“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:20
I have never experienced grief, fear, and depression like I did when my first son, my middle child was born. It was a completely healthy pregnancy, and relatively easy labor. But when he emerged, Jac was turning blue, and no one knew why. That special moment when mom meets baby and they share “skin on skin” and bond as they meet face to face for the first time was stolen from me as they whisked my baby to the ICU and prepared to have him transported to Lurie Children’s Memorial Hospital. As I waited to learn of the fate of my child, I was left alone with some painful postpartum contractions and my thoughts about how God
fit into all of this.
Fortunately for me, I had unwittingly prepared most of my life for this. Years at the Prayer Furnace of Chicago, seeking God’s face and learning of His character in the Word; before that, private worship times of reading the Bible and encountering Him through song: all these laid a foundation that supported me during the most difficult time in my life. It basically came down to this: was I convinced enough of God’s character to trust Him and believe that He is good no matter the outcome of the situation? Could I like, Job, acknowledge His sovereignty and refuse to be offended when He allowed life to deal me a cruel card?
In that moment, because of my history in God, I was “like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God” (Psalm 52:8a). I was able, though brokenhearted, to say to God, “whatever you allow to happen, I believe that you are good, because I trust you.” I could see that God had given me so many blessings in my life, up to that point, that even if He did not allow my son to live, the many good things He had graced me with would far outweigh this one tragedy. As Job said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
God did allow my son to live. They discovered that he had a rare heart defect, and he had heart surgery when he was one day old. After that came a new journey: learning to live with all my son’s subsequent health problems and the corresponding plethora of doctor’s appointments and medication that came with it. I also had some postpartum depression to deal with, which, along with my return to work with my two small children in tow, made this a very challenging season. I wish I could say that my heart was always in a good place every time I struggled to juggle everything in my new life. Unfortunately, I was often overwhelmed and stressed out. You would think that if I could trust God with my son’s life, once he was no longer in danger, I would be filled with joy and relief.
But I have learned that it is impossible to triumph every day without continual communion with God. The externals are unimportant. God is not sitting in heaven, judging you based on how many times you managed to drag your unruly horde of (beautiful!) children to church, or if you finished a forty day fast, or if you pray for two hours every day. The crucial element is your heart. Is it tender towards God? Is it grateful and joy-filled? If it isn’t (which is something I have struggled much with since the advent of children) the only way you can be a blessing to your family and the others God has put in your life is by allowing the transformation of your heart through spiritual disciplines.
The years I spent before the throne of God anchored me in a time when my faith could have been shaken. But if I want to have victory every day, and joyfully praise God in every hard moment, I need to walk with God daily by sacrificially spending time with Him in prayer, worship and Bible reading. I’m not doing those things to win His pleasure. He already loves me. He’s already pleased with me. I’m doing those things so that my heart grows receptive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit in the instances where I’m tempted to fall back in despair (how on earth am I going to get everything done!), snap at my children in frustration (stop throwing your food, Zacky! Jac! You’re not eating yogurt again! I already answered you three times, Kayla! Didn’t you hear me?), or complain once again to my husband about how crazy my day was. The Holy Spirit doesn’t automatically make me a better person, but He reminds me in the moment to watch my response, helps me build healthy and godly habits, and eventually changes my attitude and outlook towards the blessings that God has gifted me with.
Hard times are inevitable this side of eternity. Our Christian testimony and our own personal happiness are dependent upon our heart’s response during difficult situations. It is essential to have both a foundation of knowledge of God and the continual habit of communion with Him to craft positive instinctive reactions either when tragedy blindsides us or when we remember that the dryer isn’t working. Still. The littles and the rest of the world are watching.