He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3
Nine years ago, with three young boys under the age of five at home, my husband and I learned that we were expecting twins. Halfway through the pregnancy, however, we learned that our identical twin daughters were affected by something called Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, and in the months that followed, despite bedrest, countless hospital visits, and doing everything in our power to save them, our twins died.
Fiona was stillborn, having died after an in utero surgery that we underwent to try to help them, and Brigid lived for 47 days in the NICU where she died from an infection she acquired from the ventilator. We buried them both, a few months apart, in the summer of 2011 amidst pain and grief that was so crushing that at times it felt like we couldn’t possibly go on, couldn’t draw another breath or get up to face one more day of sorrow.
Three days after our Brigid died, as I knelt for the consecration at church that Sunday, my mind was still trying to process what had happened. I thought about God as our Father and the giver of every good and perfect gift, who tells us that if we as parents know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will he give good gifts to us if we ask him. (Matt. 7:9)
And I wondered: What about this? How is this a good gift?
I had told our boys that just because Brigid died, it did not mean that God didn’t hear our daily prayers for her to grow big and strong and come home from the hospital to live with us. “Sometimes,” I told them, “God tells us no just like sometimes Mommy tells you no when you ask for things.” They accepted that explanation, but I wasn’t so sure I did.
We all tell our children no when there are things that they want that are not good for them, but as a mother, I tried to imagine the circumstances under which I could possibly tell my children no for something that would break their hearts as much as Brigid’s death had broken ours. Why would I tell them no for something that would ease their suffering or bring them joy? What would have been the harm in allowing us to bring our healthy daughter home to live with our family? Especially after we’d already lost her sister.
I racked my brain for an example, grappling with God for the insight I so desperately needed to make sense of our pain.
Suddenly, it came. It involved chocolate. And I realized that it has to do with perspective.
I pictured myself baking in my kitchen. I love to make special things for my family, and I imagined I was making an extra special dessert treat for the surprise birthday party of one of my children. Only I didn’t want to tell him what I was doing.
I could envision him coming into the kitchen where I was standing and asking if he could have a few of the chocolate chips that were on the counter. If I needed that particular number of chips for the dessert, I would tell him no.
Being a young child, he would be devastated. “Please, please?” he would plead, persistently.
“I’m so sorry you’re sad,” I’d tell him. “But no you can’t have those.”
He would fall to the floor crying and kicking and screaming, as children do, their world so wrapped up in their own wants that they can’t endure any denial of gratification. He might even wonder why I was being so unkind. But I would not change my answer. Instead, I’d lovingly pick him up, give him a hug, and tell him to go and let me work. He could not know it yet, but within a short time, I’ll have used the chocolate chips to create something extra special for his party, and I know that he will be so happy.
In this way, I could be a loving parent and yet be unmoved by his pleas.
And then I thought about how this example related to my perspective on our situation.
To a young child, my denying him the treat that he wanted was devastating. But as his mother, I knew I had a plan for it that was far better. I knew his tears would be short-lived, but that he’d appreciate the final product much more than the chips by themselves.
To him, the few hours until the party seemed like an eternity. But to me, it was just a brief wait that was worthwhile for the celebration that was to come.
The small chocolate chips would have been a treat for him, and they would have made him happy, but the special dessert would serve many more people and benefit him as well as others. He would appreciate the ending I had planned more than the one he thought seemed best.
In those moments as I was kneeling there in church, trying to understand the reason for our pain, God helped me to understand that, with his infinite knowledge, he sees our situation in much the same way that I, as a mother, see things in relation to my children.
Our wait to see Brigid and Fiona again is nothing more to a God who is beyond time than a little boy’s wait for his birthday celebration. But the celebrating will be so much greater when that time comes. (Rev. 19:6)
The pain of being denied our request feels profound and deep; our tears will flow for much longer than mere minutes. But to our Father, this is but a short-lived trial, a light and momentary affliction. (2 Cor. 4:17) And one day, he will wipe every tear from our eyes. (Rev. 21:4)
Our girls would have enriched and blessed our family had we been able to bring them home to live with us, but incorporated into his plan, they will have been used to affect many others. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Even you, right now, reading this.
This realization was like putting a bandage on a gaping wound. It didn’t take away the hurt, and it didn’t bring healing right away, but it did help me to trust God in the situation and to see how he could allow us to endure tremendous pain and still be a good and loving Father.
He helped me to understand his ways by relating them to my own ways. In doing so he reminded me that he loved me, and asked me to trust him.
Don’t we all need this sort of comfort from our Father in times of suffering?
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28