Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Book of Job

Broken Theme: Introduction to Job
Originally uploaded by

Today I'm feeling a bit better than the last week. As my readers know, grief definitely has it's ups and downs. For me the past week I was in the downward slope, falling into a pit of self-pity. It's so easy to go there. What widow(er) doesn't feel like they didn't deserve what life (read God) served them with.

In my social circles (read workplace) I am what is commonly known as a nice guy. I'm polite, I'm optimistic, I help people, I was a single parent for many years, I was married to an equally nice guy...So what went wrong? Anyway back to my train of thought. My adult life has not been easy. Someone who knows of my life once said she thought of me as the biblical character 'Job.'

The Book of Job (the very unabridged, with little historic reference, version)

Job was a man of great faith in God. He had an unflinching ability to see God's presence in all people, and in all things. Job was also a man of great respect and admiration from those around him. To others, Job was seen as a man of great wealth. He owned lots of land, where he grew many plants, and which cared for all his animals. Job had a big house and a big family. He had a loving wife, who he adored, and many children of whom he was quite devoted to. With all the good things that God had provided him Job gave thanks. In spite of all this wealth Job was humble, and praised God for everything in life.

enter stage left: SATAN

Satan was angered that Job had so much faith in God, and decided that he would challenge him. Satan told God that he could get Job to turn away from him, that he could lose his faith. God knew this could not be true, but agreed to let Satan put him to the test. Satan caused terrible storms, fires and swarms of insects, that in effect took all of Jobs precious land from him. With this Job was very worried and dismayed, but he raised his hands up high and praised God for always being so generous, and thanked him for all that he had. Now this was not exactly the type of response that Satan was looking for. He was beginning to feel a bit spiteful, and needed to chart the next course of action. Satan looked to what Job had such love and devotion for, his children. Satan brought for horrific illness and disease that took the life of all of Jobs offspring. Job's heart was broken, his spirit felt beyond repair in his despair, and Satan felt for sure that he would now see Job turn away from God. To his surprise, Job got down on his knees and prayed to God for strength to continue (at least that's how I imagine it happening.). With that Satan struck down at the wife of Job, and she fell to her death. Job, who thought that life couldn't get much worse, had now found himself beyond his imagined limit, and learned that there was no limit to the depths of pain. Yet once again, Job could not be swayed away from his faith in God. With nothing left to take from Job but his own health, Satan bestowed upon him open sores and boils (okay, I'll stop with this).

So. This is what my life has been compared to?

"old and full of days"
Originally uploaded by
Jenni Simmons

I have often thought of myself as a humble man. I enjoy life, have worked hard for the comforts I have, and tried to be of generous heart and spirit. As a boy I was affectionately known as "the choir boy" by my friends. I sang in the choir at church, and sang in the choir at school. I taught religion to children during my teens, and tried to be a good kid. Of course, I was working a bit overtime, trying to make up for the fact that I was a budding homosexual, but I somehow thought God understood. After being in college for a few years I decided to enter a Catholic seminary, and began my studies to become a priest. Yes, it's true. I was there only a few years, as I eventually fell in love with a fellow seminarian, and decided I needed to change the course of my life. I returned home, continued my education, worked some jobs, met nice people, was a good son, brother, friend, etc. I eventually found my way up to San Francisco for graduate studies in marriage and family therapy, did a lot of volunteer work, and started working as a child welfare social worker. A few years later I decided to adopt a child, then another child, then one more. My children ended up having significant emotional challenges due to family history (goes with the territory). I went through school programs, therapies, hospitalizations, in-home support services, taking leaves from work to attend school with my kids, and so on. Each phase of my life, in these parenting years, felt like more than I could, or should have to, handle. Yet I persevered. These were my children, I loved them, and I was going to do what ever I needed to do for them. In spite of these challenges I continued to attend church, send my kids for religious studies, continue to be a nice guy, treat clients with respect, and manage to always have a smile on my face.

So what was missing from my life? Come on people, not a hard question! Yes, that's it. I was missing another adult to share my life and love with.

enter stage right: Michael

Through out all of the above, I longed to be in a healthy, loving and committed relationship. Yet, who was going to love me with all my baggage? Who was going to see all of my baggage, and praise God?

Michael. To make a long story short, Michael. He was everything that I wanted, he was everything that I needed, and he was some of what I thought I could do without frankly. I loved him, and he loved me. Life was far from perfect, the kids made sure of that, but we were all very happy. We were a family. In good times and in bad.

So where does Job come in? Throughout each of these ordeals I have been able to maintain my faith in God. I have been able to feel one with the universe. I have been able to walk the path of Buddha. Seriously, I have continuously thanked God for all my blessings, and continued to ask for the strength to get through another of life's challenges. I have tried to look to the positive, and let the negatives fall by the wayside.

enter stage left: cancer

Again, life presents me with an unimaginable challenge. Michael and I face this together. He is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, and we are told that without a doubt this is what he will die from. I do everything I can to keep Michael alive, but in the end, modern science and my strong will, are no match for this disease. Michael dies.


This post is not really about faith. It is about my spirit.

Is my spirit broken?

I feel like this is the million dollar question. And, it's a question that I need to sit with awhile, so I won't be answering it right now. What I will say is that life is always a challenge. Life sometimes give us what we want. Life sometimes gives us what we need. And, life sometimes takes it away.

The Book of Job
Originally uploaded by
ninja IX

As an aside. About a year ago I was having a very difficult time. My daughter was presenting me with yet another of her challenging moments. Michael didn't respond the way I wanted, or needed at the time. I was also dealing with the fact that his tests were revealing further tumor growth. I felt that it was one of those moments in life when it can get no worse. Funny that I could still be so naive. But it was one of those Book of Job moments. I went down to my bedroom, cried, prayed, and bargained. In the end, I realized that the only change I could really effect was me. I needed to somehow find a sense of renewal. I needed to take a deep breath and get back up there and continue forward. Before I could do that I needed some kind of visual reminder of where I was at. As I looked around the bathroom I saw the electric shears, and that was it. I shaved my head. I decided that I needed the simplicity of mind and spirit in order to move forward. By shaving my hair off I would be telling the world, and reminding myself, that I was going through something significant. It would remove all vanity from my day to day life. I would put that energy into making things right, here at home.

That night, after shocking everyone in the house, I crawled into bed with Michael. I couldn't fall asleep, so for some odd reason I thought of the Book of Job. At that time I wasn't very familiar with the story, only knowing that a friend from work had made reference to my life and that of Job. I found the chapter, and began reading the story shared with you above. When I got to the end of the story, I was amazed.

Job, in utter pain, shaved his head, washed himself clean, and donned a new white robe, and lifting his hands up to the sky, sang God's praises and gave thanks for his life.

There was my answer. I needed to give thanks for what I had, and to once again ask for the grace to continue on.

The day after Michael's memorial, after the crowd left, and the kids were sent off to school, I once again found myself staring into the bathroom mirror with the shears in my hand.


  1. i like your exploration here. i think there are those of us who often compare our lives with Job. when bad things happen, i don't always believe God pointed his finger and struck me personally as a test, though i could be wrong. i try to remember that God is love and, okay, i admit i had to look it up, 1 Corinthians 13:13 - "...the greatest of these is love."

    i'm feeling lost and alone and shattered by the death of my Dragon. so sudden. there was no time to have those last conversations about anything. i like to think he was so tired, that his body was in such pain from all his years in combat that God took pity and allowed him to die suddenly. as my daughter puts it, "a covert black op that Dragon could fully appreciate." Book of Job stuff? it feels that way and has played out that way. intentional? i don't think there was any bet over my soul. i'm not worth Satan's time. besides, i put a yellow sticky note on it a long time ago. it's always said, "God."

  2. thank you michael. My partner drowned on July 12th. He was half mountain goat - no reason it should have happened. My stepson turned 18 the next day, and moved out of state to his mother's a month later - disappearance of our whole family. Anyway. I just found your site, and your faith questions and thoughts are helpful to me. thank you for sharing them.
    ~ megan

  3. I've come to believe recently that it is not a question of why bad things have happened to me. But rather, what do I do now to get through them? How do I shore up my strength to keep on going to live a happy and productive life in spite of the obstacles?

    I do believe that some of us have heavier loads to bear, I'm proof of that.

    I was not aware of Job shaving his head. What an interesting parallel to your situation. A character in one of the books I just read, "The Baker's Apprentice" shaves her head after her closest friend commits suicide. I can see wanting to do something physically to honor the intense internal pain that comes with great loss.

    Those ups and downs you mention at the start of this post. Seems a bunch of us out there are in the same boat. I don't think the public at large fully realizes how crazy it is to get through the cycling. Then to get out of it, only to realistically know that you'll be going back down again at some point in the future.

    You mentioned feeling some self-pity. I've reached the point where I will not feel guilty for those times I'm there. I get very annoyed when I'm told to snap out of it and be grateful for all that I do have. If you've lost what you most value, how can that not be mourned? And if you're really mourning, there is some self-pity in the mix. Job still gave thanks and praise to God but I can't believe not before he cried out "Why?" in grief. Feeling sorry for ourselves is a part of grief. Maybe even a necessary one to face before raising our hands again and asking for strength and guidance for moving on. I'm picturing one of my cats grooming themselves. Sometimes we need to gently rub some soothing balm on our wounds to heal.

    Thanks as always for your interesting insight, questions and perspective that result in me examining where I'm at right now.

  4. Dan, First, you may want to ask that woman exactly what she had in mind when she said you reminded her of Job. Is she an otherwise biblically-astute individual? That is, is she actually qualified to make such a broadly-sweeping assessment? Sometimes people say things, even in passing, which they put little thought into, and which can leave us with profound interpretation--the intended impact having never been given due consideration.

    Please remember that Job is a character in a story, and stories are told because they are intended to teach us something, or demonstrate a generalization.
    Much of the Bible, when placed into modern-day context, shows us that we are dealing with metaphoric generalizations, not literal word-for-word realities.
    In my life, Dan, I have invested a great deal of time and energy in trying to ease people's suffering whenever I'm able.
    Now that I too am suffering, I'm finding myself with feelings that I've tried to quell and comfort in others in the past, both distant and recent.
    I am certain that it is quite normal to put ourselves into the context of a "chosen victim" of God's wrath, or Satan's evil when we experience one of life's many devastating blows.
    The truth, however, is that life itself is hard. Everyone we love is going to leave us, unless we leave them first.
    Illness is part of the human condition. There is no rhyme nor reason to any of it. Some make it through an illness, only to die another day from something else.

    The real "message" of the story of Job, is this: It is not our place, as humans to keep asking "why" every time something bad happens, because we will never be qualified to understand God's ways. It is far more important to ourselves, and to God, that we maintain our faith, live the best life we can live, and give thanks for what we have. By this we simply endure and continue and pass along the knowledge we gain along the way.

    Sometimes Angels disguise themselves as demons so they may startle us into the right direction. Perhaps that woman in your workplace who likened you to Job did it so that you would ultimately gain the benefits and perhaps some insight from these words and those of the other comments?

    God never gives us anything we can't handle--a day at time.
    With Love, Bill in NH

  5. Interesting and thoughtful post, Dan. My faith has been challenged since the death of my husband but I am making my way back. Thank you for the inspiration.

  6. Just a quick thanks to each of you for adding such thoughtful and insightful comments. I got home late tonight, so I won't have time to respond as I would like to.

    I do want to say welcome to Megan, and to offer my sympathy for your loss. I'm glad you found my blog, and appreciate your willingness to share your loss with us.