'My grief helped me to see that God was close and real'
Gillean’s story | Jesus suffered for us
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a faith in Jesus. My parents were both Christians. They were ordinary people – a farmer and his wife. But they had a genuine faith in Jesus, which meant I was taught well from the Bible from early on. I had a good grasp of the Gospel, and it made sense to me in a logical way. I was always the kind of Christian whose faith was very intellectual: in my head. I knew there was a sovereign creator, God, and I completely understood the historical reality of Jesus. I knew he died on the cross for us and he rose again. The tomb was found empty. It was historical fact and it seemed so obvious to me. Yes, it was extraordinary and supernatural. But we were talking about an extraordinary, supernatural God!
Throughout those years, until I was 40, I relied on that logic, and I distrusted my feelings. I thought you could be led astray by feelings.
Then, in 2005 and 2007, my husband and my eldest son died. We were all shattered. Our two younger children were in primary school and early high school at the time. Their entire childhood was overshadowed by the loss.
For me, after years of not trusting my feelings, the reality was that at the time when I was most shattered God touched me through my feelings. He was able to reach me in a way I had never experienced before. He was able to comfort me. It was almost a physical sensation of his arms around me at my worst moments. I understood deeply that God was walking the path with me. I experienced his love and care for me in a remarkable and practical way.
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None of us would ever choose suffering. But Jesus chose to go through suffering for us.
I think if someone had told me before it happened that I would describe it that way I would have scoffed. I would not have thought it was possible. But the truth is that God is the God of our whole selves, including our feelings, as well as our rational understanding.
It’s been 16 years now, and it’s not a pain that ever goes away. It’s like learning to live again without a limb. You never get over it. But you learn to live with the injury you carry… and you even learn to live a happy, productive life. Prior to 2007, I had been working in the corporate world and the public service. But after my son died it was a catalyst to stop and think. Life is very short, and I wanted my work life to connect with my faith in Jesus. So I quit my job in the corporate world, and I became the CEO for Bible Society in SA and the NT. Then, in 2014, I became the CEO of Langham Australia, helping to equip leaders and pastors in the global church.
The Bible passage that became particularly dear to me during those years was Isaiah 53, about the suffering servant: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed…” (v5)
It touched me at an emotional level. Jesus not only understands suffering, and experienced suffering, but he voluntarily chose to go into suffering for my sake. When I suffered and grieved, I had no choice in the matter. None of us would ever choose suffering. But Jesus chose to go through suffering for us.
Looking back, I think the grief helped me to see that God was close and real, walking with me, grieving with me. I know it was never about my ability to stay close to him, but it was about his faithfulness in staying close to me. It’s exactly like the words you hear other people say – ‘I would never wish to go through that terrible time, but having been through it, I now know how remarkable it is that God draws near’.”
Gillean’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.