Somehow I Didn’t Punch Him In The Neck

I’m so honored to have Tricia Williford sharing here today. She is a beautiful writer with an incredible story to tell — which she does in her new book And Life Comes Back which releases this Saturday (CORRECTION: It actually comes out FEBRUARY 18th, not January 18th. I blame my vacation-addled brain) and which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

This piece speaks to every part of me — particular the part that will never stop hating Christian jargon and easy, oversimplified answers. Give her lots of love in the comments, and then go preorder her book!


“Everything happens for a reason,” he said.

We were sitting and standing on the plane; we had just landed, and we were in that impatient place between landing and leaving the plane, the time frame that seems an easier place to make conversation somehow, when we feel braver to talk to strangers since we know we’re all about to go our separate ways anyway so there’s less pride and conversation at risk.

He had gray hair and he wore a bowtie “at least twice a week,” he said. We realized in our small circle in rows 22-24 that we represented several Christian colleges in the midwest.  The man with the bowtie was writing his dissertation

“I just turned on the computer, and it crashed.  I don’t know what happened.”  He spoke so sprightly, like, oh dear, I’ve misplaced my car keys, or something even more trivial.  Let me just say – if I had lost any or all of a doctoral dissertation, I would need a nicotine patch (and I’ve never smoked a cigarette).  I didn’t want to ask the obvious question, and yet I just had to know: “Did you back it up anywhere?”  I was crossing my fingers for him, hoping he had been so careful.

“Well, I think it’s on a thumb drive.  But all of my family has Macs, so I wasn’t able to check.  I’ll try when I get home.  Everything happens for a reason.”  (I wanted to suggest that perhaps this travesty had happened because he wasn’t using a Mac.  But I digress.)

Just then, the line started moving forward as we were finally allowed to deboard the plane.  Which I think is a funny word.  Board and deboard. Like one can just add a prefix to tell the opposite; like the opposite of enter might be to de-enter.  Seems like somebody ran out of ideas in the words department on that one.

The couple sitting next to me, the Wheaton college grads who now have prestigious jobs in finance and cancer research in Chicago, offered to let me exit before them.  I had a connecting flight that was already boarding in another concourse and expected to leave in the next few minutes.

I declined their offer.  “No, it’s okay, really.  I’ve resigned myself to missing the flight.  If I make it, I make it.  If I don’t, I don’t.”  I was going to visit a friend for a long awaited reunion, and I desperately wanted to make that flight.  But there’s only so much you can do, and I tend to err on the side of not throwing a fit in public over things outside my control.

As we walked up the aisle, all of us preparing to go our separate ways, the man with the bowtie said behind me, “Ah, yes.  Sweet providence.  This is when we are thankful we believe.”

I’m sorry… what? Sweet providence?  What kind of providence are we talking about?

He implied that the outcome of whether I made the flight is an example of God’s faithfulness, an example of when we are thankful we believe.

No, I cannot say this is when I am thankful I believe.

I am thankful I believe when I realize that it doesn’t matter at all whether I make the flight or not, that there are bigger and greater things happening in the world, and I am part of a greater story.  I am not ‘thankful I believe’ because I am hoping the crowds in the airport will part like the Red Sea.

My husband died three years ago, and I learned to have grace for people who said the wrong thing.  Because what is there to say?  Nobody knows what to say to a 31-year-old single mom of two children who was widowed overnight and now must somehow begin again.  Nobody knows.  But people want to say something because silence sounds uncaring, and in their efforts to fill the void, sometimes they say the wrong thing.

I learned to have grace for this; ‘to have grace’ is our Christian cliche that means, in a general paraphrase, ‘I managed to keep from punching that person in the neck.’

I heard the whole gamut.

“This happened for a reason.”

“It was his time to go.”

“All things will work together for your good.”

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

“He’s watching over you.”

“Maybe you can encourage your children to behave by telling them that their daddy is watching them from heaven.”

“The stars are holes in heaven where the ones we love are peeking through.”

Photo by Nicola since 1972 Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Nicola since 1972 Flickr Creative Commons

I forgave them for saying those things, and I ask you to please forgive me for the following caveat: Those are stupid things to say in the face of crisis.

First of all, stars are stars.  Not holes in the floor of a world floating above us.

Next, I will not further damage my children by telling them that their dad is now omnipresent and omniscient, always watching and knowing, so they should mind their P’s and Q’s because Daddy will know.  That’s weird and creepy, worse than any Elf on a  Shelf. Hebrews tells me we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before who cheer us on as we finish the race.  So, if Robb is watching, then he’s cheering us on.  Not watching like some appointed tattletale of judgement.

God absolutely will give me more than he can handle; he never promised not to.  He promises to meet me there, he says his strength is perfect when my strength is gone.  That right there says it all: I’m going to run out of strength, and he’s going to take over. And that’s the beauty and the magnitude of who he is.

All things work together for the good of those who serve him.”  Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean my good, it doesn’t mean now, it doesn’t mean today, and it doesn’t mean life and happiness.  It means there’s a bigger story, and if I want to be part of it, I can step in and watch as it’s written around me, in me, and through me.  But it doesn’t mean that because I love Jesus my husband should be alive.

It was his time to go.” Yes.  God ordained his days, counted them long before Robb was born.  His days were numbered, and he lived every single one of them.  But I don’t believe it was God’s plan for Robb to die.  In fact, I don’t think death is what he wants for us at all.  I don’t think he wants my children to be fatherless, he doesn’t want me to be a widow, he didn’t want me to have to watch Robb die, he doesn’t want this heartbreak for me, and none of this is what he wanted in the first place.

Everything happens for a reason.”  I struggle with this one.  Sometimes we are tempted to say hurtful things to each other, words that don’t really help at all, in the name of finding a reason. If I may be so bold, I think God allows these things to happen, he raises beauty from ashes so his name may become greater.  Acts of terrorism do not happen so that people may hold tighter to their families.  Infertility does not happen so that married couples may be thankful for the opportunity to invest their money wisely.

Things happen.  Sometimes, they just do.  Hard drives crash.  Planes are delayed.  Hearts get broken.  Children get sick.  Parents die too young.  The beauty that comes in the face of this – the flowers that push through the sidewalk, the sun that rises again – these are examples of God’s faithfulness.  His favor may rest on me for a moment or a season, but this is different from his faithfulness that never fades.   To confuse favor with faithfulness is dangerously near the ragged edge of the cliff of believing at all in God’s sovereignty.

My God is faithful.  This makes me thankful I believe.

(By the way, I made the flight.  But I don’t think it’s because I’m a Christian.)


tricia willifordTricia Lott Williford is the author of And Life Comes Back, to be released February 18th.

For more of her words, thoughts, and writings, visit her blog:

30 thoughts on “Somehow I Didn’t Punch Him In The Neck

  1. “‘to have grace’ is our Christian cliche that means, in a general paraphrase, ‘I managed to keep from punching that person in the neck.’”
    And also
    “everything happens for a reason” (yes, you weren’t using a mac.

    To all of this.

    I have a chronic illness which in recent years has rendered me housebound. It just plain sucks, and I dislike cheap theology that tries to put curly twills on top of my pain.

    Preach it. Looking forward to your book, lady, you sound like my kinda girl.

  2. Oh how I love this post. Your distinction between ‘his favor for a season and his faithfulness that never fades’ is beautiful truth. The post that first led me to read Addie’s blog was a post from Relevant magazine – in that post she said this:”instead of sending us some tired cliché, God sent Christ. The Word, John called Him…”
    This piece reminded me of this today. Thank you.

  3. Oh girl! What you shared is sooooo good and you articulated it well. Don’t stop sharing and writing!
    May the Sweet Savior envelope you with His love!

  4. I agree with all you said and we have to be careful not to spout platitudes BUT grace is a favourite word of mine. To have grace probably does mean I managed to avoid punching someone but without grace I wouldn’t be here writing this. x

  5. Loved this. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of most of these phrases. Thank goodness I’ve had grace for others and others have had grace for me! Thanks for sharing, Tricia!

  6. What a great post. I was also widowed at a young age and left to raise my son on my own. I’ve heard all of these and more, and many a time I’ve wanted to punch someone. Can’t wait to read your book.

  7. Tricia, you know how much I love you and we haven’t met yet. I know we will someday though, I just know it. Your thoughts are so closely aligned with my experience. I’m going to re-post on a grief facebook group. You go girl!

  8. This may be the best unpacking of the Christian faith I’ve seen in a long, long time. And the headline just cracks me up.

  9. Perhaps in those moments, God gave you wings. Well done Tricia, I appreciate this story, and appreciate the grace afforded me as I most likely said all the wrong things. You’re right, not saying anything is too painful, and hearing anything that isn’t the right thing is too painful too. From both sides…

  10. Tricia, It is so good to find you here. I have thought of you often. Addie is a friend of mine and I am a big fan of her too. I will really look forward to reading your book. I had heard about Rob because of our connections to TEDS when your inlaws were there. I have prayed for Carolyn and as I prayed for her, i often prayed for you too. I resonated with your post. I have lost all my siblings (2 as a child) and all were sudden. I write and journal about grief from the perspective of sibling/adult sibling loss.

  11. I laughed out loud when reading this post, which means I WILL be buying the book. I’ve seen Tricia’s beautiful smile one other time when some web surfing led me to her site. It didn’t stick that time, so I am so glad that I’m seeing it again. Now I will also add it to my Feedly (because I’m kicking myself for not doing so the first time around).

  12. Tricia I loved this. So tired of cliches and the empty way they are shared. I am so glad I haven’t been punched in the throat when saying empty things before. Haha. When I think of it those cliches cheapen Grace. Thanks for telling us about thos blog. Thanka also for sharing uour incredible gift of writing. it is like we are at this giant Starbucks listening to your stories.

  13. Wonderful author, Tricia is. Author. It’s true. I love your blog and have pre-ordered the book. It doesn’t come out this Saturday…..February 18.

  14. Beautiful, and so true. Thanks for giving voice to what many of us struggle to have the words to articulate.

  15. Holey moley, this is fabulous, Tricia. My daughter was widowed at age 40, after nearly 4 years of dreadful deterioration and pain. You can imagine, better than most, the cliches that were shoveled in her direction. What you write here is truth borne out of experience and loss. And that is what we need, truly. We need this voice. Thank you for speaking it.

    1. i read your comment before seeing who wrote it….and i thought…no wonder diana writes as if she knows…she does. i know you have seen loss, but didnt really know much…we need voices like Addies’, like Tricia’s, like yours.

  16. I love this. I love the way you write and I love the way you skewer the idiocy of some of the things that we say to fill uncomfortable silences but still communicate grace and humour. I will be looking out for your book!

  17. Tricia, I am so sorry for the loss of your husband. Thank you for sharing this post. It’s beautiful and spot on.

  18. Thanks for sharing such a moving story. I think often people say stupid things when faced with a tragedy because they just don’t know what to say but feel they need to say something.
    I learned, after making the same mistakes, to often just say nothing. Most of the time a hug and tears is all the comfort I can give. And often the best comfort someone else can receive.

  19. This is thoughtful piece…i hope many people who are trying to help a hurting friend will see and consider taking the cliche out of conversation. Being raised in the church I have found it is a discipline to say what i really mean. All of.those cliches at the root could really mean “I’m so sorry for your pain and i don’t even know.what to say right now.” In a class I just took we talked about the acronym WAIT why am I talking…

  20. ‘… I think God allows these things to happen, he raises beauty from ashes so his name may become greater.’ YES. This truth. I’ve felt this truth for years and offered it to many, their faces twist with confusion. I’ve been told many of the things on that list in response to our several miscarriages, and each time it feels like a slap to my heart. Thank you for so eloquently versing the feelings so many of us have had. I’ll be buying your book, sweets.

  21. I also hate these cliches that imply that we should simply accept hardships and move on from them immediately. I don’t think we’re comfortable in our culture with sustained grief or pain, even though that’s a very real part of life. Think how much more compassionate it would be to allow everyone to feel anger and sadness and despair for as long as they needed to, without trying to force an immediate recovery. Great post.

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