What can one say to a fellow believer whose heart is broken?
We’ve all been there … losing a parent, a job, a dear friend. We rally around with cards or phone calls, both earmarked with kind offers of sympathy and reminders of continued prayers. And it’s so easy to quote Scripture: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (Thessalonians 5:18).
Yet I wonder sometimes if it’s enough. Are people listening? Is the Holy Spirit pushing through the dredge and mire we wallow in when we want to lick our wounds?
Given these circumstances, most people I know eventually bounce back. They take their lumps and turn them over to God as 1 Peter 5:7 instructs us to when it says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
But all too frustratingly, sometimes people go the other way.
This past year, I’ve gotten to know Becky and Rob, a couple who attended our church along with their granddaughter, Alicia.* The child had been living with them for the past two years in what is called a “foster kinship” program as, sadly, both of her parents had been on drugs and their lives spent mostly in a series of prison stays since their baby was born.
Becky and Rob were often seen holding Alicia’s hand on Sundays while they made their way along the quiet tree-lined street where they live on the way to church. Their adoration of her has been evident to everyone in their sphere, right down to the way they dress her (matching sandals and purse reflecting a heightened sense of fashion consciousness). Alicia’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being has been Becky and Rob’s highest priority and to even a casual observer, the child has thrived in her environment — swim lessons, ballet, T-ball, gardening, hiking, flying kites.
“Mom-Mom?” she once asked. “Is Pop-Pop coming to church with us today?” Becky replied, “Yes, Alicia, Pop-Pop’s coming.” Alicia beamed, “Oh, that’s perfect.”
Then at some point, I noticed their absence from church.
When calling Becky one day, she painfully explained that Alicia is no longer living with them. She’d been taken away by the county. As a result, neither Becky nor Rob attends church anymore. They are bitter against God.
I tried to put myself in their shoes … to understand the frustration of dealing with the social welfare system. Their plans to rear Alicia in the nurture and admonition of the Lord were now thwarted by a case worker, who abruptly placed Alicia with a “professional” foster family.
But now, with the child gone from their custody, they feel God has abandoned them. The bitterness they feel toward God for this situation has left them feeling hollowed out and miserable. In my feeble conversations with Becky, I try to let the Holy Spirit do the talking, lest my own words come up dry — words that admonish her to have more faith, more trust and not to focus on the problem but instead trust that God is in control. As much as I want to shake the upset feeling from her and beg her to be joyful, convict her that she is wrong to leave God behind or to blame Him, I know that this is not my domain even as I struggle to not be preachy or judgmental. Try all I want to persuade her to come back to church — to guilt her into coming (“Isn’t God worthy, Becky?”) — there is one question I leave with her: “Does Alicia belong to you, or does she belong to God?”
In answering this, both the giver and the receiver of that question must realize that everything belongs to God. “For the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Psalm 50:12). We are just the stewards of what we’ve been given — children, grandchildren and spouses.
In subsequent conversations, as much as I long to make Becky and Rob let their bitterness go and accept this trial as the Lord sees fit, I realize that is His job, not mine. When I hang up the phone, it’s always my prayer that the family is reconciled one day as the Lord wills. Certainly the Lord knows what’s best for us as we yield to Him. And most certainly, if He owns the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10), how much more our lives?
* Names have been changed for confidentiality.
Mary Cantell is an author and voiceover actress who formerly worked in television and radio news.
- What, if anything, would you say to Becky and Rob to comfort them? Would you encourage them to return to church, and, if so, what would you say?
- Is it hard to reconcile difficult events in our lives with our view of God?