Tuesday, February 23, 2016
God refines us through pain and suffering
Part 1 of an interview with Sherri Burgess,
Author of Bronner: A Journey to Understand
God teaches and refines us through pain and suffering. Author Sherri Burgess, wife of Rick Burgess of the syndicated The Rick and Bubba Show, knows this to be true. After the earthly death of her youngest son, Bronner, Burgess asked, “Why?” And God answered.
Journey with her through this powerful testimony of healing to understand the purpose behind the pain. With a reader’s guide in the back, this resource makes an empowering tool for book-club discussion or small-group Bible study. Bronner: A Journey to Understand (New Hope Publishers) is much more than a retelling of an inspiring story. It is a call to action!
Q: Your book is named after your youngest son. Tell us a little bit about Bronner and his short life on earth.
Bronner was the baby of the family, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, and we adored him. He knew it too. Bronner kind of had that air about him like he knew he was a big deal. He was so much fun and super snuggly. He was like a cookie right out of the oven, and every morning was like Christmas morning with him. I couldn’t wait to unwrap each day with him. He was a two-and-a-half-year-old baby boy. You’d be hard-pressed to find much in the world better than that! He was curious, playful, spunky, loving, fun, precious and beautiful, and life with him was amazing. He was sunshine and a cool breeze kissing my face with life, and when I lost him I was utterly crushed and completely devastated. But God picked me up and gave me peace through understanding and hope for the things of the Spirit — things such as eternity, Heaven, God Himself and ultimately a greater understanding of who God is and why He allows such great suffering in the world.
Q: You write about the inexplicable moment of peace you experienced at the hospital shortly before you learned there was no hope for Bronner. Could you tell us about that experience?
I fell on my face in prayer as soon as we entered the emergency room, begging for Bronner’s life. I had been praying nonstop almost the same thing over and over and over again. “Please, God, don’t take him. Please give him back. Please, God. Please, please give him back to me.” I would look up at the heart monitor to see if they had gotten a pulse, then I would bow my head again to pray. That last time I looked up hoping for anything but that straight line, and then I bowed over a chair. I remember a nurse taking my hand and an instantaneous exchange with our eyes that seemed to contain all the grief and hurt and sympathy one woman could muster for another. As I closed my eyes again, I felt something rising up from deep within me. It was like I was hearing it in my mind, but I consciously said it. “Lord, not my will, but thine, O Lord, be done.” A peace came over me that transcends understanding. I stood up, looked at the doctor in charge and heard him say, “We’re going to have to stop.” I nodded my head and said OK. I’ve known from the beginning this was God’s will because that was what the Holy Spirit had prayed for and through me, but what took me a long time to figure out was why. Why would God will this? That is what my book is about.
Q: How has your marriage been impacted by your loss?
It’s given it weight. Our marriage is ultimately more important than it ever had been before. I needed Rick like I needed water. He was our rock, and he knew it. He had to hold it together so he could hold us all up. There’s a myth that has been debunked that the death of a child causes divorce. That is completely opposite of the truth. Studies show that people who have lost children divorce at significantly lower rates than the average. That’s because shared pain between two people bonds them like nothing else can. I remember that night in the hospital waiting on Rick to arrive. He was speaking at a youth retreat in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, when it happened. We had friends who flew him home as quickly as possible. My pastor, my music minister and his wife, and three other friends waited with me at the hospital, and they were ready with answers for me. I had lots of questions, but what I remember most about that wait was the uneasiness in the room. We were all distraught, but when Rick finally walked through those doors, calmness walked in with him. His presence put everyone at ease, especially me. His eyes went immediately to me, and he walked over and wrapped me up in his arms. I felt safe with him.
Q: How did you walk your other children through the loss of their brother? What advice would you offer to parents going through a similar situation right now?
We walked them through it Biblically. We taught them everything God was teaching us: the truth that even though bad things happen in this world now, it won’t always be like this. Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more. My children know they’re going to see their brother again. They know an eternity with God is far better than any pain or suffering or hurt they have to endure in this life. They know their pain will end and a reward is coming that surpasses anything they’ve ever experienced before. My children know love never ends and Bronner loves them now just as much as he ever did. He remembers them just like they remember him. They look forward to that time just as Rick and I do.
To parents of children who have lost a sibling I would say, “They’re going to be just fine.” Children are naturally trusting. They trust God. They trust you to take care of them, and they need you. They are worth living for. I know it hurts to lose a child. I believe it must be one of the worst things a person could possibly have to endure in life, but I encourage you to gain strength and understanding from God so you can still be the parent you need to be for those you have left.
Q: When you had the pool installed in your backyard, you prayed God would not allow anyone to drown there and that He would use it for His glory. In what way did God answer that prayer differently?
Early on in this journey, as I was trying to understand God’s purpose behind the pain, I was desperately crying out for Him to tell me, “Why the children?” I said to God, “There is nothing worse than losing a child. I know You lost your Son, but You got Him back after three days! Three days!” I heard that still, small voice answer in my spirit, “But what about the others? They’re all mine. You’re going to get this glorious reunion with your child, but I won’t get that with all of mine.” I understood in that moment that God was using my temporary separation from Bronner to bring some of His wandering children back to Him forever. Maybe for the first time ever, I had compassion for God. God doesn’t delight in death — not real death, the kind that sends souls away from their maker forever. I decided I could do this for Him because I love Him and because I know what it’s like to lose a child. If I can help bring one, just one, back to Him, then I will. I know I’m not the only brokenhearted parent in this equation. My heavenly Father is a brokenhearted parent too, and He longs to bring all of us home. There’s room for us all in our Father’s heart. That’s why He waits. He’s gathering His children and creating for Himself a people who choose the good portion, the bread and living water, the Lord.
Q: How do you answer people when they ask you why God allowed Bronner to drown?
He did it for the lost souls that would found through it. He did it for the church: to provide a message that would ignite a fire within to be about God’s business in this world and in this generation because the time is drawing near. He did it to refine us, to humble us, to make us see our need for God, to make us holy, to create in us fearlessness and boldness for God and the things of God. He did it to bring us into a closer relationship with and an understanding of Himself, to fit us for Heaven and to clothe us in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He did it for love.
Q: After all your family has been through, do you still believe God is good?
I know Him to be. He was good before. He was amazing in the midst of it, and He is my constant and closest friend, my desire, my hope, my everything right now, today and forevermore. He changed me for the good by taking my son. I’m no longer in love with the world, and that is freeing. I’m unchained from the world with half my heart already in Heaven, and a person like that doesn’t live any longer for the shiny things the world has to offer. Instead a person like that lives for the will of God, for His delight and approval. I seek His joy, not my own. I live to make Him smile. That’s why I wrote this book: to please Him, to bring Him glory and to help people see His goodness and His purpose behind it all. People look around and see how bleak things can get on earth and wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” I’ll tell you where He is. He’s right in the middle of it. He stands with outstretched hands, waiting and saying, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Trust me. It won’t always be like this.”
Learn more about Bronner: A Journey to Understand at http://newhopepublishers.com/2015/09/bronner/,
and visit Sherri Burgess’ online home at burgessministries.com.