As a parent, would you ever purposefully and knowingly inflict pain upon your child? For those of you who answered no, let me ask another question. Would you take your child to get an immunization? Would you hold a 12-month old daughter down for 4 hours for a medical procedure such as a nurse trying to insert an I.V.? (Yes, my husband really did this in spite of his objections to a proud nurse who refused to call the doctor. We were young parents and were not quite as assertive as we should have been.) Of course you would, because you have an understanding of the benefits of such actions, but, does your child understand why you would do such a thing? Have you ever thought about what might be going through a two-year-old’s mind at these times; something like, “Why is my mommy doing this to me?” or “Why won’t daddy let me go instead of letting this strange woman keep sticking a needle into every vein she possibly can find in my body? Do they not love me?” I doubt that it would do any good to explain to the child why you are allowing or even causing pain to be inflicted upon them. After all, what does a child know about polio, pertussis, or tuberculosis? How can they relate to the dangers of dehydration? And, even if they could understand these things, would they be willing to submit to the pain here and now to prevent a condition that might be far into the future and whose reality seems uncertain?
As parents, we allow these unappreciated acts into our children’s lives because we know better than they do. We understand the value and benefit of a small degree of pain now in comparison to a more heart-wrenching outcome in the future. But, trying to explain this to a young child would be on par with trying to explain advanced calculus to one who hasn’t even learned basic arithmetic. Through our experiences, we have learned to count, to do basic arithmetic, moved on to algebra, and arrived eventually at advanced calculus. Often it is through struggle, sacrifice, and even at times a desire to give up before we arrive at the point of having complete understanding (sorry, it’s in my genes to use mathematical metaphors). We understand now what they will only understand in time, through experience, and perhaps even through failure and heartache.
Yet, we also see our children go through pain and suffering for which we have had no active role. Sometimes their pain comes via the consequences of their choices, sometimes it is the result of the choices of others, and at times, suffering comes simply because of this state of mortality in which we live. Regardless of the cause of the challenges that come into their life, I think most parents will agree that when our children suffer, we suffer at least as much if not more than they and most of us would gladly take their pain upon us to spare them the agony that is theirs. There are perhaps times when as parents we do need to step in and do what we are able to lighten or eliminate their load, but if we do not allow them to face some of the challenges of their choices or even some of the challenges that come from other sources, we may be cheating them out of potentially their greatest blessings.
I have wonderful children, with wonderful qualities; perhaps they inherited those from their father, but like all people they have faced their challenges and at times I have ached tremendously for them. Oh how I would have protected them if I could. Although they inherited some attributes from their father, they unfortunately have some of their mother in them too. Recently, I have become aware that one of my children appear to share with me some of the same qualities that have caused me such suffering and heartache. I recall when I first started noticing this and I immediately felt fear and a compelling need to drop to my knees to ask the Lord to spare this child from what I had experienced, but before my knees even hit the ground, the simple thought came to my mind, “Did you not become a better person for having experienced such a trial? Are you stronger, more compassionate, more filled with love for your fellowmen? If so, why would you cheat your child from these same blessings?”
My heart began to pound. My throat tightened, and I was forced to ask the question, “Jeannie, as you look back on the trials and afflictions in your life, would you choose to live them again?” If I were still at the learning to count portion of my life the answer would be a definite “No!”. But, now I know calculus, or at least advanced algebra or trigonometry (metaphorically speaking of course). I know that I don’t enjoy pain or suffering and I hope to avoid it for the rest of my life, although I seriously doubt the odds of that happening. Yet, knowing what I know now, I would not even consider changing any of it. Yes, knowing what I know now, I would choose to do it all again. I can with certainty echo the words of an ancient prophet, “…having seen many afflictions in the course of my day, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days…” Perhaps at times we could look at this quote and think that the words of “being highly favored of the Lord” are those times when our lives are absent of affliction, but maybe it is in the midst of affliction that we are most highly favored of Him.
I don’t know if my child will face some of the same trials and afflictions I have faced in my life, but there is no doubt that each of my children will continue to face their own trials and afflictions as they have already faced some. I will always be there for them to help strengthen and guide them, but I know that I will not always be able to protect them, nor should I. But, I can encourage them to hang on. I can testify to them that they can make it through whatever they are called upon to bear and that there is someone who knows something far beyond calculus that knows this is for their good.
Through pondering this topic it caused me to reflect back on a talk from a special man who had faced many trials of his own, and one who I know was far beyond Calculus in his understanding of such matters. I quote in part from that talk:
“The daily newspaper screamed the headlines: “Plane Crash Kills 43. No Survivors of Mountain Tragedy,” and thousands of voices joined in a chorus: “Why did the Lord let this terrible thing happen?” Two automobiles crashed when one went through a red light, and six people were killed. Why would God not prevent this? Why should the young mother die of cancer and leave her eight children motherless? Why did not the Lord heal her? A little child was drowned; another was run over. Why? A man died one day suddenly of a coronary occlusion as he climbed a stairway. His body was found slumped on the floor. His wife cried out in agony, “Why? Why would the Lord do this to me? Could he not have considered my three little children who still need a father?”. . .I wish I could answer these questions with authority, but I cannot. I am sure that sometime we’ll understand and be reconciled. But for the present we must seek understanding as best we can in the gospel principles. Was it the Lord who directed the plane into the mountain to snuff out the lives of its occupants, or were there mechanical faults or human errors? Did our Father in heaven cause the collision of the cars that took six people into eternity, or was it the error of the driver who ignored safety rules? Did God take the life of the young mother or prompt the child to toddle into the canal or guide the other child into the path of the oncoming car? Did the Lord cause the man to suffer a heart attack?. . . Answer, if you can. I cannot, for though I know God has a major role in our lives, I do not know how much he causes to happen and how much he merely permits. Whatever the answer to this question, there is another I feel sure about. Could the Lord have prevented these tragedies? The answer is, Yes. The Lord is omnipotent, with all power to control our lives, save us pain, prevent all accidents, drive all planes and cars, feed us, protect us, save us from labor, effort, sickness, even from death, if he will. But he will not. We should be able to understand this, because we can realize how unwise it would be for us to shield our children from all effort, from disappointments, temptations, sorrows, and suffering.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1972, p. 95).
When one considers how difficult it is to allow a child to suffer, we might can recognize what a great act of love it is to endure their sorrows with them. Truly, the act of God allowing His children to suffer at times is an act of love and I am certain that His heart aches along with ours, but He understands what we yet do not. We are the two-year-olds receiving our immunizations having not yet learned to count. But someday we will understand far beyond our present comprehension and will kneel at the feet of Jesus not bathing them with just tears of gratitude for what He did for us, but with tears of gratitude for our Father who loved us enough to let His son suffer on our behalf. At that point we will know that “. . .if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son (or daughter), that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”
But, until then, let me leave you with a poem that has special meaning to me, but whose author is unknown:
Pain stayed so long I said to him today,
“I will not have you with me any more.”
I stamped my foot and said, “Be on your way,”
And paused there, startled at the look he wore.
“I, who have been your friend,” he said to me,
“I, who have been your teacher—all you know
Of understanding love, of sympathy,
And patience, I have taught you. Shall I go?”
He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest;
I watched him leave, and knew that he was wise.
He left a heart grown tender in my breast,
He left a far, clear vision in my eyes.
I dried my tears, and lifted up a song —
Even for one who’d tortured me so long.
Remember that 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Always Equal 4 [And please take time to read my original post to understand Why the Title of this Blog? (Feb. 17, 2011)]