Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

If God Loved Me, He Wouldn't Let It Hurt This Much

When it became evident that our six-year-old daughter would need surgery to repair a hole in her heart, several Christians approached us with the exhortation to pray for her healing.

Some of those were humble believers so gentle that their intentions fell sweetly into our pain, even if their words weren't quite perfect. Other people were cocky. They seemed to think that the idea of praying for my daughter had never crossed my mind. One told me that I didn't know God well enough to pray correctly or she would have been healed already.

When your child has a serious illness, there's a certain humility that is forced upon you. I knew some of what was being told to me was bad theology; still, fear made me hesitant to roar. I felt like I was walking on a thin layer of glass, and I didn't want to do anything that might break us through into tragedy. The temptation was to become superstitious... like a primitive man trying to appease the gods by dancing around a fire... as if my patience might earn me some sort of favor with the Healer.

I had prayed for my daughter for like the mothers of sick children pray. If you have lived through a season like this, you know what I mean.

Every night I would wait until she fell asleep, then kneel in the dark beside her bed with my hand on her little chest and bang on the doors of heaven. My moods would come and go. Some nights I would argue with God, hauling the dusty, colossal rings of Saturn back to him and asking him why he would go to so much work to make something beautiful so far away, but wouldn't repair a nickel-sized hole a few inches from my fingers.

Then I would become meek, hoping that he would not resist a penitent heart. I confessed my sin. I confessed our nation's sins. I fasted.

I tried to step out into childlike, optimistic belief, believing healing had already happened. Then I would sit frozen in a cardiologist's office during the next sonogram, barely breathing, unable to make simple conversation with the technician who ran a wand over her little ribs, watching a monitor pumping blue and red, and realizing that nothing had changed.

I hadn't been doing prayer right? Maybe. Or maybe God had another purpose in this difficult time that I couldn't see as a young mother.

Ten years have passed since my daughter's successful operation, and I still pray for miracles. Over the years, I've seen some of my prayers answered in the ways I had hoped. I've also prayed prayers that left me feeling like I'd fallen off a swing. "No, God. That's not what I was asking for at all."

Sometimes prayer seems to move the hand of God so easily, like blowing on a feather falling through the air. Other times, prayer feels like you are trying to move a military tank with just your own two hands.

Or maybe all of this is because I don't always pray desiring to conform myself to God, but attempting to conform God to me. I can pray looking for a steering wheel. I like to be in control, I don't like pain, and there's a big part of me that resists the prayer, "Not my will, but Thine." On an easy day I can tell God that I want to be his bond servant, but in crisis, I tend to approach him like a cosmic vending machine, attempting to trade the right sort of prayers for a prize. 

Resignation is hard, but what has been even harder has been believing that he loves me, even when His answer is temporarily painful. How could he love me if he's going to let me be in agony? How could my life falling apart possibly be a good thing in the long run?

Yet Tim Keller writes about how important it is to believe that God loves us in the midst of suffering. A quote from his book _Walking with God through Pain and Suffering_ is below, and I'll also include a few discussion questions at the bottom.

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"But though God’s purposes are often every bit as hidden and obscure as they were to Job and to the observers at the foot of the cross, we— who have the teaching of the Bible and have grasped the message of the Bible— know that the way up is down. The way to power, freedom, and joy is through suffering, loss, and sorrow. Not that these bad things produce these good things automatically, or in some neat quid quo pro way. Suffering produces growth in us only when we understand Christ’s suffering and work on our behalf. Luther taught, 'Christians cannot suffer with Christ'— that is, they cannot imitate his patience and love under pressure—“ before they have embraced the full benefits of Christ’s suffering for them” in their place. Luther had known in his own experience how much suffering tears us apart if we are uncertain of God’s love for us. The medieval teaching that we can earn God’s favor by the quality of our patience under suffering simply did not work. That could never give peace to the conscience, because we could never know whether we were suffering with a sufficient degree of submission and purity of heart. And Luther rightly believed that this peace of conscience was perhaps the single most important prerequisite if suffering is to be faced well. We must not try to use patience to earn our peace with Christ— we need the peace with Christ already if we are going to be patient. We must rest in the sufficiency of Christ’s sufferings for us before we can even begin to suffer like him. If we know he loves us unconditionally, despite our flaws, then we know he is present with us and working in our lives in times of pain and sorrow. And we can know that he is not merely close to us, but he is indwelling, and that since we are members of his body, he senses our sufferings as his own (cf. Acts 9: 4; Col 1: 24.)"

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1. Is it more difficult for you to believe that God can accomplish miracles or that he loves you when he doesn't answer your prayers?

2. Have you ever attempted to earn God's favor by exercising patience during suffering? What difference would it make to reverse that and rest in the sufficiency of Christ, knowing you are unconditionally loved, even as you are hurting?

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Painting: "Job Désespéré" (Job in Despair) by Marc Chagall (1960)