Finding God in Tragedy
by Linda Shortridge
In March of 2014, my phone rang, breaking the stillness of the early morning. My father screamed my name over and over, intense sorrow filled my ear. Finally he could say, “It’s your brother.” I naively said, “Dad, we can fix it. What is wrong?” Dad finally mouthed the horrible words, “Your brother is dead. He killed himself this morning.” I remember collapsing and sliding down the stairs. My husband woke and tried to comfort me in the devastating realization that my only sibling had just ended his life. Tragically, the problem with my brother was past fixing.
Panic, then grief, dominated my mind. I felt the turmoil would increase until my brain exploded. As I drove through a late season snowstorm to my Dad’s, I felt the pain and confusion would grow until everything else was forced out of my life. Suddenly, I heard a still, small voice whispered into my confusion. “You tried to reach Paul. He would not respond, but you did all you could. You must not carry the guilt of his choice.” God’s voice whispered in my soul and gave me words that would center my faith in the process of grieving and turmoil caused by suicide.
My husband put together the funeral and chose “It Is Well” for a hymn. It seemed, at the time, a tortuous and twisted choice. How can it ever be well? My thoughts alternated between sorrow, anger, guilt, fear, and total confusion. Nothing seemed well, and it seemed like it never could be again. Anger welled up and I shouted at my husband, “It is not well with my soul! I never want to hear that song again. Not at the funeral or ever!”
Survivors of suicide face a unique blend of sorrow and pain compounded by alternating between loss of a person and hatred of the same person for causing the loss. In addition to this loss, other areas of challenge had already nearly pushed me the edge.
The church we planted ten years earlier was disintegrating around us through the betrayal of dear friends. It seemed like it was following the same path as my brother. Shortly after my brother’s suicide, I reached the place of total hopelessness. Devastation and numbness overwhelmed me, the church adding to my helpless hurting. I hurt for my mom and dad, my dead brother, and for a church family that seemed intent on killing its members. It seemed like the enemy had won and no help could be found. God seemed occupied with other things or worse, uncaring. I went to church since it was my job, but I had to hide alone in a room to keep from losing it in front of the people I was paid to lead in faith.
Even though He seemed to not even care to answer, all I could say to God was, “Why?” This time, however, I heard His reply to my “Why?” “What if?” He seemed to say. “What if what?” I responded. God’s simple reply whispered, “What if this is how I choose to build my church?” I said without thinking, “Then I suppose it is well with my soul.”
God does speak in tragedy. He comforts through focusing our pain on a purpose standing just past our understanding. Since that day, God has built a beautiful church family and has used the tragedy of suicide to build beauty within me as well. Sorrow comes, and the assurance that it will be well allows us to proclaim wellness today.