What if? Avoiding the Trap of Guilt

How do we respond when tragedy strikes a member of our family?  

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists attacked Americans with our own commercial airplanes. They were part of al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. The result? The deaths of 2,996 innocent people with about 6,000 others injured. The terrorists also died that day and ultimately Osama bin Laden would be killed in retribution. There were huge financial damages and the event would change security procedures for planes and airports around the world. The families of 2,996 Americans mourned for their lost loved ones and they miss them still today.

The 9/11 Disaster, as it would be called, had other results. We would see the incredible bravery and selflessness of the first responders. We would see an American flag being raised by a group of them at Ground Zero later that day, thanks to a photograph by Thomas E. Franklin. We would hear of the passengers of Flight 93 attempting to subdue the terrorists on their flight and of one, Todd Beamer, saying “Let’s roll.”

On Sunday, four days after the attack, churches across America were full. It was a wake-up call to many people, realizing that they could die while sitting in an airplane or sitting at their desk at work. My family of five attended Scottsdale Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. The church was so full there were many in the lobby standing during the service. The Senior Pastor at the time was Darryl DelHousaye. He stood in front of a congregation of people shocked at what had occurred that week. Although I don’t recall his sermon after so many years, I do recall one statement he made. In his confident manner, with faith in God a cornerstone of his life, he stated the following:

“Many of you today are no doubt concerned about getting on an airplane any time soon. That’s understandable. I get that. But we know from God’s word in the Bible that our days are numbered and that God is in control. So if tomorrow is your day and you decide not to get on an airplane, you are just going to get hit by a bus.”

It was the humor we all needed and the congregation collectively laughed along with Darryl. Yet there was wisdom in what the Pastor had stated and I’ve told this story to many grieving people over the years. Why? Because when we lose a loved one we start looking to cast blame or guilt, and that often means we end up blaming ourselves and asking the dreaded “What if?” question.

Here are a few examples:

  • “What if we had taken her to a different doctor? She still might be alive today.”
  • “What if I had insisted he stay home from working at the World Trade Center that day? He wasn’t feeling well and I should have convinced him.”
  • “What if we wouldn’t have argued that night, would he still have committed suicide?”
  • “What if we didn’t allow our son to have a motorcycle? We should have told him more often to be aware of the potential for someone to pull out in front of him when he was on his bike?”

The last question was ours. Of course, we questioned whether we were to blame. It is normal. But it is also painful when we start blaming ourselves. Having heard that a relative made a comment that ‘they should never have allowed their son to buy a motorcycle’ didn’t bring any comfort to us in our grief. However, we saw multiple pieces of evidence of the Lord’s hand in the days leading up to his death and afterward. We believe that the Lord called Brian to his home with Him and that there was nothing we could have done to extend his life one day further. And we know that he was doing the one thing he enjoyed most in life, riding his motorcycle.

What does the word of God teach about this?

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”
~ Psalms 139:16

The Bible tells us that our days are ordained by God even before we are born. We encourage you not to blame yourself if you have lost a loved one. Even if there was something you believe you could have done that would have directly saved their life, recognize that God is the one who is actually in control and not you. He will bring you or your loved one home to Him when He pleases. He is God. He has that right. Yes, it hurts to lose someone out of our life. A lot. Losing a child, a spouse, a sibling, a loved relative is one of the hardest things you will endure. But God’s grace is sufficient to carry us through. We know that. He has done that for us.

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
~ Billy Graham.

2 Replies to “What if? Avoiding the Trap of Guilt”

  1. I ride a motorcycle, and tell my friends, if I were to die riding-I was at least enjoying myself.

    I did ask myself about the arguement, that night, before the suicide. At church, a friend told me, it was not about me. It was between God and my husband-no matter what I had said, or not said. The God plan was in action. It took me awhile, but finally forgave my husband for what he had done-to himself. God has been good to me-with direction to a great church, great fellow church friends. John and Cindy are among those friends, and have been very instrumental in my healing process. A process that is never quite done-but sure is better with God!
    Well written John and Cindy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Having just realized I didn’t respond to your comment, please accept my apology Valaurie. We were getting ready for a Mexico vacation and missed it. Cindy and I are honored to be your friends and you know we both love you. Thank you for your openness, your strength and your trust in God. We have seen Him working in your life and are so happy for the healing you have experienced as a result.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s