I don’t want anyone to die.
I had just walked down to breakfast and was taken aback, used to a cheery greeting and enthusiastic chronicling of the morning’s events from my three-year-old son.
I don’t want anyone to die because I love them.
It all started with a bird who died outside our house about a year ago. He’s wondered about it since, getting little pieces of information here and there. But he still believes bugs who aren’t moving are simply sleeping. Death hasn’t really affected him personally; he doesn’t know anyone who has died. And yet, I heard it in his voice. He knows what it means now. And he was hoping I’d have some miraculous solution to make the truth just go away.
And I tried. I tried to make it go away, if at least while he’s three-years-old. I started to talk about Heaven but then something felt forced and dishonest about it all. Not that I don’t believe in Heaven. I believe in Heaven maybe more than I believe in just about anything. I believe in Heaven in the marrow of my bones. But Heaven was not the answer to his question. He wasn’t asking if life continues after death. He was asking why anyone has to be so painfully separated from anybody they love.
So I changed my answer. I held him and I told him I agreed. I don’t want anyone to die, either. He looked surprised. I guess he was expecting me to avoid the real problem. I then added, but I’m going to trust that God’s going to take care of us and that there’s a reason for all of this in the end. I’m not sure how well he understood the second part but after I said it it’s like we hadn’t even had the conversation at all. He moved right on to laughing at his little brother’s antics and speaking gibberish and recounting his dreams about going to the beach. I’m sure he’ll revisit the topic, but for now, it’s at rest. He didn’t need a philosophical answer. He just needed a little commiseration.
And it makes me wonder if we all need a little more commiseration. The problem of pain and evil tires philosophers and theologians to no end. Christianity offers an interesting solution: I won’t explain the ins and outs of why you suffer, Christian God says, but here’s what I will do. I’ll suffer with you. I won’t explain why death ever started but here’s what I will do. I’ll take that monster, death, and I’ll embrace it. I’ll conquer it. And I’ll redeem it.
In the end, either we trust that promise or we don’t. If we don’t, we have to come up with another explanation, or at least, another way to find meaning in the midst of suffering. But if we do trust the promise— it will not make the suffering go away— it will not sugar coat or even temper the sting of death— but it will give us enormous strength to continue.
Whenever I am suffering I always remind myself of a revelation I came to when I was a little girl. I had thought back on the many times I’d gotten shots at the doctor’s office and how shots were really bad but how much it helped to have my mother or father there. The shot always hurt. But something about knowing that the whole thing was under control, that someone was to be trusted and that the suffering had purpose— something about sitting in my parent’s lap made the suffering suddenly bearable. So what if I believed I was always sitting in God’s lap?
It’s almost embarrassingly simple. But it works. I will hold you while you suffer changes things enormously. In the end, I know I can’t shield my son from pain or from death. But I can hold him and I can help him believe that someone always will. And that can make all the difference in the world.