By Brenda Croston
Thursday, April 12, 2007: The room was quiet—peacefully so. The sound of heart monitors, I.V. drips, feeding pumps, and the like stilled. Family members, the pastor, and I all stood still, too.
Mya’s limp frame rested in my arms. A nurse instructed me to place my sweet baby on the bed so she could prepare her body for the mortician’s arrival.
Mom stood on my right, her heart weighted with grief as she watched me, her baby girl, lay my own baby girl down for the last time.
This was not the first time this kind of peaceful quiet invaded our usually noisy space. Seven years prior, a similar scene played out: my family, silenced hospital room, and me lying my oldest daughter’s body down in preparation for the mortician.
Loss pummeled the first three decades of my life and here it was again. The specifics have been omitted so as not to get bogged down in a sad story and miss the point of all that happened.
I didn’t know how to reconcile these events with how I believed a Christian’s life should look. My mother had been faithful all my life. Literally.
She accepted Jesus Christ as Savior in our living room while I toddled at her feet. Mom modeled righteousness before us, but bad things kept happening, and good things were continuously taken away.
A delightful old deacon from my childhood church always prayed, “Lord, protect us from all hurt, harm, and danger, and we will be careful to give Your name all the glory and honor it deserves.”
In my mind, this suggested a simple equation.
Giving God praise + righteous living = no pain, loss, or suffering
I couldn’t help wondering what I was doing to deserve so much hurt, harm, and danger.
Then Thursday, April 12, 2007 came and interrupted my faulty thought pattern.
I stepped out of the hospital’s entranceway away from one of the most painful moments of my life and met the brightest, sunny blue sky I had ever seen. It was a Psalm 19:1 moment.
The heavens declared the glory of God; it gleamed all around me. This is going to sound a little strange, but I intuitively knew God was going to use my pain for His glory, and for the first time, I was okay with that.
How God prepared my pain for His glory
Before my loss could help anyone else, it first had to achieve what it was sent to accomplish in me.
I needed to learn how to voice my pain to God—without reservation, and without fearing He would no longer love me if I told Him how I truly felt about the great losses in my life.
Tears filled the corners of my eyes countless times, and as soon as the person with me saw the threat of a tear spillage, they pulled me into their embrace and passionately whispered, “Don’t cry!”
But I needed to cry. More than that, I needed the freedom to tell God how unfair it felt for everyone else’s children to live and thrive while mine slowly died in my arms.
I needed someone bold enough to come alongside and say, “I’ve been where you are. Your tears and/or expressions of disappointment don’t diminish your relationship with God. Speak to God (and listen to Him) until your peace is restored. He’s listening! He will not abandon you.”
And I needed people to say that with conviction, power, and a compassion so compelling that it pulled my anguished words to the surface.
My loss: everyone’s gain
I can’t prove it, but it seems some of us are afraid to let our anguish loose, fearing it will unfurl to no return. That is simply not true—if we choose to direct the unfurling to the One who knows what to do with it.
God created us to be in intimate relationship with Him, including revealing our innermost hurts. Even if that means asking Him why He allows loss to be a part of our stories. The Christian leaders around me didn’t encourage me to do that.
Don’t misunderstand, there were many attempts to comfort, but no one encouraged me to tell God how these losses felt.
Loss itself did that for me, transforming me into the kind of person I needed all those years ago. Or, maybe I should say, I am becoming that person.
God uses each new loss to make me keenly aware of the need to express my grief, developing a trust so solid that I can tell Him the ugliest of truths.
Ironically, I’d just touched the surface of women’s ministry shortly before Mya’s birth, questioning myself every step of the way. “What do you have to offer these women?”
Not knowing what I inwardly touted as my resume of loss was God’s training ground.
What I held as pitiful or shameful, He planned to use:
- My father died in my twelfth year of life.
- My innocence stolen during adolescent years.
- I endured a teenage pregnancy.
- I suffered academic failures.
Mya’s death was the catalyst that helped me recognize how God could use those things for His glory.
For every area of loss experienced—such as a death, a loss of community, or the loss of income—there has been an opportunity to minister to someone going through what God has already brought me through. It still amazes me!
My losses speak as often as God makes room. Yet, I know my story cannot and should not stand alone. My confidence in giving my loss a voice comes from Jesus and the truth of His Word.
In Psalm 22 David’s prayer begins with a hard question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus utters those same words from the cross.
From these I gleaned two important observations that laid the foundation for why I choose to let the losses in my life inform my leadership and ministry to others:
- Both David and Jesus kept an open dialogue with God even though they couldn’t feel His presence.
- In each of their asking, there appeared to be an expectation for God to answer.
My losses were so severe no one else could answer them, but God could. I had to turn to Him eventually because the pain of loss began speaking in detrimental ways and at inappropriate times.
My life changed for the better when I realized how David and Jesus were sustained through the worst times in their life because of open, honest dialogue with God.
Does Your Loss Speak?
What about you?
- Are you choosing to give voice to your loss, or are you letting loss decide when and where to speak?
- Have you accepted that God wants you to speak freely to Him about how deeply loss has affected your life?
- What part of your story do you need to bring before God so that it can later speak to those you lead?
Brenda M. Croston
Brenda serves as the women’s ministry leader at Mt. Missionary Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee. She is privileged to enjoy life with her husband, Mark, and their beautifully blended family.