A Letter From One Mom Who Prayed for Resurrection to Another.
Updated: Feb 18
Dear Kalley Heiligenthal,
We don't know each other, but we share an intimate bond. Like you, I have stood over the body of my lifeless child and prayed with faith and great expectation that God would breathe life back into tiny lungs. I have touched cold flesh, recently pulled out of refrigeration, so that we could pray one more time. I have hoped to see color return to pale skin. The miracle I needed never materialized. And like you, I had witnessed a lot of miracles, many in response to my own prayers.
We are not so unusual. In the years that have passed since my son died of cancer, I have talked to other Christians whose loved ones died, and it turns out that many of them have prayed the prayers that we prayed. They have stood at the veil between heaven and earth and asked Jesus to do for them what he did for Lazarus' loved ones. It is a common experience of believers, but we don't always know how to talk about the aftermath of this type of unanswered prayer.
I asked for a physical resurrection here on this earth for my son because I imagined the impact it would have on the world when they heard the story of a miraculous answer to prayer.
I asked because I had expectations built on the stories from the bible of resurrection and the testimonies of Christians around the world whose histories have become legends in charismatic church circles.
I asked because I have a good Father in heaven who loves me, and while my heart was breaking, I knew that love was stronger than death. I didn't want to wait to see the power of love on display in heaven. I wanted to see it here, on the earth where I live and toil, succeed and suffer, love, and lose.
I asked boldy because I had nothing to lose. I gladly risked my dignity, my pride, my assurance of faith because all of it was such a small price to pay for the possibility of another moment with my delightful son.
And I am so sorry that I know how it feels to have to stop praying, to stop asking, to accept the hard "no" that has come from the God you love and have committed your life to serve. I know the horror of planning a memorial service instead of a public celebration. I know the wrestle that is presenting itself to you right now and the way that your wrestle with God will stretch you and change your faith as you learn to look at God in new ways.
I wish Olive were still in your arms. I wish you had received the miracle I didn't, even though it would have broken my heart all over again and given me a lot of new questions to wrestle through with God.
Instead, I pray for a different kind of resurrection. I ask God to resurrect your hearts as you turn toward him in your disappointment and pain. I have seen new life spring up from my hard ground. New and living compassion has sprouted from earth I thought was scorched. It is a slow, painful resurrection, as the blood begins to circulate again in your cold, pale hearts. People will try to rush this new miracle, encouraging you with platitudes they think are helpful.
But the beauty of a parent's heart fully resurrected after the death of their child is that it is entirely supernatural. No well-meaning words scrawled on a sympathy card will help this miracle along. You can not spur it forward by skimming over the surface of your pain, praising God loudly, asserting that "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." It will be a miraculous resurrection precisely because a part of you will fully die.
You may feel angry, empty, unsure of the love of God. I have felt all those things. I hope you don't deny those feelings. God is not afraid of them. You can't hide from his gaze. He knows that when you bury your child, you bury your heart. He is the giver of life. You don't have to resurrect yourself. Give yourself to your mourning. Do not feel guilty in your despair. When you return to worship the God you love, You will discover that He is bigger and more entirely "other" than you ever imagined, and that will feel isolating and scary at first. Let yourself feel that too. Don't try to put yourselves back together. The world will watch, and they will witness a miracle they can relate to, not a miracle of glory that reverses pain, but a miracle of grace that acknowledges the pain and meets you in the middle of it.
With love and familiar sorrow from a mom who struggled to sing "faithful you have been and faithful you will be," never minding the tears streaming down her face, (Your words were true even when I couldn't feel them,)
Amy Noel Green
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.