If you haven’t heard, or if you need confirming that it wasn’t all a terrible dream, Rachel Held Evans—beloved author, truth-teller, and icon for a generous Christianity—passed away yesterday morning, after a brief and unexpected storm of health complications. She was only 37—two years younger than me.
I first met Rachel over a hamburger in Raleigh nearly a decade ago, in the summer of 2010. She was in town to speak at a student gathering of one of our bazillions of local colleges, one of the few women among a sea of guys. She joined four of us whom she knew online, two fellow conference speakers and two locals: Matthew Paul Turner, Jimmy Spencer, Hugh Hollowell and me, respectively. We headed to MoJoe’s. Over burgers and fries we talked about writing—and blogging, specifically—as well as our shared frustrations with the contours of Christianity in early 21st-century America, and what we each planned to do to try to live into a new way of being.
It was a short meal together; Rachel had a bus to catch, if memory serves. We said our goodbyes.
A few months later, I saw Rachel again, and met her husband Dan, as we were all at gathering that George and Tripp Fuller were put together, Big Tent Christianity. Neither Rachel nor I were speaking; we were both hanging out in the Book Room. Me, running the main conference book table, and she, with her husband, hand-selling her just-released first memoir about growing up at the intersection of religion and science and faith and doubt in the shadow of the Scopes Trial, Evolving in Monkey Town. I was hawking the latest from speakers like Brian McLaren, Philip Clayton and Nadia Bolz-Weber (whose own debut about binge-watching TBN, Salvation on the Small Screen?, I had endorsed), and reminding folks on their way out to say hi to Rachel and check out her book, too. At the end of Big Tent, we had the official after-party at my house. Over a hundred folks spilled out of our back-yard, animatedly discussing new possibilities for faith and spiritual practice over drinks in the glow of tiki torches on a warm September night. In the kitchen we were selling raffle-tickets, to support Love Wins, Hugh’s start-up space of hospitality and dignity for those who lived outside, aka ‘the homeless.’ The grand-prize? A signed copy of Evolving in Monkey Town.
Rachel and I stayed in touch over the years, some years better than others. I, like so many of her admirers, marveled at her generous heart, fiery honesty, and ability to both prophetically critique the faith that birthed her as well as advocate for the immense value of re-imaginging and staying true to the same. Rachel embodied something that I personally aspire to, a way of living that I’m convinced is quite counter-cultural in this day and age:
Being spiritual and religious.
Being transparent to my doubts, while utterly sincere in my faith. Aiming to live out both in a flesh-and-blood community dedicated to loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly with God. It’s a challenging, deeply-rewarding path to attempt, fail utterly at, open myself to grace and start all over again. And Rachel was one of the comparatively few voices of my generation seeking to advocate for this ‘narrow road that leads to life.’ And I get it: there are broad roads of religious-nationalist true believers to our right, and nihilist cynics who’d utterly given up on faith to our left.
So when I saw Rachel’s tweet a few weeks ago mentioning not feeling well and asking for prayer, I’m pretty sure I mumbled a somewhat absent-minded ‘flare prayer’:
If you’re the praying type – I’m in the hospital with a flu + UTI combo and a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics they gave me. (I’m totally going to miss GOT! 😢)
— Rachel Held Evans (1981-2019) (@rachelheldevans) April 14, 2019
When I heard, a few days later, that Rachel began having constant brain seizures and was placed in a medically-induced coma because of the same complications she mentions in this tweet, I began to pray more in earnest. And I wasn’t the only one: the hashtag #PrayForRHE began trending on Twitter.
Outpoured prayers, from across the planet, flowing her way. Bathing her in love, kindness, and healing energies.
I fully expected Rachel to make a comeback. Between the globally-trending prayer and the brain seizures, I expected my friend to be more mystical than ever, having breathtaking and difficult-to-decode Divine visions that she’d spend the rest of her long life contemplating and writing about, for the enrichment of us all.
But yesterday morning, I received a text.
This wasn’t to be.
Rachel had gone.
I felt devastated, as I imagine you did. I fought back tears as I prepared my daughters’ lunch. And in the midst of my grief, I wondered:
Why did she of all people have to leave us, God? What about all that prayer?
I wasn’t alone in asking this question. My friend Chris Boeskool asked it, even before she passed away, and I was annoyed at the time:
It feels to me like these prayers for healing paint a picture of a God on a throne… A God who has plenty of water for a kid dying of thirst, but who is like, “Sorry, you didn’t say PLEASE.” It feels like a physician who has the cure for a deadly disease, but requires the sick person to get 10,000 signatures first. Or to get a hashtag trending. It feels like being back at that Holy Spirity, charismatic church, and having to listen to people talk about “Storming the Gates of Heaven,” or “Holding God to his promises.”
It feels like “Everything happens for a reason” and “All part of God’s plan” and “God never gives us more than we can handle.” And if I’m being honest, it feels like the reason I can’t go to church anymore.
It feels like what led me to read Rachel’s work in the first place.
But I got it. Even Rachel has expressed similar wrestlings:
I became a stranger to the busy, avuncular God who arranged parking spaces for my friends and took prayer requests for weather and election outcomes while leaving thirty thousand children to die each day from preventable disease. (In her amazing Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.)
I, too, have estranged myself from this allegedly-omnipotent god who capriciously holds back saving lives, while simultaneously passing out Divine party-favors to the already-privileged.
If this image of God was my only option, I’d surely be an atheist by now.
But is this our only option—to proclaim and pray to this kind of god?
I was chatting about this last night with an inspiring minister friend. Expressing her grief at how cruel it seemed that Rachel passed so close to Easter, we mutually reflected on how her death might impact so many we care about, who are somewhere in a process of deconstructing their faith. I demurred:
“Welp, another few thousand exvangelicals have now been born. Who may never pray again.”
I also admitted to her:
“My Pentecostal roots being what they are, I haven’t stopped praying for Rachel. I asked God to resurrect her, glam-rock style, to restore her to her family and kick off that big end-times revival that was always prophesied at church growing up. Because wouldn’t that make the cynics speechless! Y’know, if God’s even remotely into that sort of thing.”
But as of this writing, Rachel has not yet made her spectacular return…in this mode of perception, at least.
And so: the grief, questions, and doubt keep coming.
In one online group I’m a part of, Carissa Nicole Winn was brutally honest:
“Rachel Held Evans died this morning, and I’m not okay. I really thought she would pull through this. And…I know that this is not about me, but I can’t help but feel like whatever faith I had left in prayer is gone. She had so many people praying for her. what’s the f#$%ing point?”
Oof. I get it. The Psalms are filled with the righteous rage of our finitude in the face of what so often feels so vast and arbitrary. If the Psalmist were writing in 2019, I think they might very well inquire of Elohim: “What’s the f#$%ing point?”
And yet, in the face of losing Rachel—and in the face of losing my grandfather and great-aunt in the two months preceding—I still pray. And not just the “I used to pray to change God, but now I pray because prayer changes me” high-minded iteration of this practice, either.
I still ask for stuff, including healing…even when those dear to me die.
It’s because of what I keep discovering to be true.
As a contemplatively-inclined Way-farer, I agree with God’s affirmation in Creation, and re-affirmation in Incarnation, that this visible world of flesh and bone and soil and air, is “very good.” The sensible and tangible are vitally important in the scheme of things, something that less-healthy iterations of religion and spirituality tend to obscure, maligning matter in favor of the ‘sweet by-and-by.”
At the same time, the sensate world that we know is simply one part of the scheme of things, one instantiation of what mystics have perennially named the Great Chain of Being, what Integral theorist Ken Wilber calls the Nested Holarchy of Being, Gurdjieff the Ray of Creation, and Cynthia Bourgeault The Cosmic Order.
When it comes to what’s contained in the next horizon, I realize that more is Mystery than the religiously-certain are comfortable with. But even so, I simply can’t (with some of my more reductive friends) constrain myself into thinking that the material plane is all there is.
I really do think Rachel is being lovingly guided onto bigger and grander adventures, which include joining that Great Cloud of Witnesses: just outside our ordinary perception, but ever-present to encourage us in “throw[ing] off everything that hinders” (See Hebrews 12:1) as we continue our journeys in this octave of existence.
None of this negates the real sadness we’re experiencing right now, if we let ourselves. If Jesus, upon discovering his dead friend Lazarus, can be trusted as a template for grief, confidence in ultimate resurrection (on this or any plane) shouldn’t be used to spiritually bypass the very real grief that comes with a gut-punch that our loved ones have breathed their last.
Indeed, the unique disclosure of God stewarded in the Christian revelation doesn’t claim that we’re spared from suffering, but that Christ reveals Godself as co-suffering love.
Nobody gets out of this world alive, but we’re all in this together.
And so, I keep praying. My take on prayer might be overly simplistic for some, even clichéd, but here it is:
Because I experience God in the way that Process-Relational theologians describe God, I see God as powerful, but not ‘all’ powerful. As my good buddy (and Process theologian extraordinaire) Tripp Fuller likes to say, “Omnipotence is a compliment Jesus wants you to take back.” (Poignantly enough, here’s a conversation Tripp has with Rachel about this very thing.)
Dropping unnecessary (and unbiblical) totalizing adjectives alone has improved my prayer life a great deal.
Taking the lead of Tripp, Monica Coleman, Thomas Jay Oord and other process people, I experience God’s presence in my life as the Most-Relational Relater, uniquely present in reality while still but one relational being in the Great Chain of Being, effecting and being affected by everything and everyone else.
And so in prayer, I relate to God as I do a lover, or a friend—I can simply be with Them in silence, or dialogue, or (yes) make requests. And, just like requests made to a friend or romantic partner, I can make them known in vulnerability, and the person I’m speaking with also has Their agency intact—their reasons for responding or not responding, including varying degrees of ability to respond.
As I result, I’ve found two clichés from my Pentecostal-Evangelical past to be strangely redeemed. They are:
God always answers my prayers. The answer that comes is either ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ ‘Not yet.’, or silence.
God always heals. Either on this plane, or the next.
Your mileage may vary, friend. And I’m not attempting to short-circuit your anger or your grief.
But by relating to God consistently as real but not absolute, alot of my angst toward the Divine has abated. On good days, I’m able to approach a second naïveté on the other side of deconstruction.
It’s like a sad country music song played backwards: I get the Friend of my soul back, feel my place in the Nested Ecosystem of Being, and even remain connected to my departed loved ones, just on the other side of the Great Cloud of Witnesses.
Whatever cosmology you choose to enact, I’m with you in incredible sadness today. And I’ll be praying for us. ❦
If you can help: Dan Evans and his kids are now facing massive medical expenses from the past few weeks of Rachel’s treatment. You can contribute to help defray costs here.
If you want to hear Rachel’s own voice, and remember the gifts she brought (or perhaps discover them for the first time), you can listen to The Garden Meditation on The Liturgists. She also recorded three of her four books as audiobooks: Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, and Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. If you’re not an Audible member, you can get one of these free by trying it out.
Finally, if you want to explore Rachel’s impact online and share your own story, check out the #BecauseofRHE hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. I’m sure a ton of blog posts exploring Rachel’s impact will be emerging in the coming days; for now, check out my friend Morgan Guyton’s Rachel Held Evans and the Democratization of Theology and I’m Here Because of Her by new friend (whom I met at Rachel’s Evolving Faith conference last October) Laura Jean Truman.
And please: Share your own reflections on Rachel, or prayer, or both, in the comments below.
thank you Mike, you have gifts or articulation and discernment and by reading your post about Rachel, I am benefiting from them.
So, if life good? If it wasn’t, Rachel’s death would not hurt so much, as I see it.
As you know, my (partial – a link in the chain of causality) answer to Rachel’s question – as yours, as mine, and many others – of “where is god in the face of 30,000 children dying of preventable reasons daily” is the bystanding of Christian religious professionals to the bystanding of Christian members of my profession of engineering to the lack of any collective and intentional Christian “salt and light” influence in the significantly self-regulating profession of engineering – humanity’s largest and most global profession, upon which our unprecedented global civilization is UTTERLY dependent, now and forevermore, as long as it sustains.
Your post is also silent to possibility that avoidable medical error was a causal factor in Rachel’s death. Maybe not, but it is in about 100,000 deaths in America annually. If someone in a medical profession – doctor, nurse, pharmacist, tech, etc. – had “blown whistles” about such an error – for Rachel or anyone else – they would possibly be risking their job – and Christian religious professionals would bystand to that too.
So, maybe, instead of putting god on trial, we should hold the mirror up to our pleasant and privileged lives and put the operable “god” – our desire to maintain them, to shun doing anything other than bystand when it could be inconvenient to our professional standing and economic security at risk – on trial.
But doing so will, you can well imagine, piss the “god” and its followers off, so count the cost.
Thank you again for your reflections and accept mine as those of someone who now sees, like it or not, humanity as “god” of this planet and its life support systems – a first in its – humanity – and earth’s history, Why did Rachel die yesterday? lot’s of links in that chain of causality, but I don’t necessarily assume avoidable medical error, facilitated by justifiable fear of workplace retribution, was not present..
It seems to me that everyone is “silent to possibility that avoidable medical error was a causal factor in Rachel’s death”. I’m not sad; I’m mad as hell! I want more answers. I even want to know the religious leanings of the people who were attending her during this illness. Having seen how cruel antagonists to people like Rachel can be, I won’t be satisfied until everything is transparent. I only hope that the sadness and the spiritual examination that comes with a tragedy like this doesn’t blind us to a brutal truth. She was a controversial person, and controversial people have enemies.
Oh goodness, India. What a thought! I too am curious about the antibiotic complications that led to her initial allergic response, but I am by default assuming the goodwill of all the doctors concerned. Rachel was well-known and controversial, but I’d not assume anyone a.) initially recognized her, or b.) was out to ‘get’ her.
Thanks for writing this, Mike. I’ll admit that I don’t pray much anymore, and I think I’ve made peace with a weak God. I mean, how can I be mad at him if he’s doing the best he can? I mean, to leave those two babies without a mother they’ll remember just blows so hard.
The only thing that keeps me from sliding into atheism is all this, meaning trees, bodies, music, etc., because I think it had to come from somewhere/something. But I don’t believe prayer fixes things. I just can’t.
Thank you. I resonate with so much of this. It’s a sucker punch, and I only even met her in person once. Her transparency and honesty and generosity are unparalleled even among the post-evangelical progressive crowds I run in. She showed us by living it out in front of us that we could separate babies and bath water, and that the gospel we learned was even more true than we could even imagine. I will keep living into that gospel in no small part #becauseofRHE
Grieving with those who grieve, today. I had no idea RHE was so young, until I saw her obit; her influence and wisdom seemed to reach beyond her generation. Thank you for these reflections on (un)answered prayers, which are helpful to me as I pray for a friend with Stage 4 cancer.
Written for another context, but so poignant and fitting for these desperate questioning and grieving days…Rachel’s sister Amanda Opelt wrote this delicate but powerful, prayerful song: https://youtu.be/Y1RYEK-BVDg #becauseofRHE #RHE
Fare Thee Well by Amanda Held Opelt
Oh my goodness, Carol – thank you for sharing this!
I have lost two friends to various cancers, my dad battling his cancer, and Rachel has passed. I wonder often about prayer. Is it worth it. I mean, just a week ago yesterday, I attended a 22 year old friend’s funeral. We prayed during Holy Week for him and even the months before, yet here we are. Same for my other friend Rachel. People do not know how every moment I am screaming in my head, “do not take my dad! heal him of this horrible disease!” Yet, I see him, even today, slip away or what feels like it. I keep trying to believe prayer is going to work. Dad told me recently that it is God seeking us not us seeking him. He has been reading The Cistercian Way recently, plus other things, so he keeps saying God seeking us then added it is all to turn our heads towards the divine. Surely there are other ways, but if I am honest, I slowly turn my head during the “good times.” Since all of this, my head is always turning. Always looking. So I am trying to learn something about the divine right now. Trying to stay open instead of shut. Trying to let an unanswered prayer be a space for the divine to find me.
Or, maybe it is all bs, not sure. Right now, I have no other choice.
Thank you for sharing so honestly. It was similar, when my great-aunt passed away a couple months ago. We prayed, and watched her die.
It would be easier on me if I simply gave up – either on prayer (specifically healing prayer), or even God.
Friends I respect have done both, and I get it. But the inconvenient thing is, sometimes I’ve seen healing prayer be efficacious, in the way we desired it to be. My skeptical friends would say that it’s coincidence, and some of my more progressively-inclined believing friends would say that this sort of ‘selective interventionism’ would be deeply unethical of God, even if true.
I get all of these objections, and yet…
My friends across faiths – be they Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Wiccan – have this impulse to touch, to anoint, to pray and to ask for healing. This impulse is as old as humanity itself, across time and traditions, as best we can tell.
And sometimes, dramatic turnarounds *do* seem to happen.
I can’t go along with my Pentecostal and charismatic friends who seem hyped out of reality, and sick-shame those who don’t recover. But nor can I abandon this instinct to pray in trust for a changed outcome. I don’t blame my friends who gravitate toward one of these poles, or the other – mine is a challenging space to occupy.
As is yours, Jules.
If you haven’t read (or listened to it) yet, I highly recommend Sara Miles’ ‘Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead.’ https://amzn.to/2Y7A7AQ It’s a balm for the spirit.
Thanks for writing this Mike. There’s enough pain in this already without the addition of loss of faith.
(Suicide trigger warning)
I know that what you say is true more than most people know it. Lost my partner to suicide a year ago. He hanged himself whilst I was sleeping and I got him down and he died in hospital after a few days.
Here’s the thing. That house was full of love and prayer. So much so that you could feel it. I woke up and said to him ‘do you feel it Jonny? Do you feel the hope?’ And I know without a doubt that God wanted to save him as much as I wanted to, but that she couldn’t. I know how hard I fought and am comforted to know that God was fighting even harder.
Those prayers do go somewhere. They change us. My prayers for her and for him changed me. I chose to keep my heart open through the the whole journey and as a result the line between heaven and earth has softened.
I think Rachel’s life and death was about softening that line. And I don’t think her journey has ended.
You said something about the cloud of witnesses. I saw him amongst them in a dream once. May her husband and children see and feel her amongst them too.
Battles aren’t lost. But rest is given. I’ve lived through hell, but I hope that those close to her will experience the peace that I have found when I’ve gone into the darkest of places and found it to be full of warmth.
So Mike, just yesterday I was at the funeral of my very beloved uncle, in the pew next to me was my little cousin, Ivy, his 3.5 year old granddaughter. She was asking questions: “Will they close the lid on the box?” (i.e. casket) and a few thoughtful minutes later, “What will happen to him?”
I thought of RHE and she once wrote: “I’ve often said that those who say having a childlike faith means not asking questions haven’t met too many children.”
I seriously don’t remember WHAT my answers were to Ivy, but I remember HOW I answered them with so much love in my heart for her, that I can recall with absolute clarity. It helped me understand that not having the “what” of an answer doesn’t matter much at all in the scheme of it, but how we feel when we tend to one another, when we ask it, priceless and lasting. #becauseofRHE.
Once I met this older, married woman in my continuing education units classes on Carl Jung a few years ago. We would often share lunch together over the series of classes we participated in. Over one such lunch she shared that she rode a bicycle beginning in France all along the Camino de Santiago as a traveling Pilgrim wearing the Pilgrim shell symbol of St. James.
She told me, with uncommon tears in her eyes and a quiet voice that hushed every ounce of ego, of the people in the villages who would see her Pilgrim Shell and ask her if she would carry their prayers with her. They would depart and quickly return with their prayer needs scrawled, scribbled, printed in languages often not her own, and hand her these little papers asking that she take them with her. She would stuff those little papers in her pockets, her bags, tuck them in her gloves, nestle them in her jacket cuffs, so that she became over the many miles a traveling container for the prayers of others. That is her memory, of being that prayer pilgrim for so many as she crossed the Pyrenees, slept with exhaustion in local monasteries and pensions. Ate cheese and crusty bread and drank local wine.
I thought of that the image so recently with thousands of thousands of people jostling along about their day carrying the #prayforRHE. All of us have our own languages and means of scribbling and distributing our “prayer notes” – I guess I believe that such a pilgrimage itself takes place everywhere not just on the Camino. Sometimes we are the bike rider wearing the pilgrim shell and sometimes we are the request writers, and both, are the mercy of God.
Mike, I’ll “speak the truth in love” as you’ve heard a thousand times spoken by our fellow charismystics. You are among the most powerful and “anointed” writers in modern times. Thank you for sharing your heart. I didn’t know Rachel, but am aware that she impacted many, including you. Rachel is most likely hanging with my friend Brennan and the other charismystics who’ve reached their journey’s end, and rejoicing in having successfully flown over the cuckoo’s nest. I can just see this Cloud of Witnesses having another big welcome home party.
this was really beautiful. and helpful. thank you. i posted my own thoughts on rachel and processing the loss here: http://sarahbanderson.com/remembering-rachel-held-evans/
Madeleine L’Engle’s words are the only ones that make sense for me in the wake of this sadness.
“’Prayer was never meant to be magic,’ Mother said.
‘Then why bother with it?’ Suzy scowled.
‘Because it’s an act of love,’ Mother said.”
from ‘A Wrinkle in Time’
Could it be, that down the road Rachel was to lose her faith, or herself. And this was the merciful way to spare her? I don’t know. I’m trying to grasp why the unicorns go while awful people thrive.
I believe your heart is in the right place. I also believe God is all powerful. I can only trust that He knows the outcome and the interconnectedness of it all.
I’m not sure what you’re trying to imply, H. That God ‘took Rachel early’ so that she’d be ‘saved’?
Sounds like a pretty terrifying vision of God.
H., you’re asking the same question about unicorns as Ecclesiastes does, and many Psalms and Proverbs do….
When I looked at my dad on the slab and kissed his still-warm forehead, I asked God – Who has the words of eternal life – to give me the words, “Charles Sun, rise up from the dead”. God immediately replied, “Say goodbye to your dad.” And, then my human world collapse as family – blood and church – betrayed, slandered and abandoned me, after my dad’s sudden and unexpected death.
That was just shy of 4 years ago, and the journey towards fullness and loving your enemies and blessing those that curse you has gotten more intense as God has led use ever closer to those closest to us whose betrayal has been most painful due to that closeness. Forgiving enemies that aren’t near your heart is a lot easier than those close to your heart. The latter are those whom God forgives, repeatedly, since God is close to all… And, those are the ones that the Father’s children forgive….
Which brings me to your redeemed Pentacostal roots, Mike: Yeah, silence has been the answer to my prayers when it comes to me. God’s pretty chatty when it comes to others or what to do in certain circumstances, but for me: silence.
And, there can be so many reasons for that silence:
– I’m not ready for the answer,
– I’m (a little?) miffed/angry at God (Or, God with me…; but, that’s another convo…! 😛 ),
– I might think I’m ready, but parts of myself – ones I’m not conscious of – aren’t,
– And, the one that is coming on more strongly in the midst of the storm: Silence is the fundamental and first existence of the Trinity prior to creation, since when God speaks, creation happens. In a chatty, extroversion-first/only world, silence is considered scary, uncontrollable, even evil. But, it’s the fundamental communion within the Trinity….
I’ve been learning to lean into that silence as the space occupied by (a) Friend(s) that are sharing Their hallowed space with me generously.
Powerful words Mike, thanks for sharing them…
Speaking as someone to the theological “right” of Rachel (as well as yourself and others in her constellation), obviously she and I differed on various fine points of theology. But I always respected and appreciated her convictions as well as the obvious heart for those too often marginalized by the evangelical establishment. She was, for me, like a wise-beyond-her-years younger sister who could always be trusted to hold her brothers accountable out of an abiding sense of love for them and others.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not qualifying my mourning. I’m not lamenting her passing *despite* our differences. I mourn her. Full stop. I weep for her husband, children, friends and family… and for the universal church. I wish we all could’ve grown old together, and helped each other along in this journey.
Hers was an important voice and she was a tremendous blessing to the Christian community. We are all the poorer for having lost her.
There are no easy answers.
This writing both encouraged me and disturbed me.
My irritation is towards those who are so sure they are the “correct” ones -encompassed by the entire spectrum from mystical contemplatives to extreme far-right “nationalist “Christians. This is a breeding ground for dehumanization. The pride is palpable.
Lord have mercy.
I’ve calmed down and would like go cancel my angry response to this blog. I would cancel it if I knew how. I realize fury so often flares up for me and I regret that I did not say any words of sorrow or consolation towards those who are grieving, most specifically Rachel’s family.
Those are being offered here.
Again,Lord have mercy.
Thank you for your honesty. My brother died a year and a half ago (I hate that my phone can almost auto type this story) and Rachel’s voice on NPR not long afterward helped lead me to a whole internet community of people with all sorts of questions about their faith in the aftermath of tragedies like this. It’s good to know I’m not alone, despite the circumstances that bring people together like this. I think right now I could describe my cosmology as agnostic with an affinity for Jesus and Process Theology. My typical prayers have usually been “God, if you’re there, tell my brother I love him,” or just yelling “God, what the (he)ck!” in my car.
Thank you so much for this, Mike. One of my first thoughts after I saw the news was “But there were so many prayers.” This post helped a lot and I am glad you took the time to share.
Rachel has gone home to be with the Lord. Praise God! We will miss her, but how can we be sad? “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) She is where we all will be someday: in the arms of her loving Father and at the feet of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While we may have prayed for her healing, God knew better what He wanted for Rachel. Let us follow her example and lead others to Christ as we are loving, grateful, kind Christians in all that we do.
Michael, I realize it’s been awhile since we connected, but I always enjoy reading your materials sent my way. I was especially touched by what you wrote following the sudden death of your friend…and the comments others expressed. It touched a very deep place within my spirit and walk with the Lord.
We lost our 4 1/2 year old son back in 1985. There are times I still struggle with all that…especially the questions of why, and why didn’t God answer our prayers. If it was based on merit, Andrew certainly deserved to be healed of the blood disease that took him from a vibrant, joyful, loving, in love with Jesus and “all the church folks” in our church family little boy to the emergency room and sudden death.
During those 36 hours he kept saying it was going to be ok, and would ask if we saw “Jesus and those other guys” standing over by the door. I didn’t. And I didn’t want to unless they were there to comfort him and heal him. Andrew’s last words to his mom and me before he went to sleep was, “I love you”.
Needless to say, I struggled with all the raw emotions you and others are experiencing. I was a pastor. Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Along with the shock and overwhelming grief, I also experienced anger…mistrust…questioning what IT was all about…or what faith and belief was all about. We even had a handful of people leave our church out of fear that if even the pastor’s family wasn’t protected from such things, how could they be. This not only added to my anger, I began to feel guilty for the impact this was having on others.
Thankfully we were surrounded by compassionate, Spirit filled and led, brothers and sisters who remained at our sides and helped us…and continue to support us…through it all. And I don’t have the time or space to expand on everything that has occurred over the years to reveal the Lord’s presence in that hospital room…in Andrew’s life…and the impact this has had on an untold number of people. But, I would like to share one insight that came from this that has hugely impacted my life and ministry.
I don’t know what the content was of all the prayers lifted for Rachel. I do know what the content was of my prayers, and the prayers of so many others, were for Andrew. And I came to realize there was one very import element missing in my prayers. I spent just about that entire 36 hours pleading for God to heal Andrew. But I never asked the Lord what His purpose was in the situation. In fact, it would be a few years of continuing my spiritual struggle before I came to that realization. That moment was a miraculous turning point for me, because in doing so I was recognizing that nothing is a mistake with Him. He loves Andrew even more than we do. And He loves us even more than Andrew does. And His purpose for our lives is far greater than we can imagine, much less create for ourselves. It truly is more about Him than our self focused view of life…and death.
Please know I will keep you and Rachel’s family and friends in my prayers. And trust He will reveal His purposes to those who seek Him.
My thoughts about this are complex, but in some ways… I feel like perhaps she was so advanced in knowing how to love others that her soul was ready to move on to bigger and better things. Some of us are slower to figure out these truths and need to stick around on Earth for a lot more spiritual learning and growth. Obviously this doesn’t answer the painful questions about why her children, husband, and other loved ones have to bear the pain of losing her.
I often feel like we have trouble understanding losses such as this partly because of our own sense of mortality. But if God is eternal and we have God in us… we have eternal life then what? Is heaven a distant place and/or time? Are we really on a single direction chronological slide rule? Born again is Jesus is cool but reincarnated in Karma is trouble?
Live in the present seems to be a very popular theme these days….probably always has been and likely always will be, for some people. Me for one, although often poorly executed if I am honest. Again often poorly executed.
All of Rachel’s moments of glorifying God will exist forever with God’s present and eternal memory. All of her “other” moments, I am guessing she had a couple, will remain where they were when she lived them, separated from God.
It will likely be/is the same for us too. For me this is mostly comforting, I say “mostly” because I am a bit uncomfortable with comfort.