The Arms of Christ

My dad died in a car accident five years ago. It made it more strikingly difficult because my husband and I, along with my sister and brother-in-law, were traveling in Europe at the time of his accident. We didn’t come to know of his accident until two days after it happened; he died eighteen hours after we returned home. Because of this dramatic situation of his death, I would often reflect that it felt more like a movie script than real life.

During the season of mourning over the next year or so what became apparent to me was the silence of God. This silence was a new dimension in my relationship with God, one that had always been rather a communicative relationship. But in many ways this did not unbalance my relationship with God–I knew cognitively that God would never leave me nor forsake me–I was just unclear how to operate in our relationship during this period of silence. And I did wonder why God would stop speaking clearly, whether through prayer or Scripture, during this intense time of pain and loss.

And in the fourth year after the death of my father, God revealed himself to me through a movie script. In a scene in the movie Little Miss Sunshine, the older brother Dwayne, who has been striving to enter the Air Force, suddenly comes to realize he will not be able to fulfill his lifelong dream because of color blindness. He cries out in pain, bursts from the family van, races down a ravine at the side of the highway, and beats the ground while swearing. The family stands at the side of the highway immobilized. Then Dwayne’s younger sister Olive moves into action. She walks down the ravine to the side of Dwayne and simply wraps her arm around his shoulder in silence.

In an instant I understood what God had done for me in those months following my dad’s death: simply came along beside me and wrapped his arms around me–without needing to say a word.

Since this revelation of the comforting presence of God, I have understood more clearly God’s relationship with me during those dark days after my father’s death. God was silent, but that does not mean he withdrew his presence from me. I have a better appreciation for the arms of Christ that were stretched out in his crucifixion–for those arms now seem like ones that gathered me in closer to him during my days of pain and loss.

During those months of silence I continued God’s promise to me, that he would never leave me nor forsake me. And now I rejoice, clearly seeing that God gathered me with arms of love and kept me close at heart.

Gretchen Schoon Tanis is a doctoral candidate at King’s College/University of London in youth ministry and theology. She also likes looking for God in the unlikeliest of places.