Survivor’s Guilt? Never Again

Exactly four weeks ago my wife coded after the birth of our daughter and was revived.  She had a harrowing few days in the ICU, but after a week in the hospital she was discharged.  She was weak, but she was well.  And I felt guilty about it.

So grateful for an empty hospital bed....

 

Survivor’s Guilt

I felt guilty because everything turned out okay for my family, but I know lots of people whose situations are not okay.

Why am I so blessed?

Folks would ask me how my wife was doing and I would truthfully answer, “I think she’s going to be fine.”  And I felt badly about that; I was embarrassed by our good fortune.

It’s embarrassing how blessed I am:

  • other pastors have congregations who hate them; our people dote on us;
  • other husbands struggle in their marriages; my wife is the kindest, sweetest woman I know;
  • other people’s kids have chronic illnesses; my kids are healthy;
  • I am a rich, white, American man born in the 2nd half of the 20th century.  I wasn’t born black in the 18th century or a Russian serf in the 19th century or a Samaritan woman in the 1st century;
  • My parents will have been married for 40 years this year and taught me to love Jesus;
  • I’m even a great whistler….
  • etc.

I could go on, but it’s embarrassing: I don’t deserve my good fortune.  As a pastor, I have the privilege of walking alongside people in every aspect of their lives, cradle to grave, and I know how much people suffer.  I’ve lived in Africa and I’ve traveled and read widely, and I know how difficult life is for so many people.  I know how often it seems prayers are not answered.

And so, after my wife got out of the hospital the first time, I felt guilty at our good fortune.

And then Wednesday night happened.

Never Again

My wife had to be rushed to the Emergency Room on Wednesday evening, and ultimately had to have emergency and life-saving surgery, surgery that lasted all night.  All night I sat in the empty waiting room, and I didn’t know if she was going to survive.  When I learned she would survive, I also learned that she was intubated and on a ventilator, and then I saw her.

Pray to God you never see a loved one on a ventilator, going in and out of consciousness, pulling at her tube with her bandaged hands.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in hospitals, but when it’s your wife there in the ICU, it’s almost unendurable.

The next night we had another scare and I was woken up on the pull-out couch with bright lights and saw a crowd of doctors in our room.  It was then that I decided that I will never, ever again feel survivor’s guilt.

Survivor’s guilt is a selfish indulgence–a luxury–that I want to forgo forever.

When you are at a point of desperation, when a leaden dread comes upon you, when that of which you are most afraid is threatening to happen, you become painfully aware how foolish and selfish is survivor’s guilt.    You think back to the times when you weren’t afraid and everything was well, and you’re ashamed that you were ever ashamed of your good fortune.  And in those moments, you would do anything to get back to the times when things were good.

I don’t know why God seems to answer some prayers and not others.  I don’t know why some of us receive the blessings we do.  But I also know that I don’t deserve my blessings and didn’t earn them–they just came on me, like the rain.  My blessings don’t mean anything about me: all they do is point to their Source and Giver.

Rather than feeling guilty, I want to be grateful.

I am grateful for God’s goodness toward me.  I am grateful that I did not have to come home in the dark on Thursday morning and wake up my little son and tell him his mother died.  I am grateful that my wife survived.  And I’m grateful that I brought her home not one hour ago.

I want gratitude to pour out of me.  I just went to CVS to pick up a prescription and when the cashier asked me how I was doing, I looked her in the eyes and said, “I am so blessed: my wife just got discharged from the hospital.”  And I gave her a big smile.

I don’t deserve my blessings–and I have SO MANY–but I can use them to bless others.

I want to be grateful, and because I’m grateful, I want to be a giver.

Survivor’s guilt?  Never again.

 

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27 thoughts on “Survivor’s Guilt? Never Again

  1. Amen. I am grateful to have a teacher who shares his family’s experiences with the flock. We will benefit from the life lesson God is teaching us while experiencing only a fraction of the pain. May God bless you and your family and be merciful on the rest of ours.

  2. Amen! And, you absolutely use your blessing to bless others through Munger – our family is proof of that.

    Praise God for Elaine’s return home. We’ll continue to pray that you all get some well deserved rest and healing.

  3. That’s better, Andrew. Never feel guilty. Always feel/be grateful, with prayer and supplication. And the peace of God which passes all understanding, shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.
    Keep it up, brother. We need you.

  4. Andrew: there’s but 1 word to describe you, your immediate and extended Munger family…

    authentic!

    I share your gratitude for God’s LOVE.

    Amen.

  5. Thank you, Andrew, for sharing and for being so open about the real feelings you experienced. It is truly a teaching moment, and thank you for taking such a raw and freighting experience and giving us something to learn from. We are grateful that you and Elaine have chosen a life of service to others. Our prayers are with you.

  6. Amen, I love that idea that blessings come on you like rain, because we never truly know how much or exactly when they come but they can be a gift from God when we most need them weather we know it or not.

    And, we all need to practice more gratitude for the goodness God provides for us in our lives for as they saying goes “Count your blessings” it does not say count your troubles, worries, doubts, our your fears, but your blessings, and by this we can bless those around us.

    Thank You for sharing your personal testimony, this is a blessing in itself to read such encouraging words for any that may be in need in times of struggle.

    May God continue to bless you and your family in every way and always.

    P.S. I will have to see or hear this whistling to see if it’s true. 🙂

  7. Thank you for your words. They are all true! Praying for Elaine as well as you and your children. I pray you can get some well deserved test

  8. I’m so grateful Elaine is home!! And so grateful for you. Thank you for this perspective. Praising God for the many undeserved blessings in life.

  9. GRATEFUL for the FORREST FOUR!!! Beautiful entry, and encouraging message. ELAINE is a fighter. The best is yet to come!

  10. Pastor Andrew your story has touched my heart. I love that you can be so open and honest about your life and your feelings but most especially how your congregation and your personal faith is carrying you through this tough time.

    I pray you received the prayer quilt for your wife that our church sent. All those knots represent our prayers for her and your family. Continued blessings for you and your family so that you can continue the good work God gave you to do!!

  11. I am so grateful to you, Andrew, for telling me what is happening with Elaine. Especially the pic of her holding Annie. I love her so and am overjoyed to know she is home and doing so well. Thank you.

  12. In one of your sermons over a year ago you said something along the lines of “We are blessed to bless others.” I wrote that line down on a small piece of paper until it was committed to memory because it meant so much to me. This blog post drives that conviction home. I’m not a member of Munger Place but live in the area and have been a handful of times. I am thrilled to hear the good news.

  13. So happy to hear that Elaine is home!

    Yes, living a life of gratitude is so important. I know from personal experience. I have always appreciated the fact that you are so open and honest and that is a great asset to Munger.

    May God continue to bless you and your family.

  14. Andrew….thank you for sharing this with us and letting us be a part of this journey with you. May God completely restore Elaine’s health and hug on your family.

    Hope little Annie is settling in💕

  15. I am so thrilled that God is answering our prayers for Elaine, from our whole church.
    Thank you for sharing this unbelievable “Trial” with us over these past few weeks.
    The whole congregation loves all of you dearly, and we are all so Thankful to have Elaine back to where she is supposed to be, a Wife and Mom, at home with her family. Praise be to God, Amen & Amen!!

  16. Continuing to pray for all of you. Baby steps now are OK. The bonding happening now will give you strength and endurance through the grace of God for the rest of your lives.

  17. I’ve long held the belief that guilt is a trick of the devil, a lie to sow seeds of doubt in us. Because Jesus has taken our guilt unto himself and died for our sins we have no need for guilt and can live our lives free from feelings that come between us and the Lord. Therefore I believe that it is the devil lying to us when we feel guilty over things that we have no responsibility for. I would say that guilt is a negative emotion that causes us to be paralyzed with fear which separates us from God as opposed to remorse or regret when we’ve done wrong that can motivate us in a positive way to better ourselves and move towards God. Guilt is also a tool of the Progressives to control peoples behaviors, e.g. “You’re destroying the planet by (fill in the blank).” Sorry about the political interjection.

    Prayers for your family that this was the last trip to the hospital for now into the future. May God continue blessing you and our congregation through you.

    • I think you are exactly right. I think feeling guilty when something good happens is demonic. It’s selfish and self-centered, whereas gratitude is always and necessarily outward-focused.

  18. Thank you for your testimony…yes I often feel guilty about my “easy” life, God blesses me too much!I have also found it best to be grateful…and hope to be used to bless others..I lovePhilippians ch 4 v 12, one often thinks firstly about the difficult times but, we must also be “comfortable” in the blessed times.. God bless you Alison

    • Mrs. Szabo, it is great to hear from you. I love your thoughts on Philippians 4:12: we should be comfortable and content in ALL situations, both the difficult and the blessed. I think I’m going to use that! I’d honestly never thought of that before, how the Lord wants us to learn to trust him during good times, too.

  19. We are so blessed as we continue to listen to the messages from Munger Place Church. Now We are blessed by your transparency in you bog. Our hearts and our prayers go out to you and your family. We pray that the Lord will bring total healing for your wife and peace to you. May God continue to bless the life and ministry of Munger Place Church.

    Blessings,
    Earl and LoisJean Kinney