co-authored with Heidi Horsley, PsyD, LMSW, MS, executive director of Open to Hope Foundation

Footprints in the Sand

“So I said to the Lord,

You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one
set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
You have not been there for me?”
The Lord replied,
“The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you.”

Mary Stevenson

A question that many of us frequently ask when a child or sibling dies is where was God and how could a just God have allowed such a terrible thing to happen?

The issue of where was God comes up over and over during a tragedy.  Along with the issue of God, our faith may be challenged and we may begin questioning our beliefs.

Grief is the intrapersonal experience that accompanies loss and can at times be overwhelming.  Grief is made up of a wide range of feelings, thoughts, physical sensations and behaviors.  Many of us who are feeling grief stricken wonder if all the symptoms we are experiencing are normal.  We also may wonder if we are going crazy.  It is important for each of us to recognize that most symptoms of grief are completely normal.

Grief has been viewed in many different ways.  Some people have described the feelings associated with grief like a wave in the ocean; you always know that it is eventually going to hit, you just never know when, for how long, or with what kind of intensity.  The feelings associated with grief are many and might include:  guilt, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, anger.  Of these many feelings, oftentimes the most difficult one to deal with is anger.  Anger is an emotion that might lead us to feel “out of control.”  Anger can be directed in many different directions or it may be focused at ourselves for something that we did or that we wished we had done or not done.  Anger may also be directed at others for the same reasons.  It is not unusual to be angry at friends, family members, the person that died, or God.

Anger towards God can be very devastating for us because it might confront us at the very core of our being.  It might cause us to evaluate our deepest and strongest beliefs.  People often blame God for allowing painful events to occur in their lives.  These feelings often cause us to doubt God, doubt our faith and doubt all that we may have ever believed in.

Often times those around us have a very difficult time allowing us to be angry with God.  They believe that anger of this nature is sacrilegious and should not be allowed to be expressed.  Others tend to defend God with scripture or platitudes.  An example of some of the platitudes used might be, “It was God’s will”, “God wanted another angel for His garden”, or “God never gives us more then we can handle.”  All of these comments, while often well intended, tend to leave us feeling like our grief is minimized and cause us to feel unheard, unacknowledged and angrier, alienating us further away from God.

We have learned that if a person is feeling anger towards God, it is very important for caring friends and professionals to honor those feelings and allow that person to express them.  This can be a very critical part of our healing.  Remember, God does not need for us to defend Him.  God is strong enough to handle our anger.  If we are permitted to express our anger, and have the opportunity to work through our feelings, we will usually return to God with an even stronger faith and conviction in our beliefs.  Also, it is important to recognize that when we are hurting, God weeps with us.

God does not leave us in times of tragedy, even if we leave God.  Going to church or synagogue, talking with clergy, saying prayers or just sitting in the sanctuary during a time when no one else is there can be helpful in our search for God.  When God has been an important part of our lives, He will once again be, but only if we allow the healthy expression of our anger.  Sharing this expression of anger can be therapeutic and a very special gift which may be given to a grieving friend or loved one.

Howard Winokuer

Howard Winokuer

Dr. Howard R. Winokuer, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, brings a special sensitivity and total commitment to his work. Dr. Winokuer was the co-founder of TO LIFE, a not-for-profit educational and counseling organization that specialized in issues dealing with grief and loss. During his twenty-year career, he has worked with thousands of people suffering from these issues. He has conducted workshops and seminars throughout the United States, as well as in seven foreign countries. Dr. Winokuer has written numerous articles on topics such as coping with grief, relationships, aging, parents and teen suicide. He has recently completed a book entitled A Simple Guide to a Peaceful Life. Dr. Winokuer has a private practice specializing in grief and loss and is the incoming president of the Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).

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