From the moment the sun set on my daughter’s due date, I knew God was being very intentional in allowing my pregnancy to linger on (not that I was happy about it). I remember my dad encouraging me with Psalm 139:15-16: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance, in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” He reminded that only God knew the day she would be born, but He was being very intentional in His timing.
It was the first of many “lessons” God had in store for me in the next year, though I didn’t know it yet. I thought it if I could just get through this difficult pregnancy and hold my baby in my arms, my “learning” would be over. (Wow, how could I be so arrogant?!)
In fact, God allowed difficulty to haunt my daughter’s entire first year of life. Sleepless nights lingered well past the “norm” I had established in my mind through countless hours of my studies on baby sleep. Severe sleep deprivation began to take its toll on my emotional well-being. Prayers in the night for my daughter’s sleep turned into anger and bitterness and confusion over God’s goodness in not overriding her sleep issues and providing us all the rest we so desperately needed.
Its the classic response to suffering: “Where is God when it Hurts?” one Christian author titles his book. The philosophers debate the apparent logical fallacy of a all-powerful, all-good God allowing suffering to exist. And the rest of us just ask, “Why”? Just like Jesus did while He suffered on the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Whatever degree of suffering you are enduring, the question lingers.
Among the first lessons God had for me this year was a response to this question through the book of Job: its ok to ask the question. God validates our suffering — He is not a distant, unfeeling God. That is where I felt His goodness in my suffering.
But His “lessons” for me were not over. The sleep deprivation continued and my frustration over the uncertainty and lack of decisive answers rose to levels I didn’t know I was capable of. I was beginning to realize why torturers deprive their subjects of sleep. It really does mess with your head.
Soon guilt began to set in. Guilt for not “turning to God more” in my frustration. Guilt for not just “letting my baby cry it out”. Guilt for lacking patience and self-control. Guilt for my lack of trust in God.
Some guilt may have been legitimate, but I suspect most was very unhelpful. Guilt left unattended leads to isolation — insert lesson number 3: enduring suffering involves reaching out for help from others. God brought back to my mind a lesson I’d learned in the last season of my life: that I had to be the one to speak up and ask for help, no matter how ashamed I was of my weakness.
That word endurance then became yet another label for “what this suffering was all about”. As others came along side and encouraged me in the tiresome days, I began to accept that there was no quick fix for our problems. God wanted to teach me endurance.
Right about this time, our church began a sermon series on the book of Hebrews. God knew I needed this encouragement. Week after week, I heard from the pulpit that the book of Hebrews was written for weary Christians. Week after week, I heard the exhortation to look to Jesus — see in Jesus all I needed to endure this difficult season and persevere in my faith. Week after week, I heard “keep going, keep enduring.” Looking back now, I can say that never has a sermon series impacted more relevantly in my circumstances. I am so grateful for the way the Lord fed me through His Word during this time.
At about 8 months in, we had a respite, as we discovered the first layer of explanations for our daughter’s sleep problems: reflux and food allergies. At long last, I thought, our suffering is over.
But God had a few more things to show me. After about 6 weeks, her sleep digressed again. At this point, I just didn’t understand: what more could God want for me to learn before He would end my suffering? I had accepted my circumstances, I had learned that I didn’t need to doubt His goodness in suffering, I had been learning to value endurance and perseverance. I was leaning on others and not trying to power through by myself. What else did I have to learn to get Him to stop our suffering?
Of course we know God doesn’t bargain like that with us. And so, the “lesson” I am learning now: God does not promise us an easy, pain-free life. Suffering is just a part of life, and while He does not waste the opportunity to form and shape us during our difficulties, there is a much bigger story behind it all — a story we may not be privy to see in its fullness at this time. Essentially, its not all about us. Even our suffering isn’t just about us. God is doing something so much bigger, and we are just privileged to be a part of His story.
It was this realization that led me to begin praying differently about my daughter’s sleep problem. Instead of asking God to help my daughter sleep better at night, I began to pray that God would teach us to seek first His Kingdom, and trust that He would provide the rest that we needed (for surely sleep is included in the “all these things”, right?).
Its been a long hard year. But even this brief summary of the journey God has had me on doesn’t cover the many lessons regained along the way. And I say “regained” very intentionally — for we never stop learning. We don’t “attain” a lesson — we just relearn it again and again (as a dear friend helped me to see this year). As I have realized even this, I have been struck by how this simple verse from Matthew 6 (Seek first His Kingdom and all these things will be added to you) has come up time and time again in my life, and how relearning it yet again has sealed it more deeply into my being. This has inspired me to attempt a short blog series on other verses that have played a similar role in my life. So be on the look out for Life Verses Blog Series to come!
In the meantime, I am grateful that though my daughter is still not sleeping through the night, and though I am nowhere near recovered from a year of no sleep, and though her allergies still create problems for us, and even though I don’t know for what bigger purpose God allowed us to go through these challenges, I am grateful that God has given me even these few moments today to reflect on the work He is and has been doing in my soul through all these challenges and difficulties and that I am content with that. Perhaps in time, this verse from Habakkuk: will be added to my list of life verses:”Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines…yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places,” (Hab. 3:17-19, ESV).