Last Christmas, I didn’t feel like celebrating.
Nine months earlier, my dear father died, then I had a life-threatening accident that landed me on my back for six weeks. And as soon as I recovered from that, my mother had a heart attack and died. She was my best friend. After all of this, I did what most Christians do: I prayed and asked God for help. But all I got was silence. Deep, empty silence. I wasn’t in the mood for Christmas.
In the days that followed, I didn’t question God’s character, I questioned His existence. After 30 years of living with what I believed was a strong vibrant faith, I wondered if I had lived a delusion. God didn’t answer my prayers—or even seem to listen at all. Maybe Christianity was all a big lie. And for the first time in my 54 years, Christmas seemed like a magical celebration for folks who needed a nice story.
The day before my mother died, she called me to her bedside. She was gasping for air. She had a loud mask over her face pressing oxygen into her mouth. I pulled the mask away from her face, and she said something peculiar. “Meg,” she whispered with odd delight, “I had the most amazing dream. I saw a field covered with blue flowers and snow was falling. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.” Then she gasped, and I put the mask back on.
This was an odd statement because my mother never talked about dreams. When I was a child, I told her about my dreams at night, and she dismissed them quickly. Dreams were nonsense for practical thinkers. Focus on reality, she’d say. So when she told me this, I was shaken. Her mind was crystal clear. I sat down thinking that the dream was nice and didn’t make much of it. A day later I hugged her shoulders hard for several hours until she died. My heart broke.
In the ensuing months, I pleaded with God to help me. He didn’t. I cried and prayed again. Silence. Finally I stopped praying and left Him alone. I decided that if He was real, then it was on His shoulders to show me. I was too tired and sad to beg Him. Months went by, and a stale silence hung between us. My daughters asked if I would join them on a trip to Italy in July, and I said yes. Maybe Italy would help me get out of my funk.
We went to Florence, and I decided to first see Michelangelo’s David. If you haven’t seen him, it’s worth the airline ticket. I stared at him for 20 minutes and then sauntered into a room to his left. I studied one painting, about 8 feet by 8 feet. immediately I was drawn to the eyes of the women in the painting. One woman was Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the other was Mary Magdalene. They had just taken a dead, bleeding Jesus down from the cross and were holding Him. Their eyes were hollow and bleak, exuding an unspeakable despondency. If they could have spoken, it felt like they would have said, “Are you kidding? Has this all been a cruel joke? Where is God now?” Instead, they got silence.
My heart leaped. They understood me. God wasn’t there. He was gone and left them to grapple with pain and confusion. They were frozen in time.
I moved on to the next painting by the same painter. It, too, was massive and alive. I couldn’t stop thinking about Mary and Mary. As I began looking at the next painting, I felt comforted by the fact that I knew that their agony lasted only three days because I read the rest of their story. Soon, their grief would turn to elation because everything they believed about Jesus would be proved true. God was real and Jesus was the Son of God. They just needed to hang on.
The adjacent painting showed a brilliant sky with light shooting through clouds. A man stood in a peaceful field looking elated. “Nice,” I thought. I understand the artist’s intent. After death is heaven, and light streams through gray clouds. I felt cynical because the depiction didn’t convince me that good really follows pain—for me at least. Then I read a placard next to the painting explaining it. The writer described the man in the field and the artist’s intent. Then something extraordinary jumped at me. “You will notice the flowers in the field,” it read. “They are cornflowers, which are blue, because cornflowers represent paradise.”
I burst into tears. My mother described a field covered in blue flowers—the loveliest thing she had ever seen. God told me in that moment that she wasn’t just in heaven. She was in paradise.
God gives us silence so He can prepare us for deep mystery. It is a privilege so we can be readied to believe the unbelievable. Christmas wraps our sadness, confusion and elation into one package that we can bring to God and say, “Help me, please.” And we can be guaranteed that, in His time, He will.
Merry Christmas, friends.
Pediatrician, wife, mother and best-selling author of six books, Dr. Meg Meeker is one of the country’s leading experts on parenting, teens and children’s health. Find out more about her at megmeekermd.com.