"Mom, it feels like God has betrayed me." He looks at me, hair mussed with sweat, questions in his pain-reddened eyes. And my heart squeezes because I get it. I remind him that God allows pain in our lives to make us stronger. He declares he'd rather be weak and avoid the pain. Oh yeah, I definitely get it.
Eight years old seems young to be faced with the task of making faith his own. Seems like he's still the age of singing Jesus Loves Me and believing it because he has no reason not to. But as he's curled tight on the bathroom floor, knife-pain slicing through his gut, exhausted from hours of dry-heaving, the happy Sunday-school stories collide hard with reality and a boy is grappling with questions that mature adults struggle to make peace with. If God loves me, why am I in pain? I prayed; why isn't the pain going away? Why is He letting this happen to me?
In the last 24 hours, the boy and I have had theological discussions I never imagined having with an 8 year old. They're questions I'm still working out myself. Ironically, it seems such poignant, deep conversations occur in the oddest places. Maybe because there's not much else to do in the wee hours hanging out on cold linoleum. Honestly, I'd much prefer them worked out over a cup of chai at the kitchen table in mid afternoon, than spoken between moans at 2 in the morning. But maybe when life is easy, we forget to ask the questions, are too busy to hear the answers.
And so we talk about sovereignty and suffering and refinement. I remind him that Jesus asked to be delivered from pain too, but ultimately trusted God's will for Him, trusting His love and perfect plan. That He commiserates with pain, understands wanting it gone, understood it enough to endure it in order to conquer it once and for all. I say all the things I am supposed to say, and then slip away to let the hot water run over me. I repeat my sermon to myself, begging the Holy Spirit to help me live the words I've just preached, to stand firm. A verse whispers in my ear, "for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross." He was able to endure the pain because His focus was on the joyous prize: the purpose in the suffering.
Can I not follow His example? Does God not enable me to endure the pain of this world by giving it a glorious purpose and reminding me to set my eye on the prize He has for me? Is that not part of being crucified with Christ, sharing in His suffering?
As Easter approaches, I'm aware how easy it is to glibly say "I believe." But if I really do, how does that belief translate to the knife-in-the-gut moments when it feels like God has betrayed me or turned His back? Does it bring hope to the trenches? Does it give me the ability to declare with confidence "if God raised His Son from the dead (!!!) surely He's big enough to handle this!?"
His pain easing, the boy hangs up the phone and smiles at me, tells me he has lots of people praying for him. I turn the music loud as saints sing ancient words they have proven true and I close my eyes and sing along because truly, it is well with my soul.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!