April 14, 2017 will mark three years since the day we were told my son had leukemia. I remember so many details from that day. Mindlessly sitting by his hospital bed when we just thought he had pneumonia. The look on the doctor’s face as he gave us the initial news. The scream of shock from my wife. A conversation with the paramedic in the back of the ambulance about the body of Christ when the bomb goes off in your life. The pale face. Other people’s blood pumping into his body. Laying beside his bed in the PICU at St. Mary’s, weeping through the night. The fear of looking up leukemia on my phone because I didn’t want to go down 1,000 hypothetical roads. Praying. Silence. Praying. The feeling that I am numb but that my heart might burst at any moment. The fear of what will happen to my little boy. This was a long, grueling day. But it wasn’t the worst day of my life.
Twelve and a half years earlier I remember the worst twelve hour span of my life. I had lain down after a brutal day of bringing my wife home from the hospital, too sick for surgery. Running on fumes in the realm of sleep, hope, and joy, I drifted off early in my mother-in-law’s bed with my 3 year old daughter sleeping beside me. Minutes later, my wife’s mother runs into the room to tell me that Christy had collapsed. Within minutes we are performing CPR on her lifeless body. The ambulance ride. The waiting room at the ER. The grim news from the doctor that I already knew. Going back home. Roaming the streets of my hometown in the middle of the night. Finally crawling back into bed beside my daughter just before dawn, who had slept through the entire ordeal, not knowing what I could possibly say to her when she woke. Getting up, sitting in the living room with grandparents. My little girl finally wandering out of the bedroom, crawling into my lap, and asking “where’s mommy”? This is the very worst moment of my life.
The worst moments of my life haven’t been things that have happened to me. My worst moments have revolved around the suffering of my kids. I hate it. I feel powerless to fix it. I want to take it away, but I can’t.
This may very well be the hardest part of parenting, and the one that stretches your faith the most. How are you going to respond when your child is suffering? Maybe you’re there right now. What should you do?
I can’t fix your problems, but I do want to try to offer you a little bit of perspective. I would have never picked the particular formats in which my kids have suffered, but I do know one thing to be true: every single person I’ve met in life that has the kind of character I want has suffered deeply. They’ve been wounded in a profound way, and somehow the grace that comes out of their healing is the most attractive character quality in the world. God’s working something into you, and in your kids, that just can’t get there otherwise.
So let me encourage you with a few thoughts as you or your child goes through a time of suffering:
- Be Honest – You don’t have to pretend that things aren’t bad or that they don’t hurt. Just because other people have been through worse events doesn’t make your pain any less real. And being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from suffering or make all of the pain go away. Jesus Himself, when he was minutes away from calling Lazarus out of the grave, wept at the funeral.
- Be patient – We live in an instant everything society, but there are some things that just don’t fix quickly. God seems to really enjoy taking His time with the most important things, and you don’t want to spend your life wishing away every moment as you seek relief from the suffering. Things might be bad, but there is good happening in the bad. Look for it, soak it up, and don’t be in such a hurry.
- Be hopeful – Remember, it’s not always going to be like this. Nothing is. My worst days of despair are when I start thinking that it’s always going to be like it is today. But that’s just never true. Loneliness isn’t always going to be like it is right now. Neither is pain. Even if a condition persists for this life, we are eternal creatures. It WILL get better.
- Be a blessing – The best way to life your eyes off of your misery is to put your eyes on the needs of someone else. This is a great practice for your kids as they suffer to. Rather than wallow in the self pity of the moment, look for ways that you can offer hope to others that are going through hard times.
Ultimately, I think that it’s not suffering that’s the problem, it’s the idea of meaningless suffering. But as God’s children, there’s nothing He allows us to walk through that’s meaningless. Seek out the meaning, soak it up. And take heart. The sun will rise again in the morning!