I have a shelf. No, not a physical one, but it’s just as real as the ones that I used to help my dad build when I was growing up. It’s the place I put my questions. Questions that I am not ready to face. Before Jon died I was so certain. I knew where I was going in life. I knew who I was. I knew who God was. I had it all figured out.
The weeks following Jon’s death and the discovery that I was pregnant with his son were spent in a numb stupor. Reality was fluid as I was crushed beneath wave after wave of despair. My mind was chaos. A swirling vortex of pain and panic.
Eventually, I managed to get my feet under me for longer periods of time. When I did I realized that I knew nothing. As the shock slowly wore off, questions began to surface.
If I had taken Jon’s physical complaints seriously, would he still be alive?
Is there actually a Biblical basis for seeing our loved ones again?
If God’s promises are “yes and amen”, what about His promises to Jon?
Why was he allowed to get so close to his dream coming true before suddenly dying?
Ya, it’s great that my writing is going the direction I had always dreamed it would go, but why did it have to come at the expense of my husband’s life?
What is the point of living a holy life if everything is going to be taken from me regardless of how I live?
Does God actually protect us from pain?
These questions would bubble up and overwhelm me. First I would feel sorrow, then anger and if I dwelled on it too long, tendrils of bitterness would begin to wrap themselves around my heart. I had to figure out a way not to be consumed by them.
So I built myself a shelf.
When these questions would come, I would first pause to acknowledge them and the fact that they are valid and important questions. But then I would pick them up and place them on the shelf with the understanding that I was not yet strong enough to face them. Sometimes they would fall off the shelf and back into my lap and I would have to repeat the process.
I could not face those questions before. I was not strong enough. I needed to relearn how to simply live day to day as a pregnant widowed mother. I did not have the mental or emotional energy to tackle such oppressive questions while adjusting to my new reality. Taking a shower and eating actual meals were victories. I couldn’t ask myself to do more than that. I couldn’t deal with the big things. I just had to do the next task before me. Whatever it was, even if it was just getting dressed, I would focus on that and not think of anything else except picking up the shirt and pulling it over my head.
The Shelf enabled me to survive.
It has been a year and a half now, and while the shelf has been an essential and healthy coping mechanism, I’ve gotten to the place where I want to start dealing with these questions and the emotions attached to them.
Ever since coming to Nashville I’ve been trying to get my heart in a place where I can bring these questions to God. But I’ve been frustrated because every time I hear Him speak it’s not been about any of the questions. The things I would hear felt like bandaids on a bullet wound. I sat down in the middle of worship a couple nights ago because I felt like I was lying.
As I was sitting there looking down I began to see myself sitting on the edge of a canyon. (God frequently speaks to me in visions.) I knew, in the way you just know things in dreams and visions, that the canyon was my pain, my questions. On the far side of the canyon was where God wanted to take me. I was expecting to see God shift the vision and fill the canyon so I could walk to the other side. But that didn’t happen. Instead I saw a picture of Aladdin on the carpet reaching his hand up to me. I heard God whisper, “Do you trust me?” To which I responded, “Not really, no.” I knew he wanted to take me over to the other side of the canyon and leave it behind, but my heart still wanted it to be filled. Then I heard God say, “Erica, even if you never understand, will you still choose me?”
The question rocked me. Could I let those questions go even if they remain unanswered? I still don’t know the answer to that. But even so, I could not say anything else but “yes” to His question. “Will you still choose me?” Of course I will. Where else could I go? I’ve seen and experienced His goodness in my life too many times to deny Him. I don’t have any emotional ties to my faith at the moment and I haven’t for a very long time. My faith is an act of my will based on the overwhelming evidence in my life that, not only does God exist, but He is good and He knows and loves me intimately.
My shelf is still fully stocked. I haven’t been able to let anything go. But I want to. And.. I think that’s a pretty good step for now.
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
― C.S. Lewis
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”