Faith Fridays: What Gabriel Taught Me
If only they understood we are not here to learn to be happy. We are here to learn to draw near to our Creator so that when we are called into the next life, we will be inclined to choose, on our own accord, Love. Forced love is not love; it defies the very definition of true love, which is freely given and chosen. And so it is that God, who desires our happiness but knows that our choosing Love is even more important than our attaining happiness, allows suffering. He does not cause it, but in His wisdom, He steps aside to let the world He created happen as it might. In this way, we are freed to choose Him, in spite of suffering, in spite of our continued failure to find perfect happiness in this life.
When bad things happen in our world, it is tempting to blame God. But when God allowed our son Gabriel to die in 1999, God-focused anger was the furthest thing from my mind and heart. I knew that God would never offer a gift to one of His own, only to swipe it away like a revengeful sibling: “Just kidding. You don’t deserve that after all!” God doesn’t breathe life into the world, into a mother’s womb, only to have a change of heart. God is not fickle. God is steady, and He is all about bringing life into the world. When life is fleeting, God grieves with us. As Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, so God weeps when we lose our loved ones.
As I mentioned in Monday’s post, October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. And on Thursday evening, I attended a ceremony commemorating those who have lost a child, whether prior to or after birth. It’s been ten years since Gabriel slipped away from us in the night, leaving our arms empty and aching. But as I look back on that time of pain and emptiness, I am grateful my faith was far enough along that I did not feel inclined, for a solitary moment, to blame God. Instead of feeling God turning away from us, I sensed Him coming closer. Three months later, on my birthday, God breathed life into our lives again, and nine months from then we welcomed Gabriel’s second sister, Elizabeth (“Gift from God”) into the world.
Our God is a God of hope. He uses suffering moments to help us see Him more clearly, if we choose to respond to suffering in that way. I am grateful God has allowed just enough suffering into my life to cause me to yearn for Him, yet just enough hope, too, to help me not fall into permanent despair.
Gabriel’s short life was abundantly fruitful. He taught me so much. He affirmed to me that the soul is vibrant, even in its earliest stages of existence. He taught me that love can be set in motion even when the object of that love is not visible to the eye. He made heaven more real to me and offered me the assurance that our family would have a special angel looking out for us, leading us toward him and God. He erased any doubts I might have had before his life regarding the immense blessing of each human life. He strengthened my convictions, even as the world shouted messages to the contrary. Because he was so real to me, he lit a fire in my belly concerning the sanctity of all life. Gabriel’s brief existence helped hone my vision to help me see many things more clearly. He reminded me that all of “our” children are first and foremost His, and that I, too, belong firstly to Him. And then, just to make sure we would have plenty of visible reminders of God’s love for us, he helped expand our hearts to make room for another soul…and another…and another. When people raised eyebrows over our growing family, it was Gabriel who reminded me not to care what others might think.
Who, now, is brave enough to argue with me over the eternal merits of one small, unseen being? Who would dare tell me such a tiny being is incapable of making an immense impact on the world; in fact, of changing its very course? Gabriel changed our tiny corner of the world, and because of him, other worlds were changed in turn. Who then can claim his life was not immeasurably significant?
I have written more about Gabriel in this post, Remembering Gabriel, and this one, Lessons from the Heart of My Daughter. I also wrote about how we handled his death in an article, Placing Empty Arms in God’s Hands for Catholicmom.com.
I’ll end with words written on a card that was handed out at the ceremony. I hope that all those who have lost a child or know someone special who has will take this in and be comforted by it:
Psalm 139: 13-18
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully,
Wonderful are your works.
My soul also you knew full well;
Nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret
When I was fashioned in the depths
Of the earth.
Your eyes have seen my actions;
In your book they are all written;
My days were limited before one of them existed.
How weighty are your designs, O God;
How vast the sum of them!
Were I to recount them, they would outnumber the sands;
Did I reach the end of them, I should
Still be with you.
If you have lost a child or children and feel open to sharing their name (s) here, please do. I will set aside some special time in the coming days to pray for those whose earthly lights shone far too briefly, but whose heavenly lights are brighter than the brightest star and guiding us onward.