Dealing with disappointment

“Disappointed” might be too weak a word. When my daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age nine, we were devastated.

Although a simple medication put her in remission, and we celebrated—God answers prayer!—the disease flared, and we nosedived again. Thus began the cycle: FLARE, med, side effects, med for the side effects, remission, remission, FLARE . . . new med, new side effects, new med for the new side effects . . . all playing against a backdrop of endlessly beeping machines and carpeted waiting rooms.

As I reflect on these difficulties now, it’s easy to imagine that a well-meaning parent might unintentionally say things that twist God’s beautiful promises.

We might declare brusquely, “Well, God makes everything work out for good.” Although true, those words uttered too quickly, too formulaically, can be dismissive, even cruel. They can feel like a thoughtless pat on a dog’s head.

The same with, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” That’s certainly true, but the wisdom is lost on a child who can’t see past her pain, who keeps hearing the echo of classmates snickering because her face is puffy with prednisone. The wisdom can be lost on a parent too. Many a night I pounded on God’s chest: Please. She’s just a child. Enough with the character building.

I asked my daughter if I’d said anything helpful to her in those early days and, lacking any confidence whatsoever, threw in: “Please say yes.”

She remembered praying together: “Let this medication work” and “Take away this stomachache before the softball game.”

She remembered me telling her that when others were unkind, it said more about them than about her. Usually some pain inside them caused them to project pain onto others.

She remembered hearing that God loved her and had a plan for her, but since we couldn’t read God’s mind, we couldn’t know for sure what it was. So she could simply focus on whatever he’d placed immediately in front of her. She could divide her life into those things she could act on and those beyond her control that she needed to surrender to him.

That’s what she remembers. What I remember is feeling utterly helpless much of the time. But we can’t protect our children from disappointment. We can’t walk their journeys for them. We can only accompany them in our shared vulnerability, be strong when we have to, rage and cry when we need to, and apply God’s promises like cool cloths on a fevered soul.

My daughter’s 25 now and in a prolonged remission. She sits in waiting rooms mostly by herself. She’s made the journey her own, and she’s also grown into the promises. She knows her strength is in Word, water, wine. She knows God answers prayer, but sometimes—often—the answer is no. She knows that peace is in surrender, not control. And I’m biased, but I think she’s also developed perseverance. And character. And hope.

And if she ever wonders, “Why would God allow this? Where is he in all this?” she knows the answer to that too. He’s right there in the thick of it. Jesus, her Friend and Brother—the one who wept at Lazarus’s funeral, the one whose heart went out to the widow of Nain—he sees her and sits next to her, arm around her shoulders, his sighs matching hers.

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