So, it happened last Friday, and it was on my watch, too. After an hour at the pool, I put Gwen and Lydia into the bath tub for their pre-bedtime ritual. They were playing around in the water contentedly, so I took the opportunity to get Sadie some food and get her ready for bed. That’s when I heard the crash followed by the cries. Rushing up the stairs, I see that it’s Lydia, sopping wet, crying with a pretty decent cut and blood running down her cheek.
It seems that no matter how often Abby and I have told the girls they can’t get out of the tub and run, they insist on trying. This time, Lydia inevitably slipped on the linoleum and hit her cheek on the corner of her step stool. It wasn’t a major injury, but it was enough that it warranted Urgent Care. With Abby at work, I made the necessary phone calls to get my dad over to the house and to let Abby know what was going on. Then, off we went, bloodied and bruised, ice packs and towels in hand.
While we hadn’t had any injuries quite like this before, we knew it was going to be Lydia. She’s ambitious and fearless and clumsy—a dangerous combination. We got into Urgent Care and four stitches, a black eye, and too many tears later, we were on our way home to heal and rest.
In what must be some sort of ironic twist—or perhaps divine appointment—, I had just read by the poolside earlier that evening something from C.S. Lewis that challenged me deeply: “I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”
Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.C.S. Lewis
Initially, my response was, “Can’t it be something else?” Does it really need to be suffering that finally shatters our selfishness and makes us look up and beyond ourselves for the true source of joy? Is it really our hurts that connect us with one another? But, then, I saw it play out, in some small way, with my girls in that moment.
It begins with Lydia showing her fresh wound to Gwen. For that moment, Gwen isn’t playing games on her tablet or watching shows on the television or playing with her toys. She’s empathetically involved in Lydia’s story. She’s listening. You can see by the look on her face that she hurts to some degree with Lydia. (Before we left for the hospital, Gwen was crying, “I don’t want Lydia to die!” I assured her that she would be just fine.) She wants Lydia to heal and to be well and to feel loved. In fact, the stuffed animals and blankies they fought over the previous nights are now quickly surrendered to her younger sister in an effort to make her feel better.
Because Lydia bravely showed her wounds, Gwen begins showing hers. They might not compare to the stitches on Lydia’s face, but Gwen shows her hangnail that stings and the abrasions on her knees from playing outside that burn. Lydia doesn’t laugh or minimize Gwen’s pain. She says, “Aw, poor Gwen,” and hugs and kisses her sister. And, they’re happy. Wounded, but happy to feel loved and to love one another.
Now, that lasted for but a minute (let’s be real) before they returned to their little world of toys and games and shows and fighting and arguing with one another, but it was a small, beautiful glimpse into the role of suffering in our lives. If we will allow it to do so, our suffering will thrust us out of our selfishness. It will drive us into the lives of others. Our suffering can remind us that we belong to a larger kingdom than our own—that there’s a purpose to our story and to our existing beyond just ourselves. It will dismantle our nurseries. If we will allow it to do so, our suffering will draw us closer to God as well as closer to others.
The Apostle Paul, who understood a thing or two about suffering, wrote in the opening of his second letter to the Corinthian church,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, ESV).
The healing and comfort Paul describes through the suffering has its source in God alone but is designed to be lived out and shared with those around us. There is no comfort in isolation. Friends, I don’t know what you are walking through today. It may be heavy and scarier than you would ever wish. Or, compared to what others may be experiencing, you might feel like it’s a hangnail or knee abrasion. Whatever it may be, don’t hide your sufferings. Refuse to become reclusive; allow it to destroy your pride and selfishness. Allow your suffering to awaken your reliance upon God and stir within you compassion and love for others. What a wonderful grace, then, it may be. May we do as James encouraged us and live joyfully through our suffering:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…James 1:2, ESV