Survivor Guilt

I bear the burden of knowing that others have died in my place. I lie awake in the earliest of hours and wrestle with the reality that I live on, but others do not. On the worst days, it is a hellish reality. The best days used to be the ones where I ignored my guilt as a survivor and pretended that it never happened.

It has happened, though. Like all things that are stuffed and denied, this survivor guilt threatened to run my life.  I intentionally say “run” because it has run my emotions, my grief, and even my spiritual life.

I remember every day that some brave people have lost jobs, relationships, health, and that a couple have even died that I might live.  I don’t mean merely in a patriotic sense, the way that we stand in honor of the brave men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom as the parade goes by.  That is so vital and so crucial, but for me it has been a bit easier to accept their sacrifice because it was intentionally made. They signed up voluntarily for the military.

The casualties of my life were merely trying to help us in the pursuit of justice as I sought to live a quiet life. All I have ever wanted was a safe place to raise my kids without fear of their biological father’s harassment, threats, or intimidation. I have pursued financial security only enough to pay our basic needs and provide access to the same level of education that they were promised at birth.

Over the last decade, there have been those who have pursued the truth about my former in-laws, only to become ensnared in a tangled web of political and judicial deceit. I have lost count of the ones who have lost their jobs or been transferred.  The lives of those who have been physically injured because of their proximity to the truth, however, I recall. The two men who were killed “in the line of duty” are the ones that my heart carries heavily every single day.

I wonder if they had asked Jesus to be their boss. I wonder if their dying breath was in worship and adoration of the savior they were greeted by as they left earth for heaven.

Most of the time though, their deaths have hung on my soul like sandbags…I have prayed that if they weren’t followers of Christ, that God would look on my life and “transfer” some of my goodness into their account since they died for me.

I am not proud of it theologically, but it’s true.

Recently, the weight of my survivor guilt was overwhelming. We had yet another security breach, and more intimidating mind games. I mustered up all of my courage and went into fight mode. I requested help from yet another brave officer. I apologized to said officer and begged that they be careful. I left with teary eyes and a heavy heart, knowing full well what I had just brought him into…a maelstrom of influence and corruption that is so crooked that no one’s life is sacred; only their power and control matters to them.

I cried a lot over the next days.

I begged God to let this officer be safe and protected.

The weight of the other lives, the altered and destroyed lives; threatened to double me over with the guilt.

I asked God to show me why.

Why was I allowed to live? Why were they allowed to die for me? I tried bargaining some more. I hit a dead end.

It was as if He put his hand on my shoulder the way my grandpapa did to correct me. “Child, you feel guilty for surviving because you don’t trust that I am sovereign. You don’t believe that I have things securely in hand.  You are essentially saying that you do not deserve to live.  You wrestle with someone sacrificing for you because you don’t feel that your life is good enough to warrant a sacrifice in your place.  The epitome of this issue is that you feel unworthy for me to have sent my son in your place. You think that your sin is far greater than my ability to redeem. You don’t believe that I am big enough or strong enough or righteous enough to handle your mistakes, your garbage, or your life. You’re wrong. I am God, the existing One. I AM. That’s that.”

I AM. The existing one. The sovereign one. The Holy one. I may not understand his ways, but I trust that He is good and His love endures forever.

That means I can say goodbye to the guilt and instead I can live a life of worship…as a survivor who feels deeply grateful for the gift of this life. In the early hours of the morning, when I am faced again with the deaths that took my place, I can re-direct my gaze and fall in  thankfulness for the ultimate sacrifice of a perfect savior who died for the sinful me.

He has the same love and goodness for you…no matter what you have done, no matter what you have survived.
What are you waiting for?
Survive. Be thankful. Live.

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