Did my child die because I lacked faith?

by Karla Helbert

This topic is important and praying people, especially Christian people, please note.

I saw a post on social media from a bereaved parent friend yesterday about a movie opening soon called “Breakthrough.” I had heard about this in passing, understanding it to be one of those movies that has an overtly religious, specifically Christian, message.

I generally stay away from those finding them to be trite, or too simplistic, to really address what I think are deep theological and/or social issues. Also, they are generally about pushing their own agenda for conversion. I am not down with proselytizing. Anyway, this particular post really hit me hard.

The post said this:

“If you’re planning on seeing that movie “Breakthrough,” about the boy who’s knocking on deaths door until his mom prays his death away while never acknowledging medical marvels or the talent of doctors. Please understand that if you have suffered the loss of a child (or anyone, really) it wasn’t because you didn’t pray hard enough, it wasn’t because you’re less blessed or worthy, it wasn’t because Jesus liked them better or because you aren’t Christian enough.I really hate movies like these

I don’t think they’re heartwarming, I think they’re pious and insensitive to those who have lost. People die unjustly every day. Good people. To believe you were somehow chosen to be spared sorrow because God was looking out for you more so than others, is ego-centrism. Have some empathy for those who weren’t as lucky before you go announcing how God has your back.

Sorry, I really felt this needed to be said. The desire to feel special or chosen is such a cancer on society and I hate when it’s glorified in “feel-good” movies for people to eat up at the expense of others’ hardships.”

I wish she hadn’t apologized. It needs to be said.

This part is my own story

Weeks after my son died of a brain tumor in 2006, I was told to my face by a co-worker that the reason my child died was because I did not have enough faith.

I didn’t tell her to get out of my office, I actually debated her. Her arguments made no sense. But what I didn’t say is that secretly, a part of me believed her. I felt responsible and that somehow, I just hadn’t believed hard enough. My faith hadn’t been strong enough- and if I had just believed stronger, harder, maybe he would have been healed.

It took me years to work through that.

Whatever God is, I know God is Love and Love does not work like that. There are atrocities that happen to children and innocents all over this planet every second of every day. God does not favor those who believe harder. There are not those who are spared and those who are brushed aside, left to their fates of pain and death.

Many of you reading this have been told your beloved died in the midst of “sin.” I am writing this for the blog of a bereaved mother, Anne Moss, whose child died by suicide. Many of you can relate. Your precious child did not “commit” a sin.

Your child was beautiful and loved by the Divine. That any human being would cause a mother or father or brother or any other family member to feel shame or guilt because your child struggled and died, is the real shame here. That shame is not yours or your child’s, but those who fail to Love.

The Church should be the place where those in pain can go to find peace and respite. Sadly, the church, and other spiritual communities cast the most stones.

Thousands upon thousands of prayers went up for the healing of my own child. He was diagnosed with a terrible brain tumor that impacts only 1 in 275 million people. None of those unlucky few survive. None of them. What kind of sense does that make? No sense at all. None that our human brains can fathom.

After I was able to come to terms with the horrible fate that awaited him and me—as well as his father and our entire family—I had to change my thinking. I had to change my believing. I knew I needed to shift my prayers from asking for healing to asking for the strength to be the mother my son needed me to be in order for him to have the most peaceful and love-filled death possible. I needed the strength to walk with him on his path. My lack of faith did not result in his death. Cancer did that. Not God. Not my lack of faith.

I know now it is not true that I did not have enough faith. This is not how the Divine works. I don’t know how All of It works, but I do know that allowing a beautiful baby to die of a horrific tumor because his mother didn’t have enough faith, didn’t make the right deal, didn’t pray hard enough, is definitely not how It works.

I was overwhelmed at the comments and stories received on that post. So, so many have been harmed by this callous attitude of those who believe themselves to be spiritual, religious, Christian people. Some people have messaged me privately of their experiences because to comment publicly would cause problems in their church or in their families. This is so painful to me.

I will never understand how people are so adept at twisting God to their own means, to support their own flawed theology. People everywhere, watch what you say to those in pain and keep in mind that if you are Christian, your model is Love. Act like Love would act.

I have had many moments of doubt in my life about God, who God is, what God means–and I always come back to the one thing that feels truly unshakable: God is Love. And while the Bible says some really questionable things on a lot of subjects, it says this about Love:

“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

This is the Truth

God is Love. Love is God. Love people, love God. Love God, love people. If someone does something that is not Love, that is not God. If I want to embody God in my day to day life, let me be Love. Then I know that I cannot be going wrong.

Grieving people, know that your love for your beloved dead is sacred and it is holy. Your love is your strength. In it you can find refuge. Those who discount it are not acting in accordance with Spirit. Find your community in those who know and understand these things. Love is All. Love is God.

Read the Facebook comments already posted on this topic.

Karla Helbert is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), internationally certified yoga therapist, (C-IAYT), registered yoga teacher (RYT), award winning author, and a Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider certified through the MISS Foundation, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust. and the Center for Loss & Trauma. Counseling and supporting those living with traumatic grief and bereavement is her main focus of work. She has three books:

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Karla Helbert

Karla is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), internationally certified yoga therapist, (C-IAYT), registered yoga teacher (RYT), award winning author, and a Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider certified through the MISS Foundation, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust. and the Center for Loss & Trauma. Counseling and supporting those living with traumatic grief and bereavement is her main focus of work.

13 thoughts on “Did my child die because I lacked faith?”

  1. This is the best description of what I believe but have never been able to articulate. Thank you for this.

    1. You are so welcome Mary–and thank you for your love in the world. It means a lot to hear this kind of feedback. This issue is so close to my heart and it pains me to see grieving people so hurt by spiritual communities.

  2. Thank you for sharing and making some valid points that I hope people listen to! Beautifully written. Love is All. Love is God.

  3. My daughter died of an accidental overdose only three months ago. I count myself very lucky in that my church and all the Christians I have met there would never say anything like that. God is Love. As long as I have been there, this church has never taught that God punishes for any lack of faith, or not praying hard enough.
    Any doubts or questions that I have had regarding God’s place in my daughters death, have only been answered by a reassurance that God loved her even more than myself….and that’s an INCREDIBLE thing…. and that she is safe with Him in his place of peace and love.
    I was reassured that all my prayers to keep her safe were heard and it was the drugs that took her life, the depression and her addictions. Her judgment was altered in a tragic set of terrible choices. She did not want this. I believe God did not either. He did not “take” her.
    I was told that when she died God wept with me and his heart was broken as well. I need not be afraid or doubt that my faith was not strong enough. That was NOT the reason.
    And I did have my doubts, I screamed at God asking him why he couldn’t save her one more time. I still cry and ask why, even though my intellect knows why. I just struggle to fully accept this horrible reality. And I believe God understands it is out of pain, not lack of faith.
    But I am truly blessed that my faith sources only strengthen the message of God‘s love.
    Mine and the many other parents that have lost their children for whatever reason do not need this unjust and in-Christian judgement. It’s not appropriate at ANY time, but unbelievably cruel for someone to say this. This is not the God, the Divine…the Father I believe in. Not the God my daughter knew of either.
    It’s this type of “ religion” or “Christianity” that turns people away from even exploring who, what God is.
    And that is certainly NOT his message.
    This is my opinion and my beliefs now, even after fearing God as a child and adult.
    Thank goodness my heart heard, or felt his spirit telling me something wasn’t right and persist searching!
    I’m still hurting, but know that myself nor my child is being punished. Still needing to learn maybe, but out of love!
    Thank you for writing this!

    1. Jayne, I am so very sorry that your daughter died and you are without her here on this Earth. Yes, you are fortunate to have such a loving, present church community. I am so glad they have not said hurtful things to you and that you have felt held by them.
      I also was very angry at God–but I also felt and knew that my anger was mine and that when I came through it, God would be there, just waiting. When that would happen, I had no idea. It was a long time. So much love to you on this journey. We are all learning on this walk.

  4. What a well written story. I share the same beliefs so deeply. One of my favorite songs says, “they will know we are Christians by our LOVE”, not our preaching. My son did not die because I lacked faith or did not pray enough. He was loved every second of his life and I believe he is still surrounded by love. That is the God I know. Thank you for expressing what many people need to hear — check your piety at the door of the grieving.

    1. Thank you Maureen. No, your son did not die because you lacked faith–I am sure you prayed your heart. I agree that he is surrounded completely by love and that is what continues to bind you together. Our love for them is stronger than anything. Love is All. Yes, all religiosu people, check your piety at the door of the grieving.

      “When you meet someone deep in grief
      Slip off your needs and set them by the door.
      Enter barefoot this darkened chapel
      hollowed by loss
      hallowed by sorrow
      its grey stone walls and floor.
      You, congregation of one, are here to listen, not to sing.
      Kneel in the back pew.
      Make no sound, let the candles speak.”
      -Patricia Runkle

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