Lent Devotion – Closer to God

Published March 7, 2024 by Liza Lane

When I was asked to describe an experience in my life that helped me understand or practice the way of Jesus’ cross more fully, I instantly knew I had to share how my husband’s sudden death had brought me closer to God. I’ll start with the backstory and end with my rescue. 

On Friday, July 10, 2020, my husband, Brent, took his new johnboat for a test drive. We spoke by phone from 6:45 until 7:00 PM when he arrived at Lake Houston. By 9:50 PM, a police officer was at my door, informing me that Brent was missing. Two days later, his body was recovered. He had drowned. He left me behind as a 36-year-old widow. He left behind two sons, Will, aged 11, and Roswell, aged 3. He left behind countless friends and family. All of us, heartbroken.

The nature of Brent’s death is categorized under the umbrella of traumatic bereavement by grief and trauma scholars because it was untimely, sudden, preventable, and accidental, involving suffering. The horror deepened when he went missing. Also, I was unable to participate in the Western grief ritual of physically viewing the remains due to the condition of his body. This experience perpetuated a sense of disbelief that I still struggle with years later. In essence, traumatic bereavement forces survivors to mourn their loss while coping with the trauma of the event.

As a mental health professional, I wasn’t surprised when I began suffering from classic re-experiencing symptoms of trauma, such as nightmares and flashbacks, along with persistent dread. I dreaded nights, fearful of the nightmares. I dreaded mornings, with their terrible reminder of the reality of his death. I dreaded the days, knowing the desperate yearning for Brent always gave way to horror at how he had died. I was in survival mode, trying to stay alive and wondering where God fit in the picture.

For three and a half years, my life has ground to a halt every few days due to the exhaustion of constantly powering through the pain to fulfill my duties as a solo parent, social work professor, and researcher.

Although I dealt with classic symptoms of trauma, I’ve also dealt with some lesser-known outcomes of trauma. First, trauma can shatter assumptions about God. Second, being in a chronic state of survival can disconnect you from dearly held values and beliefs. 

Even before Brent died, God had become a distant figure to me. As a child born in the United States to Colombian immigrants, I remember when family members back in Colombia had been kidnapped and murdered at the height of the political violence in the nineties. I wondered why God had not answered our prayers as I saw the devastation these atrocities wrought on my family. As a social work researcher, I have heard stories and witnessed suffering that makes the blood run cold. In these contexts, it is difficult to imagine that God is nearby or even paying attention.

Then Brent died, and I was utterly wrecked. Prayer felt pointless. Being in a constant state of survival also completely disconnected me from prioritizing pleasing God. It was daunting to imagine I could ever reconnect with Him.

Although I felt distant from God, I knew I needed Him. I returned to regular church attendance when I felt able, although it pained me deeply. Brent loved South Main, and so did I (and still do). Being in the Sanctuary made his absence painfully real. For a long time, it hurt simply to walk in. However, despite my best efforts, I did not feel closer to God. I remember thinking it would take a miracle to feel close to God again and find life worth living, not just surviving. 

Then, one day, not long ago, Steve preached a sermon on the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the prodigal son. At that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was a lost coin—so lost that I would never be able to find my way back to God through my efforts. He needed to find me. So, I prayed and confessed. I told Him I didn’t feel close to Him nor see Him as caring for me individually. However, if it was true that He cared for me, I needed divine intervention to experience His love and nearness. I asked Him to please find me. To my amazement, I began to feel found. It was almost immediate.

So, what’s changed? I feel closer to God. I can face the tough road ahead with more joy and courage. I don’t have to white-knuckle my way through life anymore. I can ask for help now that I sense He is near. The difference this has made in my life has been nothing short of a miracle. I have also realized He was always near; I just couldn’t see it.

If any of this resonates with you, like me, you’ve probably tried various ways to mend your relationship with God. Perhaps, like mine, your efforts haven’t been very successful. If I may, I’d like to offer an alternative. Maybe the way of the cross is acknowledging the limits of human intention and effort and asking God to mend your relationship with Him. Like me, you may find that a prayer such as this can change your trajectory and help you feel that “life is worth the living just because He lives.”

Dear Father,

Help me. I love You, but I struggle to have a relationship with You. Find me. My pain and inability to cope have created a chasm between us that I cannot traverse. Help my unbelief and numbness. Help me sense Your presence amidst my heartache and draw me nearer to You.