Finding the Providence in the Pain

What we learn when we realize God doesn’t always protect us from hardships.
Finding the Providence in the Pain

How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?...

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,

because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Ps. 12:2, 5-6 ESV)

Titus and I stood at the fifth-floor window, watching the morning rush on the highway below. “They are going to work,” I say, then point to a passing car and say, “zoom, zoom.” Titus smiles and points to the window too, runs his finger back and forth against the glass and mumbles “zum-a-zum-a-zum-a.” There are two women at the nurse’s station behind us. One sits at the desk in scrubs and reviews notations on medical charts. The other—a family member of another child in the hospital—rattles on as if the nurse is listening to her. She’s watching us, and when I notice, she takes it as an invitation to conversation.

“Ooh, he’s tiny,” she near-whispers, squinting her eyes and leaning into her words. She straightens, smiles, adds “cute too,” as if it were an apologetic afterthought. “How old is he?” she asks.

“He’ll be one on Saturday.”

“Lord!” she says, nearly jumping back into the nurses’ station. “That boy’s small!”

“I know. That’s sort of why we’re here.”

“How much does he weigh?” she asks, and now she wears a look of put-on concern. She pulls her glasses down and peers over the top of them as if straining to get a better look.

“About as much as a small six-month-old,” I say.

Titus’s cheek is framed by the feeding tube that runs up his nose and down into his intestines. His brown eyes are overly large against the backdrop of his diminutive frame, and he flashes them at the gawking woman before turning back to the broad window. The woman wishes me luck, turns back to her conversation with the nurse. Titus is unaware that he is the spectacle and points again to the cars hustling to work.

The woman begins to talk loudly about her grandson. He’s big, she says, “ninety-fifth percentile in height and weight. His mama was asking me the other day what ball we should use in his one-year portraits. She said, ‘Soccer?’ and I said, ‘Now, does he look like a soccer player to you? That boy’s gonna play football.’” She continues her pronouncements of grandeur—his size, his intellect, his devilish good looks. She is juxtaposing him against Titus, though perhaps accidentally. I wonder whether she’s hoping to paint her progeny into something less frail than he. I wonder whether she is perpetuating tall tales to enhance her illusion of stability.

She continues, and were she aware she would notice that the nurse is not engaged but instead only saying “mmm-hmm” and looking over the grandmother’s shoulder. She makes eyes at me as if to apologize, as if to say, “I feel sorry for this poor woman’s grandbaby.” I feel the tension and make eyes back toward the nurse as if to say, “At only one, that kid has some big britches to fill.”

Having heard enough about the woman’s future hall-of-fame presidential wonder-genius, I grab the pole to which Titus’s IV and feeding tube are attached and walk back toward our room. “Bye, honey,” she says to Titus, and he waves, oblivious to the heat of her insensitivities. People and their words lack intentionality sometimes. It’s the way we are.

My telephone rings, and though I do not recognize the number, I answer. It is a member of my church, a man I know to be good. We share brief salutations, passing platitudes and he begins to tell his story. “I’d like to share a bit of hope with you,” he says.

“My son was helplessly sick, too. We happened to be visiting family just down from Children’s Hospital when his heart stopped beating. We rushed him to the emergency room, prayed for a miracle, and by God’s providence, the docs were able to jump-start him. We would find that he had a rare disease, a wasting disease maybe a lot like Titus. We prayed for another miracle, and God answered. He brought us the right doctor, orchestrated every move, ordained the whole thing to bring healing, and, ultimately, greater glory. God will bring you an answer in good time.”

He means all the hope in the world, but I feel gut-punched. I am not in a particularly strong position of faith these days. I’ve been praying for answers, for growth and healing, and so far, none of it has worked. And now I’m listening to this creeping gospel of prosperity. “God will answer if you are faithful,” he says.

He’s telling a story of belief, and I am truly grateful for his reaching out. But these words don’t bolster me; they feel more like a dagger than a comfort. Haven’t I been faithful? Haven’t I done right? And if my child were to pass to the next life, what does that say about my goodness? Worse yet, what does that say about God’s?

He tells me to “hang on, keep faith in God. He is Titus’s healer.”

I would like to tell him that in this moment, I’m not a man of particularly large faith. I’d like to tell him that I stopped praying for Titus’s healing a week ago, and I’d kill for a sign, for a miracle doctor, for something to confirm I’m not walking some lonely road of damnation. I’d like to tell him that his words feel volume-less, like a milk-toast cop-out, that they mute the sting of the present. If I could, I’d tell him these promises seem myopic, an outcome-determinative view of the goodness of God.

But I don’t.

“Sure. Thanks for calling,” I say instead. There is no comfort in the effluence of men’s words, I think. There’s no vindication in them, either.

Titus is not yet one and he knows no better life than the one he is living. He carries joy through it all, oblivious to vanity that surrounds him, that which connects strength, intelligence, and prosperity to God. It’s not been an easy year, but he is being made into something tough. And as I learn to hold my tongue, as I extend grace to the weakest of word wielders, I am also being made tough: perhaps a bit more tender too.

Sometimes providence guards us from pain. Other times, the providence is in the pain. Lord, that we would understand the nuance and offer our words accordingly.

Seth Haines is the author of Coming Clean, a story of pain, faith, and the abiding love of God. You can find him at or on Twitter @sethhaines. Taken from Soul Bare by Cara Sexton. Copyright (c) 2016 by Cara Sexton. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.

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