This past Saturday, we had the great joy of hosting another While We're Waiting Mini-Retreat for Moms. Once again, the day was a huge blessing, not only for the moms who attended, but for me personally. Due to a variety circumstances, we ended up having the smallest group we've ever had ... but it really didn't matter. In fact, because we had a small group, we were able to really relax and take the day at a slower pace than usual.
It's always interesting to me to see how God brings a particular group of people together. On this particular day, we had a group of moms whose losses had been relatively high-profile losses. All of us, in one way or another, were forced to deal with the loss of our children in a somewhat public way. So for us, there was comfort to be found in just relaxing and sharing honestly together.
One of moms summed it up when she said, "It's so nice not to have to be 'on.'" And I knew exactly what she meant. I really don't feel that way so much anymore at 4 1/2 years out, but in the early days, weeks, and months after Hannah's death, I felt like I was always being watched. Because we had taken a strong stand of faith as we dealt with her cancer, using "God is good all the time" as our daily motto ... lots of folks were watching us, waiting to see if our faith would crumble after our prayers for healing were not answered the way we had desired.
And because of that, I dutifully played the role of the strong Christian woman in public, even in the face of devastating loss and disappointment. Now please don't misunderstand ... I never did lose my faith or doubt God's goodness ... but there were many, many, many days that I did not feel strong or Christlike. But because I knew it was expected of me, I presented my happy face to the world and kept all the ugly painful stuff hidden away. There were times when I longed to go to a place where no one knew me and I didn't have to keep my chin up all the time. It was only with other bereaved parents that I could truly be honest and real.
I know I'm not the only one who has felt this way. I think all of us do it to some extent ... some more than others. Some of us get really, really good at it ... I'm thinking of lots of the bereaved parents I know who are incredibly good at hiding their hurts from the world. This becomes a very heavy burden over time.
It seems that maybe this is just part of life for parents who have lost children, but God certainly does not require it of us. In fact, Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).
God never intended for us to carry this kind of burden. Psalm 55:22 says, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved." We need to let Him carry that burden of being "on" for us ... He promises that He will sustain us and keep us steady.
Does that mean that it's appropriate to spill our pain out on everyone we encounter? No, I don't think so ... there's probably no quicker way to run off our friends and acquaintances. But I think we need to continuously cast our burden on the Lord, and find a few Christian friends we can trust to pray for us, encourage us, and listen to us without judging us. Most of the time, but not always, these friends will be people who have experienced losses similar to ours ... and may be a few miles farther down the road than we are.
That's what the While We're Waiting events provide ... a safe place to share our deepest hurts without fear of judgment. Caring people who want to hear about our children and look at their pictures. And a reminder that our pain is not for nothing ... that God is still in control and that there is hope for the future. A place where, for awhile at least, we don't have to be "on" ... and where we can gain strength for the next step of the journey.