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Written in Tears

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Sunday, August 27, 2006, the sun beats down steadily but not oppressively on the streets of Pamplona. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in Spain, the kind of day siestas were made for.

The traffic on the streets—if you can call the occasional car “traffic”—is also lazy, relaxed and unhurried, with one exception. A silver van speeds down the avenue, pausing only briefly before shooting through a red light.

In the back of the van a young girl is spread out across the seat, her head cradled in her mother’s arms. “I need you to breathe, Allison!” the woman says. “Keep breathing!” But Allison is breathing, the deep breathing that’s past sleep, the coma from which she will not wake up. Or perhaps she has already awakened; perhaps, somewhere between the house and the hospital, her soul slipped away from the presence of her panicked parents and into the calm presence of her Father.

The sun shines on a lazy afternoon in Pamplona as the girl’s parents speed down the road toward the end of their world.

So begins Luke Veldt’s Written in Tears. That young girl was Allison Veldt, Luke’s thirteen year-old daughter. This book is a journey through the aftermath of that sudden, shocking, unexpected death. Left reeling after Allison died, Veldt found himself looking for answers and for comfort in the words of the Bible. Despite being a pastor and church planter, a man who knows his Bible well, he was still surprised by what he found in God’s Word. As he says in the opening pages of his book, “It took the death of my daughter for me to begin to understand the love of God.”

After Allison’s death, Veldt turned to Psalm 103 and he read it again and again. He read it every day for more than a year. And through that psalm he experienced God’s presence. This book, a short but powerful little volume, shares many of the lessons the Lord taught him through his grief.

One of the most compelling lessons he teaches is that there is a time for less (but better) theology and more presence in the midst of grief. Veldt says “I haven’t been elected as a spokesman for the suffering, but I’ll offer my opinion anyway: what we want is better theology, and less of it.” In the midst of the deepest grief it wasn’t answers he wanted; he wanted Allison back. “Answers, even if I could get them, would not dispel my grief; answers are a poor substitute for a daughter. It wasn’t an answer we were lacking, but a presence, a person. And you can’t replace a person with a doctrine. So the presence of God, while not the presence we were craving, was the right sort of response. It was more a hug than a word of wisdom. And as in the case of all of those struck with brief, a hug was what we needed most.”

Though I have never suffered the loss of a child or any other great loss, still this book had a lot to teach me. It taught me how to suffer well, it gave me confidence that when called upon to suffer the Lord will be present with me, and it taught me how to mourn with those who mourn. There are three emphases that stood out to me: The nature and character of God; the purpose of God in suffering and disability; and the importance of loving those who suffer.

Rather than write at length about a short book, let me share just a few meaningful quotes:

I hope. I believe. I know. I think. That hope is my anchor, the one certainty in an unsure world; it’s the huge gamble on which I’ve staked my life. Some days I’m as sure of it as I am of the ground I’m standing on. On other days, I wonder if I’m just trying to talk myself into something.

Sometimes people of faith have a hard time remembering that suffering was an excruciatingly painful process for Job. ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord,’ we quote Job brightly–forgetting that when he said it he had shaved his head and torn his clothes and that a few days later he was sitting on an ash heap, covering in painful boils and cursing the day he was born.

What those who have suffered loss understand is that … fears are not irrational. We know that a 99.9 percent survival rate means a devastating loss for one family out of a thousand, and that your love of God is no guarantee against that one family being yours. We come up against the indisputable conclusion that the faith we were resting in before was based largely not on the providence of God but on statistics.

I believe that God is good.

I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for you to tell for you to tell me so when my daughter dies.

When my daughter dies, it’s my job to tell you that God is good. Until I can do that, don’t be like Job’s friends. Offer your support, and wait in silence.

Don’t try to make the pain go away. The pain doesn’t go away. Hurt with me.

The … reason you should hesitate to share your thoughts on suffering with grieving friends is that they may already understand it better than you do, may be experiencing it at a level you have not, may be asking better questions and demanding better answers. It’s not that the information you have to offer is necessarily wrong; it just may not be relevant. Maybe you should be listening to your friend instead of offering advice.

There are many more I could point to. Many more. In a few cases the value of the book is not so much in the answers or possible answers Veldt provides, but in standing alongside him as he reaches those answers–in being with him through that process. It was valuable for me to be allowed into his grief, into his attempts to find hope and meaning in the midst of his suffering. Through it all I learned that God is good, that his character remains steadfast in joy and trial, that God is no less God in grief than in good times.

Who is this book for? This book is for all of us, whether we suffer or whether we know people who suffer (or both). “This book is not about how I got through grief, how I got over the loss of Allison and went on to lead a normal life. Sorrow is my normal life now. We still grieve; two years after Allison’s death, we still don’t sleep well. You don’t get over the loss of a child–ever. Nor would I want to. My grief reminds me that Allison was important, and losing her an irreplaceable loss. … This book is about how I came to know God better, not just despite my loss, but because of it. It’s written in the hope that the things I learned and the comfort I experienced will be of help in your life as well.” That hope will be realized whether you suffer or whether you seek to comfort those who suffer.

This book showed up unsolicited and nearly unnoticed. I almost didn’t read it; I’m very glad I did. It’s a powerful little book and one I am glad to commend to you.

I come to the end of this review and realize that I haven’t even begun to tell you how much I enjoyed Written in Tears. This book has been on my mind and heart since I read the first page. It has given me so much to meditate upon, so much to absorb into my life. I cannot easily communicate how that is the case. All I can do is once more commend it to you and suggest you read it as well. Maybe you will find it just as helpful.

Note: If you are interested but undecided, you may like to download the Introduction and first chapter.

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