What I Learned From my Brother

October 15, 2018
My brother died three years ago today.
I almost never talk about Matt. Not because I get emotional, but because I just don’t know what to say.
When people ask how I’m doing in light of Matt’s death, they typically want something more than “Bad.” Or, “I try not to think about it.” Or, “It makes less sense with every passing day.”
But those things are true. I have a hard time finding any hope in his story.
To put that more simply, there’s just nothing there. I’ve looked. Every so often I’ll think of something, but it only ever makes sense for a minute or two. Then the reality of what happened hits me again, like a bag of rocks, and I remember that in so many ways, redemption is the opposite of what happened that day.
I don’t mean that Matt isn’t in a better place now. I believe he is, somehow. But that doesn’t change what happened.
What I mean is that it’s not fair to Matt — and others like him — to look past the evil that took him away. To find solace in the fact that it’s “over” now. Because he found no help — no hope in the midst of his suffering. For him, the pain never ended.
Matt told me he faced “an evil that should not exist.” What happened to him shouldn’t happen to anybody, and it’s not right to pretend like there’s some grand redemptive reason to explain it all away.
But while I’m no closer to making sense of Matt’s death, I’ve learned this in the past three years — something I didn’t understand before:
That faith isn’t necessarily what we feel inside when we’re at our best. And it’s definitely not what we experience when sitting in church, being told that everything we’ve ever longed to be true is even truer and more beautiful than we can imagine.
No. That’s something meaningful, maybe, but it’s not raw faith. It’s not the kind of faith that can get you through everything.
The kind of faith I’m talking about is what tiny morsel of willpower is leftover when all beauty, goodness, and hope are stripped away. It’s whatever strength you have left when you have no idea how to make sense of something — no idea how to make sense of it now, and every reason to believe you won’t make sense of it ever.
That’s what it means to be in a crisis of faith. It’s crippling — knowing that what happened cannot unhappen, and that it wages absolute war against anything you ever believed about God, or whatever good forces are at work in this universe.
The terms of this war, for those who loved Matt, were set in stone three years ago today, and they won’t ever change because Matt is forever gone. The terms are faith alone — stripped of reason, sense, beauty, even hope — versus everything.
I hadn’t experienced this before.
Is it really possible to have faith amidst these circumstances?
I guess what I’ve learned is…yes. Frankly, I’m assured of that “yes” like I’m assured that I won’t ever understand Matt’s death.
That is, I’m convinced there’s some reason to keep pressing on no matter what. To “aim higher,” as Matt used to say. I’m convinced because he said so.
The last thing he told me was to be a good father and husband, and to never stop loving my family. Because, I assume, he still believed in something — that for some reason, those things are still worth me doing, despite the darkness that consumed him.
I can’t define that something. It’s very small, whatever it is — a “mustard seed.” But I try live every day in light of it. This is how I honor Matt.
So if you ever see me trying to be a good father and a good husband, please remember Matt, because his words are behind it somewhere. At times, that’s all I have, because what happened three years ago today undid all the other narratives I’d constructed to explain the point and purpose of life.
I know this may not seem like much of a foundation for faith. Matt was only human, after all. But it’s enough to keep me going. For I can hardly think of a perspective more powerful than his — a view from the other side of life’s hardest battle, and from a place unencumbered by any false hope.
Join me this week in honoring Matt. Take his words seriously. Love your family, be a better you, call a friend who’s struggling.
Life is short and full of uncertainty. But to be a good friend, son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother — about the value of doing these things, we can be certain. Like Matt was.