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“It Wasn’t Supposed to Be This Way!”
At some point in life, nearly every one of us finds ourselves pulled under by a tsunami wave of pain, overwhelmed by something large, sudden, and personally devastating.
It can come crashing into our lives in any of a thousand ways.
A phone call from the doctor about a lab report that looks suspicious.
A wooden-faced supervisor who calls you into his office just before lunch and says, “We’re downsizing the company. We have to let you go.”
A brief, cold conversation with your spouse one morning, and then the shocking words: “I’m leaving. I’ve found someone else.”
A late-night knock on your door from a highway-patrol officer. “Your daughter has been in an accident. I’m sorry to tell you this, but she didn’t make it.”
A quick, stricken glance from the obstetrician. “I’m not picking up any heartbeat from the baby.”
At such times heartache and despair rush over us, pulling us down into a place of darkness until we wonder if the light of hope will ever again penetrate our lives.
This is when the hurt runs deep.
As human beings, hurts and wounds, bumps and bruises, disappointments and sorrows come bundled along with our birth certificates.
Every one of us, starting in childhood, had to learn how to deal with the skinned knees, hurt feelings, dashed hopes, and heartbreaking setbacks common to fallen humanity. How well we coped with these difficulties, challenges, and unexpected obstacles determined in large measure what sort of man or woman we’ve become and how we navigate our way through life.
But there are storms…and there are storms.
It’s one thing to get caught in a spring thundershower; it’s another to find yourself in a Category 5 hurricane. It’s one thing to trip over a hose and fall in your backyard; it’s another to fall out of a third-story window. It’s one thing to be rejected for admission to college; it’s another to be betrayed and rejected by the one you love with all your heart. It’s one thing to lose your car keys; it’s another to lose a longed-for baby in a miscarriage. It’s one thing to get knocked off your feet by a surprise ocean wave, when you’re looking in the other direction; it’s another to be swallowed by a tsunami of pain.
Sometimes the pain we experience goes much, much deeper than surface pain. Sometimes the heartache we have to endure pierces deeper than we ever thought possible, utterly overwhelming us.
In my own life…
If you had told me four years ago the events and circumstances that would come crashing down around me in just forty-eight months, I never would have believed you.
I could have never anticipated—or even imagined—such things.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It didn’t have to be this way!
But now, there’s no denying the backwash of pain and sadness I feel. These aren’t the common, garden-variety wounds that we all encounter in the course of life; this is pain that goes bone deep.
So where do we turn when we find ourselves beyond our own ability to cope? What hope do we have that the pain will ever go away?
I’m thinking of a family, not so very different from many of the families you know.
Neither rich nor poor, they were respected within the community but not especially well known. The dad in the family was a pastor.
The little girl living under that family’s roof was just eight years old on the evening her dad first slipped into her bedroom to do her harm while her mother was out of the house. The sexual abuse that began that night lasted for eight horrible years. The little girl essentially became her dad’s slave, always at hand to satisfy his sexual whims.
Her betrayer was her own father. The pastor.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way! Fathers are supposed to protect and stand up for their little girls, not molest them, not destroy their lives. She was too young at eight to realize how profoundly her dad had betrayed her—along with her mom and the trusting people of the congregation. But it all came to light when she was sixteen.
(Sixteen…isn’t that supposed to be a fun, lighthearted time of life?)
In that year, her mother had an affair with a deacon in the church. And then the whole sad, sordid story about her father’s serial sexual abuse was revealed.
Her father went to prison for having sex with a minor—his own daughter. That prison sentence, just and right though it was, only drove the feelings of shame and guilt deeper into the girl’s heart. Now her father was in prison because of her. And to her disgust, her mother made her socialize with the deacon and his family—as if nothing evil or out of the ordinary had ever happened!
The adults tried to sweep the ugly truth under the rug, but they could not brush away the pain from this sixteen-year-old’s heart. The wounds and scars and unanswered questions have left her bitter and confused. Why, why did this happen to her? And what about God? Where does He fit into all of this? Does He even exist? If so, was He too busy or too indifferent to care…or too impotent to do anything about it?
Had God betrayed her?
Just a week ago, I received the following e-mail, and my heart just broke for this dear woman:
My husband died three years ago…
Then three weeks ago my very strongly Christian, happy-go-lucky, nineteen-year-old son committed suicide. He thought he was going to lose his career when he failed a PT test.
I am in despair and clinging to your studies on spiritual warfare, which I know attacked him, and your study on why bad things happen.
Everyone said he was the strongest Christian they knew, so it is almost impossible to understand.
My only other child is a daughter who is eighteen and very ill.
Why do these things happen? I had it all. We were the perfect Christian family, happy, serving God, loving each other. Now we are left with rubble. Does God care?
This woman’s questions are the ones we all wrestle with at times in our lives: Why us? Why now? Does God care?
Where will she turn for answers, for hope? Where can you and I turn?
I read an article not long ago in Vanity Fair magazine about the family of Bernie Madoff.
Madoff, of course, was the former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange and the admitted operator of the Ponzi scheme that has been characterized as the largest investment fraud in Wall Street history. In March of 2009, he pleaded guilty to eleven felonies, admitting to turning his wealth-management business into a scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars.
So much for the headlines; what about the real human lives behind the media frenzy? I want to consider, for a moment, the two young men who also carry the name “Madoff”: Mark and Andrew, Bernie’s sons.
Were his sons in on the great swindle that swallowed billions of dollars and devastated countless lives? Did they even know what their father was doing? Maybe, and maybe not. But let’s just say they didn’t know. Can you imagine how absolutely humiliated and betrayed they must have felt to learn the truth? Can you begin to gauge the depth of their pain? Their dad—their own father—had done what?
Bernie’s dramatic confession to his sons on December 10, 2008, would forever alter their lives. Mark was angry; Andrew fell to the floor sobbing. As a consequence, that very afternoon one of those young men picked up the phone and called the Securities and Exchange Commission, setting up an appointment for the next morning.
Can you imagine turning your own father over to the authorities? Maybe you weren’t always pleased with him or wished he were different. But it was still your father. You bore his name, you loved him, and at one time you were very proud of him.
Maybe you can put yourself in this situation all too well. Perhaps you’ve uncovered a devastating family secret that forever changed your relationship with a family member, someone you’d previously trusted and respected.
In 2000, according to one source in the magazine article, the Madoff family was a contented lot. Mark Madoff had said it was fun to go to work and find all his family members there working together.
In eight years, however, they went from contentment to sorrow, from prosperity to utter desolation. With each new revelation of their father’s unethical and criminal behavior, Mark and Andrew’s pain went deeper and deeper.
Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes. These sons claim to have had no part at all in their father’s appalling mismanagement and dishonesty. But how many people will look askance at them for the rest of their lives? Can you imagine being totally innocent yet not have others believe you? Maybe you don’t have to use your imagination; maybe you’ve experienced the injustice of having your own reputation tainted by the actions of someone close to you.
And how would you feel knowing that one of your dad’s clients committed suicide eleven days after your father’s arrest? Before taking an overdose of sleeping pills and slashing his wrists, the distinguished French financier René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, who had invested $1.4 billion with Madoff, wrote in his suicide note, “If you ruin your friends, your clients, you have to face the consequences.”1 Would Madoff’s sons feel that blood spill onto their own hands, just because they shared the last name of Madoff?
And what would go through your heart when you thought about all the widows, retirees, charities, and hardworking families who’d lost all their savings because of your dad?
Madoff apologized to his victims, saying, “I have left a legacy of shame, as some of my victims have pointed out, to my family and my grandchildren. This is something I will live in for the rest of my life. I’m sorry.”
But what about the grandchildren and generations yet to come who will also carry the name “Madoff”?
Story after story could be told of the deep hurts we endure; particularly agonizing are the horrendous accounts of man’s inhumanity to man.
And so the questions come…for all of us.
Will the pain ever go away?
Is there anything left to hope for? Or is life just about pain?
What do you do, where can you go for help, who can you turn to when the hurt runs deep?
Let’s explore those questions together in the pages that follow.