her to God.

Queries for prayerful reflection:

What does it mean to give someone to God? In what ways do I turn the ones I love over to God? In which ways do I not turn them over to God?