Yesterday my son asked The Big Question.
I knew it would come someday. I just didn't think it would be so soon. I mean, he's only four, I thought I had more time to formulate an answer, to draft a script in my head. Yesterday, however, was the day it came.
We were reading a book during our homeschool routine- A Little Golden Book- The Story of Jesus. We had turned to a page where Jesus is in an outdoor market, and He is holding a man's hands as he is kneeling on the ground at His feet, a cane lying on the ground at his side. As I read the page, my son listened quietly. When I finished, my son asked "What is Jesus doing with him?", pointing to the man kneeling. I reread the part of the page that explained this, and then explained, "See that cane? It looks like this man was sick and couldn't walk very well, huh? Jesus healed him, so he's not sick anymore." That's when it happened...
My son then said "But.... you're still sick?"
"Yes." I responded.
"Won't Jesus make you better?" he said.
I paused for just a moment, but it felt like forever. I had thought about this. A lot. This is A Big Question. A daunting question for most adults, let alone most children. A question that I needed to answer carefully to make sure that he didn't come away from this with the seeds of anger or guilt planted. This question for most young families is existential- why is there suffering in the world? But for our family it is at the center of our lives.
So after my stunned silence, I began to wade carefully into an answer.....
"Yes, Jesus has the power to heal people, but that doesn't mean he is going to. Just because I am sick that doesn't mean that God wants me to be sick. Sometimes God just can't give you what you want or need and sometimes He doesn't so that you can have something else. You know, I like to think..." (and here's where I had to be careful not to plant the seeds of guilt) "...that when you and I were very sick when you were born, that God spoke to me and asked if I wanted to be healthy or to be so loved, what would I choose? And I said I wanted love, and I got to stay with you and love you so much. Sometimes you just can't have everything. I am not sick because God is angry with us. I am not sick because we did something wrong. I am not sick because God doesn't love us. I'm just sick, because sometimes that happens, and that's just how I am. Do you understand that?"
After listening closely to this, he sighed and said, "Yeah...... I still wish Jesus would make you better though."
And with a heart that was simultaneously so torn that he had to truly understand suffering at such a young age and so filled with pride that he could and wanted to understand suffering at such a young age, I said, "I know." and squeezed him tight before returning back to our book.
It is on days like today, tough days where illness weighs heavily on our lives, that I have to remind even myself of these things. I didn't truly believe in God before my son was born. There is something about experiencing suffering, being so ill myself, but also experiencing such irrefutable love through becoming a parent, that brought me to Him. I used to be so angry about suffering and God's role in that, but after being there myself..... I have to say, I think He is more present, like a parent being unable to relieve their child of the ravages of the flu other than to hold them close and be present. So tonight, as I process the burdens of today, I remind myself that I can't have everything. That I chose love, and for that, I am thankful.