One recent Wednesday morning in September, my almost-two-year-old son wandered away from our house and into the woods, completely out of our sight. After a quick search of the immediate, usual areas, we called for help from neighbors, and then 911. Help came in abundance. Multiple fire departments, law enforcement agencies, canine units, volunteers on foot and horseback, and family members and friends all showed up to search for our little boy— across the dense woods, through recently flooded creeks and ponds. Four and a half hours later, our son was spotted by helicopter and reunited with us— safe and healthy and relatively unfazed by the whole thing. It was a miracle.
We have been basking in the joy and wonder of that miracle, every day, nearly every hour, since that treacherous, but ultimately glorious day.
And yet, whenever there is a miracle, there is a reason for the miracle. There is the thing that had to be healed or mended or restored or, in our case, found. There is the pain of waiting and wondering if a miracle would happen, if they even do happen, in cases like this, to people like me, if I deserve one— there is the pain, and then there is the remembrance of the pain. And then there is the why. Why did the pain get taken away? Why did God give me a miracle?
Of course, the answer is that God gives us miracles because He loves us. But then there is that sinister, horrible follow-up question: why doesn’t He give miracles, always? To everyone? Why was my little boy found— and some little boys are not?
That question haunts, but like many haunts, it is mostly a distraction from the main point. It is a variation of the larger, broader question– that question of pain— why does God allow pain in the first place? Why did He ever let my son go missing?
Those questions, while understandable and inevitable, are mostly futile. Job learned that lesson the hardest of all, and tried to pass it on to the rest of us. We keep insisting on revisiting it. But God rarely answers that kind of question, at least not in this time and this place and this world.
No, both pain and miracles— they do not call for why. They call for how.
God gave us a miracle. Why? I don’t know. But how is that miracle going to change me from here on out? How is it going to affect my actions towards others, my purpose in life, my priorities, my mood, my disposition? How is it going to draw me closer to God?
Long before that September day, ever since I was a little girl, I had had a kind of fascination with the fifth Joyful mystery, the “Finding of Jesus in the Temple.” My knee jerk reaction has always been a slew of why’s. It didn’t make sense that Jesus would wander off. Didn’t He know that He was worrying His parents? His perfect, loving parents? What did they do to deserve that worry?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know that there were fruits from Mary’s temporary loss and then rediscovery— there were fruits from all those things she kept “in her heart.” One fruit, personal to me, was that Mary was my constant companion during those almost five hours when my son was lost. Most parents know what it is like to lose a child for a few moments or even a few minutes. Mary knew what it was like to lose one for three days. (And of course, later on she knew what it was like to lose one to a cruel and terrible death.) She knew. What comfort I found in her during those hours!
And yet, it remains a mystery. Is it not comforting that we actually call it a mystery? Miracles are mysteries. The apparent lack of miracles when they are desperately desired is also a mystery. But God’s hand is always there— believing that is the key to perseverance— the key to the how of life, and the reason for living it well.
There is no good earthly explanation for why my son was so wonderfully protected (even from bug bites) during those four and a half hours. The only explanation that actually makes sense is supernatural. I am humbled and honored by that supernatural. I am humbled and honored by those angels and saints that surrounded him. But I also do believe that they would have been surrounding him (and us) even if the day had ended differently— as unbearable as that is to try to imagine.
I try not to imagine. Though my naturally anxious heart tends to imagine. I know the what-if’s are just as futile in these scenarios as the why’s. God is in the present. In this present, my son is here. Right now. Sleeping peacefully in his little bed. I don’t know why. I don’t know why he was taken from me that morning. I don’t know why he was given back to me. I don’t know why he was ever given to me in the first place, now just over two years ago, on the Feast of Padre Pio, through an unscheduled urgent c-section, in the middle of the night. But I have seen grace. I have seen God’s hand. Now how am I going to live?