Some days my daughter’s eyes visibly widen and her brow furrows as she searches my face to learn the answer to her pressing question. I can feel it coming before the words leave her mouth: “Are you ok mum?” she quizzes me, her face just centimetres from my own. “Do you need to go to bed? Can I get you something?” My stomach tightens as I reach for words of reassurance and distraction. Her 12-year old face is maturing in ways I don’t routinely notice, but when her eyes darken questioningly and her brow furrows in worry, I’m reminded that she is growing in her awareness of me, and that I am seen by her in ways that I haven’t been seen before. In days gone by her child-like preoccupation with her own emotions has dominated, but now she is growing in sensitivity to those around her, and I can no longer hide that which was previously invisible. She sees the weariness in my eyes and my slowness to move from the sofa. She knows that on some days, much of the time she spends in school, I spend in bed. She worries and she fusses. She makes tea and she gives me directions to rest. Pain travels.
This last 18 months has brought new lessons in pain and weakness unlike anything I have experienced before. And with each new set-back, the previous diagnosis has remained, until a Pisa of seemingly unsolvable pain and weakness has threatened to topple me completely. Relentless migraines, jaw pain, chronic neurological symptoms, a burning mouth…. all these things and more have repeatedly left me stumbling to keep moving forward. Some days have found me unable to do even the simplest of tasks, and in my own confusion I have keenly felt the sting of knowing that all that I am experiencing is also being felt by those around me.
Medical specialists have concluded that they can’t solve my pain but that there is some work that can be done of helping with the mental distress that inevitably accompanies it. And so, each week, I spend an hour online with a therapist who’s seeking to help me make progress in experiencing it differently. She reminds me that suffering is a human experience that connects all people, that in the midst of my discomfort I should take solace in the fact that I am experiencing what it means to be human. But, as true as that might sound, it has brought no comfort to my ears and offered no hope to my soul.
But hope has not died in the most challenging of days, because where there has been darkness and confusion, there has also been grace. While I continue to learn what it means to put one foot in front of the other on the road of Romans 5:3, so have those around me. Pain and weakness can often feel isolating, challenging in its invisibility, futile in its apparent lack of function, but I am beginning to see some of the fruit of its slow and most important work – not only in my own life but in the lives of those closest to me.
Romans 5:3 reminds me that suffering is not futile and meaningless, but necessary for growth. It is the means by which God brings forth the important work of hope. It initiates the slow climb of perseverance towards a perspective that cannot be achieved on easier ground. And it is not a path that is walked alone. While my feet repeatedly stumble and search for purchase, those around me have not left me stumbling there. Kind and encouraging words, a piece of music sent at just the right time, a comforting reminder of God’s constant and enduring love, a verse, a hug – all these things and more have reminded me that I am seen and held, not just by those who are travelling with me, but by the God who is leading me through dark places with a kind and gentle hand.
When I am tempted to despair, when tears flow because emptying the dishwasher is all I’ve managed that day, when curling up on the bed is the only way to find physical comfort, I am reminded that all is not lost. I am walking a path towards a city where weakness and pain will be no more, where frustration and despair will be swallowed up in the presence of a Saviour who has taken all pain, sin and weakness on himself so that I might enjoy eternity with him.
He will wipe every tear. He will answer every question. His presence alone will be the comfort of every soul.
All these things I am slow to learn and quick to forget.
Nevertheless, when the road is dark, and comforts are few; when the house is quiet and the pain is loud – the voice of my Saviour rings out louder still, “Behold I am making all things new!”
Come, Lord Jesus.
Emily Robertson is part of the marketing team at The Good Book Company in the UK. She is married to Dave and has two girls, Grace and Bella, and a golden Labrador called Boaz.