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The Gift of Faith

By Sister Ann Letourneau

Faith. The belief there is a being greater than I can imagine. The conviction that if I lead a good life on earth, I will go to a place of unconditional love and peace when I die. Most days I take this gift for granted. Lately, however, I find myself filled with gratitude for the gift that faith is to me. In the last year and a half my family has suffered from three untimely deaths. One of my brothers died at the age of 60 after living with a rare form of dementia for seven years. One grand-nephew and one grand-niece died within months of their birth. I just can’t imagine the grief without leaning into my God and holding onto the belief that these precious little ones and my brother are enjoying full knowledge of God with my parents, and one day we will all be reunited.

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Don’t get me wrong. This grace of faith does not take away the sting of death and the indescribable heaviness of my heart.  “Life is not supposed to be this way!” I find myself yelling at God. “You could have done something about this!” God holds all my anger and pain. God listens and offers me comfort even when I am not open yet to receiving it.  God lets me be human at the same time I am a person of faith. Losing those we love is like having one’s heart ripped out. I think God gets that. God made us for relationship, how could we not feel as though a part of us has died when our loved ones die?

The image that keeps returning to me in my prayer is of holding my faith in one hand and the gravity of my human emotions in the other. They are both important. Denying one for the sake of the other is harmful. If I denied my belief system and allowed the complex emotions of grief to take over, I would be overwhelmed and might be perpetually angry with this Being that is so much bigger than me. I would play the “blame game,” accusing God of causing, or at least not stepping in to save, my family from this pain. In my best self, I don’t think God works this way. God does not cause awful events. In the course of nature, painful things happen, but that is not on God. God can bring good out of the pain if I choose to pay attention.

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Denying my raw emotions is just as damaging. Stuffing emotions and thinking my faith takes them away is called spiritual bypass. We bypass the human need to feel the loss of those we love. I contend that when we deny such emotions they come out in ways that are not helpful to ourselves or our relationships. We may find ourselves reacting to other minor events with strong emotion or being more irritable than usual. Or, the built up emotion may cause us to be physically sick.

In one hand I hold the grief that I have never before experienced. In the other, I hold the greatest gift I have been given, faith. I need both. I need to express the depth of my anguish and lean into my God for comfort. This is the only way I can navigate this human journey called life.

About the Author

Ann CroppedSister Ann Letourneau, PsyD has been a Sister of St. Joseph for 29 years. She is a staff psychologist at Central Dupage Pastoral Counseling Center in Carol Stream, IL where she sees individual clients and offers educational presentations on various psychological and spiritual topics. Sister Ann is fascinated by nighttime dreams and runs a monthly dream group at The Well Spirituality Center, a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph in La Grange, IL.

30 thoughts on “The Gift of Faith

  1. judithcsj says:

    Thanks for this, Ann. My dad’s bday would be July 4, and this article was very helpful to me as grief washes over me anew. Thanks for sharing that we are called to honor both our human emotions and our belief system. I have certainly learned that grief is a process, not an event!

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  2. Brigetta Slinger says:

    I’m so sorry for your recent losses, Ann. I, too, have lost my only, and very dear sibling, 3 months ago. My sister, Peggy, died suddenly and I treasure my faith more than ever. Your reflection is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. Thank you Ann for giving expression to how essential faith is in times of great loss. I was remembering today that I lost my brother-in-law Bill on the Fourth of July 2014, my sister Barbara (his wife) less than a month later, my brother George a little over a year later in March, and my brother Paul the following November. Now there are just two of us, Marty and myself. Blessings, David

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  4. Deena LaVigne says:

    Thank you, Ann, for honestly sharing your pain, struggle and sorrow,. You have given us much inspiration, comfort and hope and by your sufferings are an instrument of Blessing for each of us.
    Abiding Peace Be with You Always,
    Deena LaVigne

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  5. MelissaSSJ says:

    Hi Ann. Thank you for so beautifully describing how I have been feeling since my mom died last year. Now I know why life is moving on and I am not stuck like people often wonder why I am not. It is because I am balancing grief and faith. Wow! Thank you!

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  6. Cathy Ludwick says:

    Beautifully stated! I also am sorry for your loss. Which brother, may I ask? (I’m a Pierpont.) Your family has always been an inspiring example to me. May God bless you with a strong and fruitful faith.

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  7. Denise A Schmitz says:

    I lost my younger sister suddenly a few months back and have been running away from the pain, tears and fears. I too am a Sister, CSJ Concordia KS and your words bring me comfort on the holiday my sister enjoyed the most, let her become childlike with sparklers and fireworks. Betty was 60. You should write a short book on grief.
    Blessings

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  8. Kay Myrick says:

    Ann, I consider it a Blessing that I received your article on the Gift of Faith. My younger sister died last November unexpectedly. I understand fully the journey of balancing Faith and the emotions of grief. I am so happy to see that you have your PhD in Psychology. I know you are an inspiration and blessing to those you serve. God bless you, my friend.

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