Thanks be to our God
Let's admit the truth right up front. There are things that happen in this life for which, in our frailty, we are not immediately grateful.
I remember when Richard Carlson's book first appeared: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff -- and It's All Small Stuff. I never read it; I never picked it up in the bookstore. The title alone made me loathe it.
Because when it came out, my wife and I had just lost our youngest child, who died the same morning she was born. It didn't feel like small stuff to me.
I know all the comforting doctrines. I knew them then and I know them now. I have no doubt of the resurrection, or of the purpose of life.
Nor did I waste a moment trying to figure out what God meant by this event. The question "Why me?" had obvious answers: "Why not me? Why should I suppose our family would be protected from loss?"
The reward of faith and obedience is not immunity from suffering. That's the reward of anaesthesia.
I'm not one of those who believes that God micro-plans every moment of our lives. I certainly don't accept the folk doctrine that we were shown a movie of our lives before we came into this world.
What God has given us is a world in which challenges naturally come. Some of the worst challenges come when our desires are granted and we find them hard to cope with. Wealth, fame, romance -- these can all destroy us, if we let them.
So can pain, loss, and loneliness. What matters is how we respond to the good and bad events of our lives.
When seemingly bad things happen in our lives, I don't look for God's specific plan for us at that moment. Rather I recognize it as part of the overall plan, the promise we were given before we chose this life: If we follow the light of Christ in our life, we can deal with all the trials of our lives.
What does God mean by each harsh event? He means us to find a way to turn it into good. Into happiness.
But we can't always do it perfectly, and we can't always do it right away. My wife and I still miss that little girl we lost. For thirteen years we have imagined her tagging along with her next-older sister, who instead has grown up as an only child.
Early on, the shock of grief each time we thought of her gave way to wistfulness. But now and then, because I'm still so far from perfect, I've also felt a stab of anger, of bitterness. Accompanied, of course, by impatience with myself, for still being so ... ungrateful.
Our third child, the one in the middle, is also gone now. Charlie Ben came into our lives in 1983, trembling with a seizure at the moment he was born. It took years before anyone even said the phrase "cerebral palsy," because his was a somewhat unusual kind.
He never walked. He never spoke a sentence. He could not sit up by himself.
In the hospital, when he was in the neo-natal intensive care unit, my friend Dan Ross joined me in anointing him and laying hands on his head, but I was not allowed to give my son the promise of healing. When I blessed him in front of the congregation, I could not promise him temple marriage or a mission, not in this life. Yet both times I was able to promise him a happiness, and the love and honor of his family, of his friends, and of the Lord.
He lived for seventeen years. In that time he showed us exactly who he was, by his kindness for friends at school who were even more limited than he; by the love he showed to the people around him. He brought dear friends to us, who remain close to us even now because of the bond created between us by our mutual service to him.
Was he happy? Often, yes. But also sad -- he understood his limitations and they frustrated him. When we converted some 8mm movies into VHS tapes and played them on the television in his room, he turned away from the screen; he did not like to see himself in the body that his disease had shaped. He had crushes on girls, though he knew that romance would never be part of his life. And although he endured pain with patience, sometimes he cried out against it, and our hearts broke for him, and for our inability to open for him all those doors that seemed permanently closed.
And then he died, and those doors opened again; no one has a brighter hope in the resurrection than Charlie Ben.
I don't think the Lord begrudged me, however, my moments of frustration and grief while Charlie was alive; nor do I think I stand condemned for feeling, every now and then, a stab of wistfulness at the life I wish we could have had with this sweet boy.
When Charlie Ben was little, I wrote the script for the animated video The Miracles of Jesus. In it I showed Christ healing a boy with palsy. It represented the yearning of my heart. I could imagine the joy of the parents whose children were healed by the Savior, and I could imagine how much he loved to give them that gift.
But I could not keep myself from also feeling pain, and sometimes bitterness, at the absence of that healing in our son's life.
Now it has been ten years since Charlie left us, and thirteen years since we lost his youngest sister, and as Thanksgiving approaches, I have discovered something:
Time brings, if not full understanding, then patience. In my private prayers I find that my thanksgiving is no longer laced with that anger and bitterness. I realize now that every service we gave our son was a blessing to ourselves. One of the joys of my life is that I knew that young man.
And my wistfulness about our youngest child has also given me a sharper gratitude for the children that we have been able to raise. At moments when I have felt frustration or anger or hurt or dread at the choices of one of our children, I also feel at once: Thank God I have this child. Thank God I have this day with him, with her, for I know how easily all such days can end.
"Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:57).
Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card
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