There are moments as a parent that make you laugh. And there are moments as a parent that make you cry. The latter happened just a few days ago when our youngest daughter (who turned 3 this year) was trying to put a clip in her hair and felt a strange tube on her head instead. What she felt was a shunt that has been there since she was 3 months old.
She asked my wife what it was, and we suddenly realized we don't really know what to tell her. And it made us sad. Really sad. Her shunt is a sign that things are not as they should be.
The truth is the shunt saved her life. Literally. She has a rare condition called “Dandy-Walker” that can often cause hydrocephalus, excess fluid on the brain. A shunt helps drain this excess fluid from the brain down into the abdominal cavity. Our daughter will have one all her life to help her function like a normal, healthy, happy person. Modern medicine is a beautiful thing for which we are thankful.
Her shunt is also a reminder that there is one thing you can never protect your kids from: suffering. They are born into this world and you hope so many things for them. Deep friendships. Happy marriages. Satisfying careers. Love for Jesus and his people.
And you work your hardest to give them the good and protect them from the bad. They are yours, your friends, your prisoners, for a short season before you send them wide-eyed into this world.
But as hard as you try, you can’t protect them from the suffering they will inevitably experience by virtue of being broken people living in a broken world.
All you can do is hope to teach them how to suffer well. To suffer knowing that somehow God knows best, does good, works good, IS good, both in and through the suffering. And that in those moments when you cannot seem to trace his hand, you can still trust his heart (Spurgeon).
Our hope in life isn’t that we won’t suffer. We will. Our hope is that all of our suffering, and all of our children’s suffering, is in the shadow of the suffering of Jesus. He suffered for us in order that he might suffer with us. And that all our suffering would somehow make us more like him.
This is better news than “Footprints,” because it means he’s doing something loving and good even in those places where it seems he’s dragging us through the sand.
If you went back to Facebook around the time we found out the hard news about our little girl, you would find the following quote from Marilynne Robinson on my wall: “That is how life goes--we send our children into the wilderness. Some of them on the day they are born, it seems, for all the help we can give them. Some of them seem to be a kind of wilderness unto themselves. But there must be angels there, too, and springs of water. Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord's.”
Our hope for our kids isn't to protect them from suffering. We can't. Our hope is that we may point them to the one who helps make sense of their suffering because he is so familiar with it. And in finding him they may also find the healing his wounds alone can provide.