It has been almost three years since Goodwin’s death, and I continue to feel the effects of it every day. The initial overwhelming sorrow and shock has softened, but how I view life and the world around me continues to evolve. For me, experiencing tragedy literally stopped me in my tracks left me questioning a lot of my basic beliefs that I had easily accepted before. I don’t necessarily feel like my beliefs were wrong, but my understanding has been affected by my life experiences. I accept that my view could be totally wrong and that others may disagree, but I wanted to share my current view on God’s role and what we should pray for.
In the initial weeks after Goodwin died, I felt spiritually betrayed. I thought I had felt promptings before and that I had been guided before, so why did I not have a feeling of impending danger? If God cared about me, why did he supposedly help me in little ways and abandon me at the critical times? [However unreasonable, this was my initial response.] Over time as Eldon and I discussed this and many other topics related to God’s role, we came to the conclusion that God cares much more about the spiritual/emotional/internal versus the temporal. It is sometimes said that God is in the details. I do actually believe this, but I think we sometimes misinterpret this as God is in the details of our physical circumstances. Of course God knows and cares about our physical situation, but I think it is more useful to focus on how He understands the intangible details of our lives, like our thoughts, struggles, and desires.
In my own situation, I learned this lesson quickly. Because there wasn’t even a chance to hope for a change in my physical situation (Goodwin had already passed away), the only prayers I could give were prayers for help and understanding and comfort. While I was absolutely heartbroken with my life event, I still felt God’s love for me. As I prayed for comfort and the ability to deal with my loss, I did (and continue to) feel God’s presence in my life.
In the Bible Jesus teaches this principle. Story after story, Jesus does physically heal people, but in many stories He specifically explains that the forgiveness of sin is His primary concern (the intangible). In Mark 2 when He forgives the man brought through the roof, He asks the scribes, “…Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.”
God absolutely can change physical circumstances, but I don’t think that is His point. I think the physical healing is just a tangible manifestation of His power to forgive sin. Or His power to soften our hearts and give us comfort. His true [universal] power is the ability to change our hearts, not necessarily our physical circumstances.
This is why statements like, “I know that God loves me because my family member was healed” tend to bother me. It makes God’s love for us dependent on our physical situation or outcome. This just cannot be true. Or, “I know that God answered my prayers because my family member was healed.” Or “Because we had enough faith, our family member was healed.”
These statements support this worldview: “Because of my physical situation, I know that God loves me.” This worldview works if you have a favorable situation and it focuses on tangible miracles, like being saved from disaster. I’m not necessarily saying this is bad or wrong, but I would say that it is less useful and can lead to confusion and feelings of abandonment when life doesn’t turn out happily.
To me, it is more constructive to believe: “In spite of my physical situation, I know that God loves me.” This worldview is universal and focuses on the intangible miracles, like a change of heart. This is how anyone can find happiness, whether their physical situation is happy or not. Feeling that God loves you and can help you deal with your life situation is enabling and gives us the power to makes changes in our life.
This leads me to prayer. What should we pray for (if we should pray at all)? I think we should pray for whatever is the desire of our heart. Sometimes that may be physical things, like receiving healing from illness, getting a job, or avoiding physical harm. But again, I think prayer is less about asking God to change our life, but asking Him to change us so we can change our life.
I have learned this principle by being a parent. I feel like a healthy parent-child relationship can help us understand our relationship to God. When Sophie was in 1st grade, she was dealing with a bully/mean girl problem. Almost every day she would tell me her struggles. I took two approaches. Most of the time, I gave her advice and ideas of what to say if she had problems or how to stand up for herself and how to get help at school. Some of this advice helped her, but at two different times I had to contact her teacher for help because Sophie was unable to defend herself with her 6-year-old abilities. Eventually, with a little intervention but mostly Sophie’s own efforts, she was able to make progress with this girl and Sophie eventually became her friend.
I think this is similar to our relationship with Heavenly Father through prayer. We could pray for the situation to change. Sophie could pray, “Please help her to not be mean to me.” This would be like me completely intervening and contacting the girl’s parents or requesting the girl to change classrooms (I’m not saying this is wrong, but it’s not my style). Instead, Sophie could more constructively pray, “Please help me to know how to deal with that girl” or “Please help me to be nice to that girl even though she is being mean.” This is like Sophie asking me for help and learning how to solve her own problems.
Ultimately, I believe that God loves us. He wants to help us. We don’t understand everything about life. However, I do know that each of us will have to deal with difficulties, whether they are physical, mental, emotional, financial, familial, etc. Being a good person is not reason enough to avoid difficult or bad things in life. But, if we can focus on the internal power of Jesus Christ, such as a change of heart, and ask Heavenly Father for guidance rather than requests for change, I feel like we will be able to find happiness independent of our physical situation.
Taken on the day we found out we were having a boy (May 2013)