Have you ever struggled with how God allows pain and difficulty? Granted, perhaps the height of the hurdle of difficulty impacts the amount of frustration with God we experience, but I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone that had zero questions for God about painful seasons. We want out of trying moments. We want pain to end, struggle to cease and stress to subside. I think that’s natural. In fact, we typically have concerns with people that enjoy intense levels of pain and stress.
I think most of us are like Job. We don’t want the bad stuff to happen. We don’t understand why the bad stuff happens, but we are fighting to stay faithful and focused. Our thoughts emerge like the characters we find in Job’s story. We have moments where we can relate to Job’s wife’s lament, “Why not curse God and die.” Or perhaps, like Job’s friends, we search for answers – what went wrong? what sin caused this? surely God is upset. And I think all these thoughts and emotions make sense, completely natural.
When Parker was an infant he had RSV. He was so tiny. In order to confirm it was RSV and to eliminate other additional concerns they had to do a spinal tap. To emphasis how little Parker was at this point – he was in the stage of life that makes Sal the most nervous, the can’t-hold-up-your-own-head-phase. Babies have different types of cries, and the way he screamed through this process shattered my heart. At one point the nurse suggested I leave the room because she could tell how this was killing me.
Parker remembers nothing.
I wanted to stop his panic and pain but I also knew it was necessary. In order to learn what would actually position his body for health he had to endure a certain level of pain.
Later, in elementary school, Parker would need to have his tonsils removed. Our doctor, also a friend warned me, “Jenn, here is how this will go. Day one and two you will think, ‘We’ve got this, this isn’t so bad.’ and then day three you will call me, ‘What have you done to my child!?’” With this warning I felt totally prepared. I reminded myself several times how the process was mapped out (“In this world you will have trouble.” Jesus – John 16:33), I was prepared. I wouldn’t call. Day three, “Ray! What did you do!?!”
Parker was in so much pain. No matter how many times I told him it would pass he didn’t care. (Note: “This too shall pass,” is not a verse, and doesn’t usually help people.) And what made it better, being older, he now had words. He blamed me. It was my fault. I did this to him. Those were the things he said to me through a scratchy voice and sobs. And technically he wasn’t wrong.
I wanted to stop his frustration and pain but I also knew it was necessary. In order to position his body for health, those tonsils had to be removed, he had to endure pain.
Later Parker found himself in another painful situation. This time the injury was to his mind and heart. To add to this, this particular hurt required a move of reconciliation. He had to do something to demonstrate an apology. He was embarrassed and hurting and there was zero excitement in what lay ahead. And guess what, once again, mom and dad were forcing the issue. This time with a little less blame and angst toward us, he once again had to walk through something difficult.
I wanted him to avoid the tension and pain but I also knew it was necessary. In order to position his character for health, steps had to be taken, he had to endure unbearable awkwardness.
Any parent, with children navigating any season, can most likely relate to a portion of the few moments mentioned above. But how can we have done all that? How can we have allowed injury, pain, embarrassment?
The reality is we put our bodies through all sorts of things in an effort to battle disease. We restrict movements for long term healing. We stretch, we push, we strain, all with the idea that we need to endure something, that there is an other side to all this, even this hurt matters on some level.
I have always struggled with sentiments like:
This will all make sense one day.
There is a bigger picture we can’t see.
God will never give you more than you can handle.
I’m not in total disagreement with these phrases, but they are fractions, only a portion of the story or verse they are derived from. And the context in which Paul or other New Testament writers shared these reminders is so far removed from our modern context. Yet even still, they echo the same idea as my intentionally placing Parker in repeat scenarios that would cause him pain. Hopefully, most loving parents would as well.
Granted, none of us are perfect parents. Sometimes we don’t allow pain that will produce growth, we slow the natural consequences that promote maturity. Other times we insist on a level of striving and pushing beyond our children’s capacities. No parent gets it perfectly right. I like to think, most of us are at least trying to learn, and allow God to guide us toward parenting in that tension. I am thankful for a God that can perfectly and easily navigate that space, willing to walk in that tension. Yes, allowing pain. Yes, taking the blame. Yes, always working to position us for health. Being ever present in the struggle, the stress, the healing, and all things in between.