What Is the Meaning of Suffering in Parenthood?
- Kate Stevens Crosswalk Contributor
- 2021 27 Sep
Our middle daughter is seven years old. She’s a vibrant little girl with a very developed sense of right and wrong. She loves her friends deeply but can be too quick of tongue. Her motto borders along the lines of “Ready, Shoot! Now, Aim!” Eliza has always made her needs apparent to those around her, yet she is the most empathetic creature I have ever encountered. She has had these characteristics since the beginning—even though those early days were not so vibrant and funny.
We had a picture-perfect delivery of Eliza Jewel, even though she was born twelve days past her due date. The first three months were much smoother than the first go-around with our oldest. Then she had a shift in her health. We weren’t facing death, but it could have gone that way without proper help. She developed an intense skin disorder.
The first couple of doctors we visited offered us steroids—however, we wanted answers about the cause. With our third doctor in front of us, we discovered she had some severe allergies to common foods and animals after two rounds of allergy testing. We were given several epi-pens, switched formulas, soaps, our own diets, and everything in between in hopes of healing at least some of her breakouts to keep her comfortable. The breakouts kept occurring randomly for months.
The summer before she turned two was hard. Eliza would sleep for stretches of about 90 minutes (day and night) only to wake up scratching. Her scratching would generally lead to bleeding and screaming. She had to wear long sleeves and pants and socks at all times, so we could not go out to many places because she would get too hot. We turned down swim parties, invitations to friends’ houses with pets, and even babysitters because she was so high maintenance. Her baths had to be short because she would attempt to scratch at any exposed skin. There were many days where I would hold her and rock her all day to keep her from scratching and screaming.
Gripped by Fear and Anxiety
I spent half of my time worrying about my daughter. I left her EpiPen on the table next to her, fearful that the next bite of food would cause anaphylactic shock. The other half of my time I spent reading and researching causes and cures.
I. Was. Obsessed. I bought and made salves, creams, oil combinations, desert clay mud baths, detoxing regimens, probiotics, prebiotics, and anti-fungal drops. We would see some improvements but many more relapses.
When she turned two, they tested her allergies again. She had gained six new allergens in just seven months. Her doctor said there was no reason to it and that she could develop more at any given time. I was at my breaking point. My anxiety was through the roof. I suffered from anxiety and fear to the degree that led to destructive and obsessive thought patterns. I experienced these primarily because I lost sight of True things. I was focused only on the circumstances.
Truth in Big Doses
During those hard years, the most prominent truths I learned came from back-to-back sermons from two different elders and dear friends of ours.
1. Don’t Be Anxious: More Than Philippians 4:6
We heard a sermon with that title in 2014 by Pastor Brad Cardwell. The main text was from Luke 12:22-34. The sermon’s message was that there is something bigger going on in life than my own journey—the advancement of his kingdom.
It’s easy to automatically think of international advancement—however, the advancement of his kingdom is also in my own home, where I have three young daughters. I’m not advancing the kingdom if I’m trying to make my life here perfect. This isn’t my home! It wasn’t until I started speaking this truth to our two-year-old (and myself) that I started walking in the joy of the Lord, even in that suffering.
Anxiety says, “I don’t trust you, God,” or “I don’t believe you will make good on your promises,” or “I deserve better than this.” In order to struggle up against anxiety, one must keep the Lord’s Prayer of Luke 11 in mind. These phrases: Your Name be greatest; advance Your kingdom; daily bread. Anxiety comes when we are too near-sighted on our present.
This was the title of the sermon for Mothers’ Day 2014 by Pastor Scott Sutton. We all laughed when it was announced, but the wisdom and insight to follow was core shaking for me.
We were reminded that personal accomplishments, popularity, pleasure, and youth are all meaningless things of this world. We were also reminded that our lives have significant meaning. Christ has conquered death, so whatever we do has to be considered in light of eternity.
Pastor Scott said a worldly perspective would be seeing us as just parents to some children, answering all their questions and taking care of all their physical needs. An eternal perspective would be visualizing our children standing with us in eternity as blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ. At that moment, I knew that I had prayed more for Eliza’s skin rather than her soul. I wanted this suffering to be over more than I wanted to advance the kingdom, even in my own home. But our suffering isn’t meaningless because there is more going on.
The sermon raised several questions for us to consider: Can I be thankful for what he’s doing even when I don’t understand what he’s doing? Can I still follow him in that? Can I submit? Can I worship? Have I thanked, praised, and worshipped God for my suffering? The same God who is only good?
Suffering Turned Into a Blessing
Now that Eliza is seven, she is down to only five total allergies and no epi-pens. She has been baptized and is in regular repentance of her sins. Anytime there is suffering in our family, she is the first to remind us of heaven, where there are no more tears or pain. A young friend of ours died of cancer this year—she reminded us of his healing in heaven. Our youngest got torn up by some mosquitoes—she told her that there would be no more bug bites one day. After she calms down from an angry or emotional eruption—she says she can’t wait until Jesus comes to make all things new.
These were words we spoke to her in her infancy. Full disclosure: it was to calm and re-orient my own soul more than hers. However, these truths were forged deeply in her to where she now is the truth-speaker in suffering.
I never knew that having children and growing our family would be such an attack on my pride and anxiety. My children have never made me sin, but instead, they have simply unearthed ugly things in my heart that I didn’t know existed.
I suppose that is why they are considered gifts—because they sanctify us and remind us of our need for the Lord.
Photo credit: © Getty Images/Drazen Zigic
Kate Stevens is a worshiper, wife, and mom, and with the help of the Lord, that is her hierarchy of work. Beyond this, she works with the youth and children at her church and edits as a freelancer. She enjoys reading, writing, running, cooking, and practicing thinking pure and lovely things.
After being unsure if they ever wanted children, the Lord eventually blessed Kate and her husband Clint after nearly three years of waiting. They welcomed their first daughter in 2011, another daughter in 2013, and yet another daughter in 2016. Kate considers this her most time-consuming, emotion-full, sanctifying, not always pretty but trusting in the Lord’s plan, and blessed work. Stuck in a house with four females, her husband Clint consistently reminds Kate of her identity and union in Christ.
You can read more of Kate's work here.