Chapter 4: The Great Sadness
P43: Not wanting to appear overanxious or panicky, he found and soberly informed his two new friends that he couldn’t find Missy and asked if they would each check with their families.
Why doesn’t Mack want to panic at this time? What’s stopping him from being over-anxious?
P44: She was nowhere and he jogged back towards Emil’s, unable to pray anything except, Oh God, help me find her…Oh God, please help me find her.”
Have you ever prayed a prayer like this? What were the circumstances? Did the prayer help you?
Psalm 71:12 Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me.
P46: As he walked between the tents and trailer, he was praying and promising. He knew in his heart that promising things to God was rather dumb and irrational, but he couldn’t help it. He was desperate to get Missy back, and surely God knew where she was.
What causes us to make promises to God in the midst of our troubles? What are we trying to get God to do?
Hosea 10:4a They make many promises, take false oaths and make agreements;
P49: What he would give for a do-over; a chance to have this day start from the beginning.
What circumstances, events, or experiences make us want to be given a do-over? Why is it hard to let go of our mistakes?
P54: Word had quickly spread, and friends arrived to help him pack up the site and cart everything back to Portland. His boss called, offering any support he could and encouraging Mack to stay as long as he needed. Everyone they knew was praying.
What is the power behind community prayers? Have we ever had any said for us? How did it make us feel?
Acts 4:31-32a After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
All the believers were one in heart and mind.
P55: As Jesse gave Mack a long hug, he whispered that they would see each other again, and that he would be in prayer for all of them.
How sincere is this kind of support? What does it mean to be “in prayer” for other people?
Romans 12:11-13 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Vicki’s world had been shaken by the events, and now she had to be almost pried from Nan as her own grief threatened to sweep her away. Nan held her, stroking her hair and whispering prayers into her ear, until she was settled enough to walk to the waiting car.
What’s the purpose of these whispered prayers? Are they effective? When may we use them?
P57: “Thank you,” was all Mack could say, and he looked down at the floor. Emotions seemed so near the surface, and even the least bit of kindness seemed to poke holes in his reserve.
Some people say that kindness kills. Have you ever experienced anything like this? Do we sometimes find it hard to accept help in the midst of our pain and suffering? Why?
P59: Something in the heart of most human beings simply cannot abide pain inflicted on the innocent, especially children.
Why is this a common feeling throughout so many cultures and people across the world? Why would God place this feeling within us?
Mark 9:42 “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.
P60: By now he had only one prayer left: “Dear God, please, please, please take care of my Missy. I just can’t right now.” Tears traced their way down his cheeks and then spilled off onto his shirt.
Have you ever prayed this kind of prayer? How hard is it to surrender our loved ones into God’s hands?
P63: For Mack, the next few days and weeks became an emotion-numbing blur of interviews with law enforcement and the press, followed by a memorial service for Missy with a small empty coffin and an endless sea of faces, all sad as they paraded by, no one knowing what to say. Sometimes during the weeks that followed, Mack began the slow and painful merging back into everyday life.
How have shock and grief affected our own lives? How hard is/was it for us to get back to ‘normal’ life? Why is it difficult for others around us to say or do the right thing when we are hurt and grieving?
Psalm 88:11-12, 18
Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
P64: At some point in the process, Mack attempted to emerge from his own pain and grief, at least with his family. They had lost a sister and daughter, but it would be wrong for them to lose a father and husband as well.
What makes Mack take this decision? Why is his stability so important to his family?
Mack and Nan weathered the storm of loss together with reasonable success, and in some ways were closer for it. Nan had made it clear from the start, and repeatedly, that she did not blame Mack in any way for what happened. Understandably, it took Mack much longer to let himself off the hook, even a little bit.
How difficult is it for us to forgive ourselves at times? Why is it easier to forgive other people? How can God help us through times when we feel destitute of forgiveness and hope for ourselves?
P65: The fact that he was unable to bury Missy’s body magnified his failure as her daddy.
Why does this make Mack feel such a failure?
The tragedy also increased the rift in Mack’s own relationship with God, but he ignored this growing sense of separation. Instead, he tried to embrace a stoic, unfeeling faith, and even though Mack found some comfort and peace in that, it didn’t stop the nightmares…
What causes people to abandon God when they are deeply hurt? Why is it easier to shut off our feelings in the midst of loss or pain?
I say to God my Rock,” Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long,” Where is your God?”
Does God even write notes? And why the shack – the icon of his deepest pain?
Why does Mack question God’s intentions? Why would God lead him towards his deepest pain?
In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.
Has God stopped communicating with us? Does He only speak to us through scripture?
Judges 6:13 “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”
P66: It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.
Why is it easy to keep God in a box or a book? What do we fear when we let Him out?
Who sent the damn note? Whether it was God or the killer or some prankster, what did it matter? Whichever way he looked at it, it felt like he was being toyed with. Andy anyway, what good was following God at all? Look where it got him.
Are there times when we feel that God is toying with us? How does our faith testify against that possibility?
He realized he was stuck, and Sunday prayers and hymns weren’t cutting it anymore, if they ever really had. Cloistered spirituality seemed to change nothing in the lives of the people he knew, except maybe Nan.
Why are some people spiritually stuck and cannot get anything out of church worship? Can church worship contribute to those ruts?
He was sick of God and God’s religion, sick of all the little religious social clubs that didn’t seem to make any real difference or affect any real changes.
Mack seems to express something that a lot of people feel about religion. Why have many churches become religious social clubs and what can be done to change that?
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.