Alice Buckley is the kind of person who makes my heart smile every time I see something she writes, whether on Twitter or on her blog. She writes imaginatively about how to teach the Bible to young children, and I love learning from her. Over to Alice:
Two kinds of suffering
When I think of suffering I imagine it as a bomb. It explodes into our lives with heavy destruction. We are left to rebuild – facing the aftermath of sadness, pain and bewilderment. Suffering happens to us and we react.
This is the suffering I fear. This is the suffering that keeps me awake at night, prompting whispered prayers for protection.
But I reckon there’s another kind of suffering which comes, not through a twist of circumstance, but through choice. It’s a different kind of suffering and trial to the bomb. It’s something like the difference between Job and Hosea*. Both experience suffering, but only one actively seeks it.
When we chose to adopt our eldest son we were consciously opting for a harder path and we knew it. We didn’t know exactly what the path would be like (we still don’t entirely) but we knew that adopting a child with a disability meant saying “yes” to all that went with his diagnosis. It meant saying “yes” when others would have (and already had) said “no”.
Mikey has Down’s Syndrome, a visual impairment called Nystagmus and has recently been diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He joined our family in 2006 when he was 9 months old.
It would be easy to make adopting Mikey sound like some heroic act – ‘aren’t we amazing people?’. Or, it can just sound weird – as though we masochistically love pain. The truth is, we adopted Mikey because it was exactly what we longed to do. Our hearts were full of the same joy and excitement and sense of blessedness that we experienced when our other children, Dan and Jemima, were born. There was no heavy-heartedness, no reluctance, no hint of doing it out of duty. We felt (and still feel daily) incredibly lucky to be Mikey’s parents. Mikey is fun, charming, mischievous, confident, happy and exuberant – being Mikey’s mum isn’t like being Gomer’s husband!
I think with a different sort of suffering there are different sorts of struggles. Suffering that comes as a result of our choices doesn’t often show itself in the big things. Instead of the upheaval of a bomb, this kind of suffering is a permafrost. A daily drip of icy hardship which chills into an unbreakable weariness. For us, it’s little things:
- The weeks where Mikey wakes at 4am every day.
- Hearing 2 sermons at church in 2 years because Mikey finds church almost impossible (and Jemima refuses to be left in creche!).
- Changing a long-legged 6 year old’s nappy.
- Wondering what he would say if he could speak.
- Not knowing what the future holds.
- Pondering his salvation.
- Feeling isolated.
- Shaking off guilty feelings about the impact on the other kids.
- Living a regimented life.
- Trying to fight depression.
- Being unable (at present) to go away on holiday or to visit distant relatives as a family. Job options affected by our caring responsibilities.
- Feeling like a failure because I struggle to take him to the park without help.
Each of these are tiny little things, but together they make a pretty thick permafrost! There is also less sympathy for people like us when things are tough because we asked for this life.
God loves me
In some ways there are no neat discoveries about God in this. This is just how life is – it’s not happening to prove a point or teach me a lesson. I am a mum doing the things mums have done since the start of the world!
But like Hosea – who knew more of the love of God each time he experienced the rejection of his wife – I am assured of God’s commitment to me as his child as I care for my lovely son.
God doesn’t despise or begrudge the cost of bringing me into his family. He loves me. LOVES me (say it out loud!). Jesus chose the cross out of love not out of duty. I am starting to understand this more and more – and how I need to! Dave and I suffer because of Mikey but we don’t resent that. The hard stuff doesn’t make us raise our eyebrows and sigh and think less of Mikey because of his ‘demands’. We aren’t tallying the ways we serve him, thinking of how he owes us. We adore him. We love him. We chose him out of love not out of duty.
God is in the habit of asking his children to choose hard paths. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Not because he wants us to be miserable martyrs, not because the route to godliness is through self-inflicted pain, but because when we choose his way we really see his unbreakable, inexhaustible, undiminished love for us.
Alice lives in Lancashire with her husband Dave and their three kids. She likes drinking tea, reading books, writing stuff and eating Green & Blacks cherry chocolate. Alice blogs at www.playontheword.com and tweets as @alicecrumbs.
Over to you:
- Have you ever chosen the hard path? What did you learn from it?
*Hosea was told by God to marry Gomer, an adulterous woman and to not abandon her, to reflect how God’s people had also been unfaithful to Him.
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