Recently one of my children came to talk to Crystal and me. He (or she!) was struggling and wanted to talk. So we sat down with him while he unfolded his concerns. One of the biggies: how do you know that there’s a God?
In early March 2015, my family stood in front of the church, asking for prayer. In a couple of weeks, we would be going to the doctor in Chicago to discover if our children were going to go blind. Our church gathered around us and prayed for us. In the wake of that, many people spoke to us, offering comfort or council or just hugs. But a common theme in what was said: we saw your family caring for each other and carrying each other. And it’s true. I saw my children caring for each other. There were hugs and care and concern expressed by my children to each other. I saw that my children have learned how to love each other in suffering and sorrow. And so did my church.
Dad told my brother and me, “The two of you will stand next to me. That way, if I start to collapse, you can catch me.”
It was the day of my mother’s funeral.
Many of you know that I wrote a game called A Flower for Mara (freely available here), which is an exploration of grief and healing. You might not realize that I dedicated it to my father. I wrote:
To Leon Ben-Ezra, my father. You showed me that, truly, there is life after death.
Look at me, being all clever with my words. I wasn’t talking about heaven or the coming resurrection primarily. I was talking about seeing hope in the here and now. I saw my father grieving. I saw him in such agony and sorrow as I’ve never seen him in before. And I know that, somewhere in his heart, parts of that pain remain. At my sister Gabrielle’s wedding, there was a vacant seat in the front with a white rose on it. A seat for Mom. Dad was performing the ceremony, and when he recessed, he stopped by the chair, picked up the rose and walked out with it. And those of us who understood were crying.
It’s not like it stops mattering. It’s not like any of us expect that it’s supposed to hurt any less.
Even in the immediate aftermath, I saw hope in my father, which gave him strength. When I finally arrived from Peoria, exhausted from having driven all night and grief-stricken, he was the one who comforted me. In the midst of his grief, which he gave full expression to, he also cared for his children. He offered us words of comfort. He hugged us and cried with us. And he maintained before our eyes the truth that our God raises the dead.
If you own A Flower for Mara, you can see my father. That’s his hand in the picture on page 29. That’s his face on page 32.
And that’s him, on page 40, worshiping God in the cemetery.
My Grandma Anderson turned 90 this year. She’s back in Pennsylvania, and so I haven’t actually seen her in years. The last time we were there, Crystal and I both got violently ill, and I didn’t want to infect my grandmother.
The last time I saw my grandmother was in the hospital. I don’t remember why she was there; it doesn’t matter to the story. But she was sick and looked so frail.
My grandmother has not had an easy life. Over the course of her life, she has buried her husband and two of her three daughters, one of whom died as a teenager. How can you bear up under such a load?
But, while we were visiting Grandma, something happened which has lodged in my memory. someone arrived with my grandmother’s dinner, while were visiting her in the hospital. And she paused, folded her hands, and thanked God for her food.
If there’s anyone I know who has reason to be deeply bitter with God, it is my grandmother. And yet, she’s not. She still turned to Him in gratitude, trusting Him and quietly continuing to hold on to His goodness.
Why do I believe in God? And why should my child believe in God? I offered a few answers that day, but the one that felt the most powerful to me was sharing that story about Grandma Anderson. And, now that I have the time to assemble all my thoughts, this is what I would say.
We are all part of a great chain, linking backwards in time, back to the very beginning. It’s what we confess in the creed when we say that we believe in the “holy catholic Church”. It’s what it means to have brothers and sisters, throughout space and time, who are bearers of the same hope as ours.
why do I believe in God? From one perspective, it’s because my father does, and my grandmother does, and because John Calvin did, and because St. Francis did, and because the Apostle Paul did, and Mary, and David, and Ruth, and Moses, and Noah, and Adam, and Eve. And more. So many more, all links in the great chain that binds us all.
And if they saw God, if they could carry on in hope, then maybe I can, too. And maybe I can be the next link in the chain, reaching down from here to the end of time, drawing us all together into glorious union with each other and the One Who loves us all.