Sometimes my kids make squirrel herding sound easy.
What is it in kids that makes them zigzag back and forth while walking, makes them climb every set of steps, and tip toe across low retaining walls, and swing around the sign posts? What makes them take a dead stop right under your feet or walk backwards or make mad dashes that knock a sibling over?
We walked home from a church gathering tonight and as usual the children were scampering everywhere, catching lightning bugs, wrestling, and carrying on. Sometimes this makes me smile the benevolent smile of a content mama. Other times it makes me cranky and weary. “JUST. WALK. FOR. THE. LOVE,” I’ll bite out between clenched teeth, like enunciating would soften my words too much. Some days I just can’t handle one more moment of exuberant wildness.
This pregnancy has been a rough one; lots of exhaustion and nausea, probably exacerbated by taking care of four other high-energy little ones. Not trying to complain, but it helps to frame why my reserves of patience and good humor are running on fumes. But just here is a place where deep change can be wrought. Just here where the world would say, “Yeah, see? THAT’S why I’ll never have that many kids.” Just here where suffering is taken to be an altogether horrid and avoidable thing.
I get cranky when I fast. My temper grows short and I feel like a walking ball of irritation. How does a grumbly tummy cause such a sour attitude? Because we are mind, body, spirit, not divided in neat boxes but smeared all through and through. A sad thought produces our eyes to drip. Embarrassment flushes our face red. An empty belly makes us hangry (hunger-angry). But I don’t avoid fasting because it’s unpleasant; I know too well the humbling that chastens my heart as I see my sins so very un-masked, so very laid-bare. Because we feel we are awfully good and nice when we’re well-fed and feeling super.
Suffering, if not run from, if borne well, can serve our souls. Through it God trains and breaks our whining flesh, making us stronger from the inside out. He causes us to know our selfishness, our self-centeredness, our weaknesses thoroughly. Knowing them, we can watch out for the rearing of their ugly heads. We are awake. Pain awakens.
The breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odor, with the sweetest odor. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness. –Watchman Nee
If thou art willing to suffer no adversity, how wilt thou be the friend of Christ? –Thomas à Kempis
We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person …… the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus. –Oswald Chambers
But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. –C.S. Lewis
My husband has little caches of Aleve all over our vehicles, our home. When he gets a twinge of headache, he pops a few. He doesn’t want the pain, so he avoids it. He has no patience with his wife, who flatly refuses to do likewise. “The pain is information,” I say, “My body is telling me something.” So I’ll go lay down, drink water, be quiet. Both choices are valid, but not when we do the same spiritually. When we categorically avoid doing things which might involve suffering. When we don’t listen to the pain, nor to the God who permitted it to cross our paths.
I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me.
Robert Browning Hamilton
So when the squirrely children have worked on my last nerve, when I can feel anger pouring up my throat, and feel my tongue poised, ready to strike, just there, I can breathe a prayer past all that black, a prayer that God would help me, enable me, fill me, that He’d give me the grace to suffer well, to love well, to persevere.
And God smiles, ready to help.