God is good even when the holidays are not

On December 25, 2010, my family and I waited in a hospital lobby. A Christmas tree glimmered near the windows and classical music played in the background. We were supposed to be gathering around the table at home, savoring Christmas brunch. Instead, we sat in vinyl-covered chairs eating chips and sandwiches while mom lay on an operating table down the hall.

Hours later, I saw the surgeon walk toward us, his face calm but sympathetic. “We got everything we saw,” he said. The pause between that sentence and the next one seemed endless. “But it’s pancreatic.”

Pancreatic cancer — nearly impossible to beat. I’ve never felt such a confusing mix of relief and fear. Doctors considered the surgery a success, and my mother was still alive. But for how long?

She recovered from surgery. That spring, she followed an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. She had a period of decent health for a few months, which just so happened to coincide with my dad’s cancer diagnosis over the summer. Doctors monitored my mom’s progress and planned for my dad’s treatment. My parents even made joint oncology appointments. At one appointment, I shook my head at God as the doctor explained Mom’s medications and then Dad’s prognosis. How can this be happening? 

I grew up in the church. I knew all the Sunday school stories. I knew about God’s goodness. Now I had to reckon with that truth for myself. While cancer wreaked havoc on my parents’ bodies, questions wreaked havoc on my soul. Where are you God? What are you doing? How could you possibly be good?

Not alone in our questions

I wasn’t alone in my questioning. The prophet Habakkuk asked God, “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Hab 1:1). David cried in Psalm 13, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps 13:1). Job lamented, “I loathe my life. . . . Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked?” (Job 10:1, 3). After running for his life, Elijah prayed, “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4).

Many of us have said with tears, “God, we have had enough.” And in our grief and questioning, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who wept just as we do and yet who believed following God is worth their very lives. Despite their own struggles and spiritual turmoil, they believed God is who he says he is. They trusted his goodness, even if they didn’t feel it. They knew their suffering didn’t change his character, but embracing his character enabled them to endure their suffering.

I serve the same God as Habakkuk, David, and Job did, and even though at times I didn’t even want to come to God, the cries recorded in Scripture put words to the cries of my own soul. I read the laments of God’s people and saw their wrestling and weeping. And I saw their faith — faith in a God who was still good, come what may.

Even when we don’t get answers

In Psalm 27, David pleads for God to intervene as he faces enemies threatening him and trouble all around. He asks, “Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!” (Ps 27:9).

I haven’t had enemies pursue me like they pursued David, but I have cried out with tears, “God, where are you? What are you doing? Don’t forget about me!”

My dad eventually went into remission, but my mom had to stop her treatments. She pressed her oncologist for a timeline, and in summer 2012, she told me, “The doctor doesn’t think I’ll be around at Christmas.”

I dreaded that Christmas. Advent wasn’t waiting for the birth of a Savior that year. Advent meant waiting for my mom to die. 

She passed away not long after the holiday season, a little more than two years after her diagnosis. During those years, we experienced both healing and heartache, miracles and unanswered prayers. At times, I could see God working. Other days, I wondered if he cared. As I cried out to God with my grief and searched the pages of Scripture with my questions, I didn’t necessarily get answers. Instead, I got God himself.

I often want to know why God works the way he does. I want to have closure or control an outcome. So I come to God looking for those answers, asking him to give me the missing pieces of the puzzle, so I can see the picture of my life a little more clearly. But “we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). We only know in part. Yet as we come to God with our questions, he reminds us that he knows us fully­. And he’s written the end of the story.

Still good

David ends Psalm 27 saying, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:13–14).

David’s enemies still pursued him. Sorrow and heartache didn’t vanish. Yet God was still good, and David knew he would one day see that goodness again.

Despite the brokenness of our world, God still shows his goodness to us daily—in the food on our tables, the smiles of our kids, the sunset through the trees, the very air we breathe. The world he made and called good at creation still sings of that goodness. Some days, we just need to listen more closely.

There may be no resolution to our pain in this life. But God is no less God, and he is no less good. He created us, loves us, and redeems us. He did not merely form Adam and Eve and walk away, a deity absent from his creation. He draws near to us (James 4:8)—so much so that he became God with us (Matt. 1:23), a God so deeply bonded to humanity that he became one of us. 

Believing in his goodness doesn’t make the pain in our lives hurt less, but it does give us the strength to endure. As I watched my mom breathe her last, believing the truth of who God is gave me the hope to say through tears, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord.”

We don’t know what tomorrow holds. This year has made that fact clearer than ever before. This year, Christmas may come with heartache, and anticipating Advent may feel like dread. But through it all, God will remain good. Cling to that truth even as tears fall, knowing that, one day, you will gaze upon his goodness in all its fullness.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at The Gospel Coalition.

About the Author

Sarah J. Hauser is a writer and speaker living in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and three kids. She shares biblical truth to help others find nourishment for their souls. Read more at sarahjhauser.com, check out her newsletter, or find her on Instagram (@sarah.j.hauser).