On Making Sense Of Pain

I’m certainly not willing to drag other hurting mothers into my brain games as I try one idea or another on for size. I’m not going to tell a mother whose first grader was gunned down in a classroom that it was part of God’s plan. I may be there with Jack’s death on more days than I’m not, but I refuse to come to these conclusions for anyone else.

And it’s tricky. Because hurting people want to understand; we want to know why. But we don’t want people coming to conclusions for us, feeding us neat little answers of what God’s will is and how His mind and heart work. No thank you.

Anna Whiston- Donaldson, Rare Bird A Memoir Of Loss And Love

I spent a lot of time really angry at a lot of people. I was really angry at the words and the sentences people chose to say out loud to us. I could list them off to you, part of me really wants to. The sentences that stung and the sentences that made me burst into tears. The sentences that still to this day make my stomach hurt a little. Grief is so awkward, I so get it. No one knows what to say. We don’t like to see our people hurting.  We want our people to feel better and we want them to be happy. We don’t like messy things and grief is really messy.

But what I’m learning is that hurting people don’t need you to make sense of their pain. Hurting people don’t want you to do that. When you try and make sense of our pain, it hurts even more. It really does. We don’t need you to fix our grief. We don’t need you to find closure for us. And that’s what those sentences feel like, at least they did to me. They felt like other people were trying to fix it for me. Like other people were trying to make sense of what happened for me. The sentences about God’s will and God’s plan and how one day we will look back and know the purpose of all of this. The sentences that give reasons as to why this may have happened. The ones that try to make sense of it all. Those ones.

I’m learning that making sense of pain is an extremely personal process. So personal that even Dustin and I have done this part separately. We talk about it together, sure. But we don’t push our beliefs and reasons about the whole thing onto each other. We have this unspoken agreement that I won’t try and make sense of his pain if he won’t try and make sense of mine. However I’ve chosen to make sense of what happened is exactly what it is for that day. However he has chosen to make sense of what happened is exactly what it is for that day. Some days they are the same, other days they aren’t.

Ask me today and I will tell you that I think this was all a part of God’s marvelous plan. I believe God knew from the beginning this was how it was all going to go down. I’d tell you that I believe he caused this and made it happen. That God orchestrated all of this, down to the last detail. I’d tell you that I believe this needed to happen and that this served a mighty purpose for God’s kingdom.

Ask me on another day and I will tell you this was all Satan. That this was pure evil, every last part of it. I can hear God asking, “Where have you come from?” and Satan replying, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth in it.” I’d tell you that this resembled Job’s story is some capacity, that God allowed Satan to enter this story. That there was a battle waged in heaven over this tiny life and God simply chose to not intervene.

Ask me on another day and I will tell you there is no way God caused this. He may have allowed it to happen, but he did not plan it, cause it, or see it to completion. Some days my heart simply cannot believe that He did this. He did not. This is just a by product of living in a sinful and fallen world. Evil is real. Crap happens to good people. But our God doesn’t do stuff like this.

Ask me on another day and I will tell you I don’t know and I don’t really care. It doesn’t make sense and it never will. Even if God came down in the flesh, sat at my kitchen table and told us the purpose of all of this over dinner it still wouldn’t make sense. I’d tell you that God and I will most certainly be having a very serious discussion at the gates of heaven one day. But until then, I don’t care and I don’t want to talk about it.

I’m learning that there is no way to be awesome at grief. You just do it and you figure it out along the way. I’m learning that when people are hurting they will come to their own conclusions about what happened. They will make sense of it. They really will. It make take a really long time and it may be different every other day, but they will make sense of it and they will do it themselves. I’m learning that your people don’t need you to make sense of their pain. If you need to make sense of it yourself, by all means do that, but we don’t really want to hear about it (at least I didn’t). They just need you to be there with them while they figure it out. And when they do make sense of it? They will tell you. And if they haven’t told you? Ask them. Ask them how they’re making sense of everything and then do the thing that’s really hard… Don’t talk. Just listen.


We took a trip to Austin shortly after I got back from Uganda. We needed to go somewhere and Austin holds two people my heart really needed to see. I could write a whole chapter in a book about how important that trip was for my heart. For a hundred reasons we needed to specifically go there and we needed to specifically see them. The last morning we were there, my friend Jamie and I went for a walk. We talked about a lot of things from marriage to church to friends to family to what happened. She asked me a question that lead to one of my favorite conversations to date about it all. She simply asked me, “How are you making sense of all of this?” No one had asked me that question yet and it opened up a space I will forever be grateful for. And then she did something so beautiful, she just listened. She listened as I talked it out. She listened as I told her how I think this was God’s plan but how I also don’t know if I believe in a God who would plan something like this. She listened as I told her how I also think this was all Satan and how I think God let Satan do this. She listened as I told her how I also don’t know how to make sense of any of it and how there are days I really don’t care why or how it happened it just sucks.

I don’t think she said more than seven words during that part of the conversation. She never told me what she thought about what happened. She didn’t try to make my views on God pretty. She didn’t try to make sense of what happened or find closure in my pain. She just asked the question and then let the conversation be messy. It was one of those moments I will carry with me for a really really long time, if not forever.

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