I was crying out to God for the ability to trust him with the life of my only daughter.
Lizzy has been sick for over a month. Sore stomach, a bizarre headache in the back of her head, aching muscles. She's been dragging herself through school and putting herself to bed an hour early every night, as her skin grows whiter and the circles under her eyes more purple.
The doctor examined her and found nothing wrong. "Try these pills (the implication being they probably won't do much) and come back in 2 weeks if she's still sick." One week later and I'd had enough, so the doctor booked her in for a battery of blood tests last Monday.
The final brick in my towering wall of anxiety came when Lizzy's teacher approached me last Tuesday afternoon, obviously worried about the sick, pale little girl struggling to sit through 6 1/2 hours of school every day.
You probably understand the thoughts that go through a parent's mind at times like these. Thoughts you barely dare to name, certainly not to the doctor, for fear they'll think you're an over-anxious parent (which, let's face it, you are). Cancer. Brain cancer. Leukemia.
And if you give in to the impulse to look it up on the internet (I succumbed after a month of anxiety) you get big medical names for your worries, like slow-growing chronic myelogenous leukemia, with symptoms vague enough for any vague set of symptoms.
So I sat on the verandah and cried out my worry and fear to God.
I committed my children to God years ago. I pray,
Keep them safe. Please keep them safe! But do with them as you will. They are yours, you love them more than I do, you know what is best for them. Watch over them, grow them into the people you want them to be, and use their lives for the good of your kingdom. Even at cost to me - or them.
God's preparation for the times when the pit of fear opens before my feet. So I was able to say through my tears "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). I was able to tell God I love him more than anything, more than life itself, more even than the life of my children.
But I was unable to trust him.
I know God isn't capricious. I know he doesn't delight in hurting us. I know he's no cosmic kill-joy. I know "all things work together for good for those who love God," the good of making us more like Christ (Rom. 8:28).
I've said it myself: "He gives us only the suffering that is needful, no more."
But is it really true? Does God give me just enough suffering to make me more like Christ? Is the Christian who suffers more in need of being made like Christ than the one who doesn't? Of course not! So what does it mean to say God gives us only the suffering that is needful?
Is there always a reason for the suffering of God's people? What does it mean to say we may never know the reason? Does it mean there isn't a reason, or that there is a reason, but it may stay hidden in God? And what kinds of reasons does God have for our suffering?
In other words: can I trust God with the life of my only daughter?
Here's how my wise husband answered my questions: Yes, there's always a reason for our suffering, as there was for Job. But no, we won't always know the reason, just as Job didn't. God's reasons aren't limited to making us Christ-like, so there's certainly no direct link between the amount of suffering I experience and my lack of Christ-likeness. All suffering is used by God to make us more like Christ, but he may have other reasons as well.
For there are many reasons for suffering. God's fatherly discipline for things I do wrong. His training ground to produce greater Christ-likeness in me. An encouragement to find comfort and joy in God. The testing and and refining of my faith. Prying my fingers away from holding too tightly to the good things of this world. Increasing my sympathy for another's suffering. The catalyst to lead someone else to Christ.
Above all, I hope suffering will always be an opportunity for God's great and holy name to be glorified in my life.
And I can live with this uncertainty. I like to know the reasons, but I can live without a reason. I can live with the absolute certainty that God loves me and my children more than I will ever know, that he always has a reason for allowing us to suffer, and that the reason may stay hidden in his loving Father's heart.
I can trust my heavenly Father with my life and the lives of my children.
It turned out that Lizzy probably has coeliac disease, like her father: an intolerance to gluten, which means she'll be unable to eat wheat, barley or rye for the rest of her life. Good news, especially for a family already used to coping with this condition! I am already praying God will use this condition to grow her in thankfulness, patience and self-control.