When I was twenty-one I married a special man… but two months after our second child was born my husband died of cancer…. I had to give up all outside work and activities in order to take care of my children….

A year ago I married again, and my children love my new husband…. But I struggle with strong feelings of sadness because I feel like I didn’t deserve all the bad things that happened to me…. I feel that what happened was not my fault and that I’ve always tried to give my best effort…. My new husband is a good man who doesn’t deserve that I spend most of the time thinking about how everything was better before. I need help!

Dear Friend,

We are so very sorry for your loss! All at once you lost your husband, your children’s father, and a part of your identity. It is not surprising that you struggle with feelings of sadness. If not enough time has passed since your first husband died, then your grief and sadness are even more within the realm of what is to be expected.

It is interesting that you mention what you do not deserve and what your new husband does not deserve. When we use the word “deserve,” it is as if we are doing a mathematical formula. We are saying something like, “Two and two must equal four.” Or in your case, “I have done the right things, so I deserve a good result,” and “My new husband is doing the right things, so he deserves a good result.”

Unfortunately, life doesn’t add up like a mathematical formula. People all over the world don’t get what they do deserve, and do get things that they don’t deserve, like poverty, disease, and war. Refugees who have to flee their homes and their countries don’t usually deserve such a fate. The victims of physical and sexual abuse never deserve what they get. Plane crashes, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes all leave behind people who didn’t deserve what they got.

Many people curse God and blame Him for all the bad things that happen. They, like you, use a kind of mathematical formula to say good behavior shouldn’t yield a bad result.

How ironic that the best example of a person who received the opposite of what they deserved is Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself. Since He was the best person who ever lived and the only person who never sinned, He certainly deserved a long and happy life, and yet, as we know, that’s not what He got. Instead, He was killed on a cross, even though He did nothing to deserve such a fate.

All of the rest of us have sinned, so we are the ones who deserve the punishment for our sins. But because Jesus Christ died in our place, we can have what we don’t deserve: full and eternal life.

Of course, you did nothing to cause your husband’s death, just as he did nothing to cause it. God chose to take him to heaven much sooner than you expected, but that was not designed to be a punishment for either of you. When you judge your husband’s death to be a punishment, it is no wonder that you ask yourself what you did to deserve it. But the real questions that you should ask yourself are, “Do I trust God? Am I close enough to Him to know that He will make something beautiful out of my life after the grieving is done?”

We wish you the best,