On Saying “Everything’s Fine,” When It’s Not: Our Solidarity with the Shunammite Woman

I had been apprehensive about Titus’s eye appointment. Whenever I’d scan my calendar for what was coming up, that appointment would catch my eye–memories of difficult appointments we’d had before still fresh. Titus’s eye doctor is someone whom I thank God for–she is a brilliant surgeon and one of the keenest doctors I’ve ever dealt with (and I’ve dealt with a plenty). She performed Titus’s eye surgery to correct his severe crossing when he was just six months old–a surgery many doctors won’t do that early. She’s aggressive for her patients, she’s frank, competent, no-nonsense, and I trust her.

When she first saw Titus and he was just 3 months old, she told me Titus’s vision problems were not vision problems, but neurological problems that may be impossible to fix–but she said she’d do everything she could to at least get his eyes straight enough that his brain could try and understand what he was seeing.

I’ll always remember that moment and her directness. The truth she spoke, hard as it was, was a kindness. How much of his progress is a result of her assertiveness and competence–allowing eyes to start to learn to work together at a young developmental stage?

But, even with my love for our doctor, eye exams and dilation are hard for Titus. Knowing this, I did everything I could the morning of the appointment to keep us cheerful and well-functioning so that we could get into that appointment with all the resources we needed to survive it.

And everything fell apart–which wasn’t a huge surprise, it’s what I was expecting. It was traumatic enough that they will likely do general anesthesia next time. What was a surprise was that it felt as though God had forgotten us that afternoon. I’ve been through traumatic events with Titus before–much more traumatic than an eye appointment, but it was always God’s presence that carried us–the trust and reality that he wouldn’t leave. But that day in the little exam room, my prayers seemed to bounce down off the ceiling and slap me in the face. I could endure anything, if only Jesus was close at hand, if only he was there opening my eyes to his goodness despite the obvious difficulties, if only he was letting me know he cared about my son–yet my sense of him had vanished.

A week or so prior, I had been reading about the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4. She was a wealthy, married woman, who showed over-the-top hospitality to Elisha the prophet. She even had a room built for him to stay in whenever he came by. Elisha wanted to repay her for this kindness and so he miraculously pronounced to her that she would have a son, although she had no children and her husband was old. She couldn’t believe Elisha and said to him, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your servant.” But it was true. She had a son one year later.

The boy grew and one day came to his father complaining that his head hurt. The father sent the boy to his mother. She held him on her lap until he died. I know something of holding my son in my lap, all but lifeless and gray–so horrific, so peaceful, waiting, wondering, with death so close at hand. It is the sort of angst that only the Spirit can express.

So the Shunammite woman took her dead son and laid him on Elisha’s bed in the room she had built for him.  Then she went to her husband and told him she was going to see Elisha, but when he asked her if everything was ok and why she was going to see him she said, “Everything is all right.” Or, in the ESV, “All is well.” No mention that their son had died.

When she comes to where Elisha is, his servant approaches her and asks if everything is all right, inquiring about her husband and also her son, and again she says, “Everything is all right.” We might start to wonder if perhaps she was simply full of faith and hope; if she was saying all was well because she so trusted that all would be well. But we see a very different story unfold. Everything was NOT fine, to the point that it was too terrible for her even to speak it. She was using “Everything’s all right,” as a cover for her deep pain–so deep that it couldn’t be voiced.

The Shunammite woman would not rest until she had Elisha himself. She went to him and grabbed hold of his feet. Elisha begins to see the truth, though she has said nothing, and he says, “She is in severe anguish, and the Lord has hidden it from me. He hasn’t told me.” Severe anguish. That sort of anguish isn’t the kind you can let out in bits and pieces when asked. It is the kind that overtakes you.

Her recrimination of Elisha is crushing. She says to Elisha–to God really, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Didn’t I say, ‘Do not lie to me?'” It’s like she’s saying, “Why did you give him to me in the first place if you meant to take him like this?” She still can’t bring herself to say that the boy is dead. Her grief only exposes itself to the ONE person she has some tiny hope could help her–not her husband, not the servant–only to the Man of God.

Elisha tells his servant to go and put his staff on the boy to revive him, but it isn’t enough for the Shunammite. She will not leave Elisha, forcing him to go himself to the boy. After the servant’s effort to bring the boy to life fails, Elisha then acts. Two times he acts to bring the boy back to life, laying over him, bending over him, and making him alive.

I confess that the recriminations that bubbled up in my heart after Titus’s awful appointment were a shock to myself. I have not been one to question God when it comes to Titus. In the dark times I have cried, I have wavered with weak faith, but to question God? Whenever one would start to form, my mouth would be stopped in reverence. Now they poured out.

The shape my recriminations took were from the gut, “You said you’d be with me. You said wouldn’t leave me. Why did you make me walk through this fire alone? Do you love Titus? He can’t understand what’s happening–has he suffered enough?” as I sobbed my way home.  As the tears ran, so did my mind–to the Shunammite woman–given a gift she didn’t ask for and trial she couldn’t even speak aloud.

As my friends checked in on how the appointment went, I so much wanted to say, “Fine. Everything’s all right.” But it wasn’t. And as I contemplated who the Shunammite took her complaint to, I remembered she finally let her grief out to the man who could do something about it. And these sisters in Christ also could do something about my problems, my grief. They, like Elisha, are connected to God. They know him, he has written his words on their hearts and put them in their mouth, he has given them his Spirit. So I didn’t say, “Everything’s all right.” I owned that I felt abandoned–not because God put me in a hard circumstance, but because it felt like he put me there alone.

Even as I confessed this, I was beginning to know it wasn’t true. God was pummeling me with evidence of his care: the story of the Shunammite that God had put in my Bible reading the week before the appointment, in the friends who prayed, even in the breaking loose of the questions that drove me to no one but God himself forcing me to tell him that, “Everything is not all right.” And most important of all, the evidence of Jesus, on the cross and risen–the one place that silences all questions of love or nearness, permanently fixed in history, permanently true.

I don’t know if you’ve ever struggled like did, like I do, to trust his presence, to trust him, when he seems far away. To own the real feelings inside, to take them directly to him and to the people connected to him. I don’t know if the pain feels so big that all you say is, “Everything’s all right.” But if that’s you, remember the Shunammite woman with me. Sometimes our grief feels so deep that it’s unspeakable. The only Person who can bear it fully is God himself, so take it to him.

Like the Shunammite, do not walk away from God until he comes with you. Stay with him no matter what. Remind him of his promises to you: that he said he’ll never leave you or forsake, that he said he’d be with you in the flood and the fire, that he’ll make dead bodies alive, not in this life, but the one to come. He hasn’t forgotten those promises. He will not go back on them, because he is faithful to his Name and his Word. He really does love us.

I don’t know what became of the Shunammite’s son. I don’t know if when he was brought to life he was restored to perfect, pristine health or if he had lingering effects of the ordeal in the form of a disability. I don’t know if he trusted Yahweh in his gray hairs. I’m glad the Bible doesn’t tell us that. It simply says he was restored to life. But he did die eventually, as his mom did, as Elisha did, as we all will.

Sometimes everything isn’t fine down here. Sometimes it’s a big mess and cry-fest. But we have the seeds of heaven deep inside. We have a glimpse of the end–of dead bodies restored to life, of all things made new. We have the God of Elisha, the God of the Shunammite woman, with us now. We have Jesus Christ, the one who came to save all the people who are willing to say, “I’m not fine,” I’m a sinner in need of a Savior. I need you, Jesus, to die for my sin. I need you to be raised from the dead and raise me with your resurrection power on the last day. I need you to put hope in my hopeless heart. And I need you to do right by my son–to be the God of the weak and lowly that you say you are.

May God be glorified in us, even when everything isn’t fine. Someday we will say in truth, “All is well.” Physically, spiritually, relationally–well. Hold fast to Christ until that day. He’s got you.

 


13 thoughts on “On Saying “Everything’s Fine,” When It’s Not: Our Solidarity with the Shunammite Woman

  1. Abigail – while not the exact same experiences, I could viscerally feel your words as I read. I have said many similar prayers for my little guy when I know something potentially very difficult is coming, only to wonder why my pleading wasn’t heard. I know it was, I know the answer was just different than I had wanted in the moment – but holding faith in the wake of those days is impossible unless I am held. Thank you for this. Your journey and storytelling and your sweet boy are all a gift to the kingdom.

  2. I have been there. Different situation same feeling. That overwhelming helpless pain, begging for verbal expression, when faith must say, ‘It is well.’
    When I don’t say how I really feel, I feel like a lying hypocrite.
    When I do express how I feel, I feel like I have lost faith in God.
    I feel torn most times. To talk, to not talk.
    But I’m learning it’s about not speaking ill, but speaking faith in such a way at that will get one the help and support needed to pull through. Peace 🌿

    1. “Learning it’s not about speaking ill, but speaking faith in such a way that will get on the help and support needed.” So true. We can speak hard things honestly, but with faith.

  3. Thank you Abigail for sharing. We all have had similar feelings and experiences. You are not alone, even if you feel alone. I realized this when my oldest son became a heroin addict and dealer, I was devastated. I taught him the ways of God, he became a child of God and was water baptized. I too would tell people everything was fine because I didn’t want people to ask me any details, or think I was the reason for his problem. But when I did tell people, I found out I was not alone and many people rallied to pray. I know that God knows and is with my son, even though I don’t know. I believe he is no longer a heroin addict, and the last time I talked to him he seemed straight, though the next night I found out he went to jail for beating his girlfriend. Oh how my heart breaks. Be strong in the Lord and God Bless.

  4. Abigail, I’ve admired your writing for a while, and need to thank you for this. “Sometimes our grief feels so deep that it’s unspeakable. The only Person who can bear it fully is God himself, so take it to him.” — Amen, and Amen! My son also has special needs — nothing like what your precious Titus has endured, but life-altering all the same — and I’ve wandered in the dark too, questioning, and frantically trying to assemble pieces that just will not align. It’s hard to realize that perhaps God gives us these moments so that we learn to trust in Him, rather than in our own capabilities. It’s an easy truth to recite, but so much harder to live out day to day.

    Praying for you and your beautiful family. Thank you for sharing your struggles so that others might be encouraged.

    1. Oh so true–that, “God gives us these moments so that we learn to trust him, rather than our own capabilities.” It’s where our faith is purified and made solid. Thanks for sharing.

  5. God promises to give us all we need; not always in the way we think He should. He just asks us to trust and obey, believing He has our best interests in mind. Continue to run to Him; your high tower of strength in your time of need. Remember, He loves your son infinitely more than you ever could! Keep speaking God’s promises over him and calling out the destiny God has for him. Corrie Ten Boom said sometimes we can’t find God in the hard times because under the shadow of His wings can be very dark; Take courage my sister, many are praying for you and your family!

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