“Well it is called a defect because it is a hole and it is not supposed to be like that.” And so began just another typical conversation with one of Charlie’s doctors. This time the doctor was telling us more about a hole in Charlie’s heart called an atrial septum defect. As he began to explain and draw diagrams to explain congenital heart disease, my heart began to sink. Another ounce of bad news. But then the conversation took a sudden change, “kids with a hole actually do better than kids who do not.” What? We like the defect?! The explanation began about how beneficial this problem is in light of a bigger issue (Charlie’s pulmonary hypertension).
It reminds me of the end of Genesis and the story of Joseph reconciling with the brothers that betrayed him. “What you meant for evil, God has meant for good.” It has been preached a million times about how to thank God for the hardships of life. It’s almost an easy concept to accept. We cling to that hopeful note when any hardship comes. Once the suffering is over, we begin to cling to our comforts and ease. There is never the asking for hardship and suffering. But should there be?
Suffering produces character. We know that character is good. We want to develop character with books and reading and listening to sermons and painting pretty pictures. But it just doesn’t happen that way. The pearl is developed with the irritating grain of sand. The gold is refined by the blazing heat of fire. The tomato plant brings forth fruit after it is beaten. Our lives produce godly character when we suffer.
Joseph was left for dead and thrown into slavery because of the actions of his brother. Charlie’s heart did not develop correctly because of the malnutrition from his inadequate share of the placenta. Each day our lives are weighed down with medical needs and decisions, we are emotionally drained, and constantly tired because Charlie has more needs than a person can manage. But what is one of my greatest fears? That life will be easy when he outgrows his trach and vent.
I want Charlie’s body to be healed but I also want more of these opportunities to be forced to develop character. Christ is better glorified in me when I look a lot less like myself. So what keeps us from asking God to develop character in us…by any means necessary? Maybe fear. I am often afraid I will not be able to tolerate the next wave of suffering. Maybe it is pride. I’d rather be comfortable and not have to rely on God. Maybe it’s laziness. Before Charlie, we didn’t have many major health issues that interrupted our day and I certainly didn’t want to go looking for any inconveniences from other people’s lives.
But deep down, when my thinking is clear, God lets me know that this present suffering is the answer “YES” to my prayer years ago. “Lord, don’t let me have an easy life.”