On childhood friends and tragic losses

Where is God in the darkest moments?

As I write this, I am absorbing the news that a childhood friend of mine is dying of cancer. Our families shared life together throughout my childhood. She was really my sister’s friend, as her older sister and I were a few weeks apart in age and she and my sister were about two months apart.

When I think about our childhood, I think about sleepovers, swimming days at the pool, birthday parties, backyard playdates, summer camp and Sunday school. Our moms are close friends, and I remember her mom picking me up from school when my mom needed help. 

As we grew older, I saw her infrequently — at bachelorette parties and weddings, mostly — but these childhood friends hold a special history for us that only a select few are privy to. They got to know the raw, unfiltered childhood version of ourselves, and they preserve that memory for us.

Now a wife and mother, my friend received a devastating diagnosis several months ago and, if I’m being honest, I still can’t quite wrap my mind around what is happening. She’s not in my life today, anymore as most childhood friends who are connected to us only through social media are, but my heart feels the weight of our shared childhood as I consider what a great loss her life is to our world.

I don’t know what to do with inexplicable tragedies like these. I bristle at the trite assurances that “everything happens for a reason” (can we all agree to stop saying that?) or the theologically baseless idea that her death will turn her into an angel watching over her children. This sort of thing is random, shocking and wildly unfair.

For the past six months, I’ve been learning about the way God meets us in our darkest times through a small group I’ve participated in with Healing Care Ministries. Where I get really hung up is with a question I think most of us struggle with: Why does a good God allow suffering that he has the capacity to heal, stop or prevent? It feels incongruous with the message of love and redemption, resurrection and kindness that is central to the Judeo-Christian traditions.

While I’m still at a loss for any real answer to that question, I’m discovering that God is willing to meet us in those times if we allow Him to, and it’s in our darkest, saddest moments we need him the most. In our hardest times, we need to grieve deeply and we need to anchor to hope that the sun will rise again, that our life will once again have a happy day. 

When I think of my friend’s family — her husband and children, her sister and parents, all those to whom she is the most dear — my heart wrenches. Words fail to bring any meaning to this situation. I lean into prayer as I pour out my anger and sadness in lament. I cling to my community, my closest friends and I express my questions and confusion about how something so awful could happen. 

Above all, though, I cling to hope. Hope that even in the wake of the worst, new life will be resurrected. Beauty will come from the ashes and redemption from the devastation. That’s what faith is, in the end, I suppose: believing that goodness will come again following great sorrow.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.