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How Can I Believe in the Goodness of God When My Child Is Suffering?

“I can’t do this anymore, Momma,” my five-year-old daughter, Avery, whispered to me in the dim light of the pediatric intensive care unit, slipping her wrist, riddled with IV’s and cords, around my neck. Pain is always the worst in those first few hours before dawn and it had reached an excruciating peak for her. I took note of her sweet little arm resting on me—a bittersweet miracle.

It was the first time she had moved her arm since the surgery that occurred the day before. That simple act was something I wasn’t sure she would be able to do when the surgeon was done with her. I had handed Avery over to doctors countless times in her life, but this occasion had been the most dangerous and resulted in the worst pain.

The procedure had lasted ten hours and involved cutting away portions of her brain adjacent to her brain stem, which had been under incredible pressure, and releasing most of her skull to become a free-floating “island” of bone.

I had been lying next to her in the narrow hospital bed to provide her with closeness and comfort since we had been reunited. “I know, Baby, but you ARE doing it,” I whispered back. “All you have to do is take your next breath. All you have to do right now is stay alive.”

She did take a next breath that September morning and another after that. Surprising both of the surgeons who were in charge of her case, Avery was released from the hospital five days after a surgery that would have rendered any adult immobile for months. The pain she endured during recovery was agonizing. She knows it well—pain is as normal to her as breathing (which she accomplishes with the help of a tracheostomy tube).

Mothering a profoundly disabled, medically-fragile child has given me a front row seat for the kind of suffering that had not previously occurred to me. The months I spent on various floors of a major children’s hospital, nursing Avery back to health after her many surgeries, showed me a new side to the world—one riddled with agony.

I have watched small children with patchy hair or sleek scalps trudge down hallways, pushing IV poles full of poison meant to drag their immune systems to the edge of oblivion, praying they don’t go too far. I’ve seen newborns with translucent skin, poking unimaginably small limbs out of incubators.

For a time, I wrestled with reconciling the goodness that I know of God with the depths of despair and darkness that I had witnessed around me.

Even now, many are doing the same as fires rage in states, ravaging hearts and homes. Cities burn and forest fires scorch all in its path. The exploitation of children is being normalized in public and many are too busy to notice. Race wars are kept kindled and stoked by ignorance and hate. Families are divided and we’re more distanced from each other than ever. Many are feeling hopeless and possibly abandoned by God, feeling uncertain about their next steps.

I have been tempted to feel hopeless in the past as I watched my daughter fight to survive, but here’s what my time with Avery has taught me: suffering is universal, but so is God’s love. Life is fragile, but the faithfulness of God is not.

The book of Lamentations in the Bible speaks to this.

Lamentations is a collection of elegies crying out over the destruction of Israel after it had been captured by Babylon. Lament, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, means “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”, which is exactly what the author of Lamentations was doing through the poems that were written. Lamentations 3:21-23 tells us,

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“But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope;
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

The author was devastated by the destruction that sin and rebellion bring, but hopeful because suffering gives us a unique opportunity to better understand the nature of God if we’re careful to look. In verse 24, the poet gives us a picture of how we should posture ourselves in these times, writing,

“‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

God is not surprised by pain and suffering. Pandemics don’t worry him and elections don’t phase him. His will reigns supreme through all the ages. He is our portion, our inheritance, our provider, healer, and fortress in times of trouble.

In the second chapter of the book of Daniel, we hear about the providential sovereignty of God.

“Daniel answered and said:

‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;

What else does the Bible say about hope?

he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20-22 ESV).

I have struggled to see how the pain and suffering my daughter has endured could have some redemptive meaning, but I have also come to know from Avery’s life and my own that the providential hand of God is always at work. Where there is pain, there also is Jesus. We need only to wait for him, remembering his faithfulness and resting in his love. He has a purpose for all of our suffering and he will never fail us.

In Philippians, Paul the Apostle reminds us that, in all things, God is at work in the lives of believers.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phillippians 2:13).

As Christians we can be resolute, believing the promise of God that his good purposes await us and are at work in us. Even in trials, and especially in suffering, we can rest in that truth and hold tightly to that anchor. God is and always will be good. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is faithful, trustworthy and true.

Get Meg’s book Sky Full of Stars: Learning to Surrender to God’s Perfect Plans here.
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Although a bookworm, Meg Apperson is aware that "worm" isn't exactly an attractive bio description.

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