Wednesday, March 13, 2013

a cry of hopelessness

What I've written here is not all that can be said about suffering: far from it. But I've published it, somewhat hesitantly, because I think suffering will drive all of us to this point sooner or later.

I sit there stony-faced, staring out the windscreen, driving in automatic, lips pressed together. I’ve had enough. I don’t want it any more: this struggle and these doubts and these unanswered prayers. I’ve had enough. It’s been a long week – a long year! – and there’s nothing left. I’ve had enough.

My 12-year-old son sits next to me. He’s not used to this grim silence, but I don’t have it in me to make conversation. He glances at me, and I can feel the question in his gaze. Finally, in a small voice, he asks me, “Why are you sad, Mummy? You look so sad. I don’t like it when you’re sad.”

Guilt rises to the surface and overflows. I apologise. I tell him it’s not his fault (it’s not), other things besides his circumstances are making me sad (they are), he didn’t cause this (he didn’t). But part of me doesn’t care. Part of me feels like hitting out. I’ve had enough.

We’re on the way to school to pick up some homework sheets. He’s missed nearly a week of school. Four weeks into secondary school, and already his year is disrupted. It’s a particularly bad migraine this time, and there’s no predicting how long his headaches will last.1 A day? A week? A month? A term? We’ve seen them all.

Over three years he’s been sick now, and counting. Over three years I’ve prayed. Prayed and watched. Prayed and hoped. Prayed and given up hope. Prayed and seen whole weeks of his life go past, given over to pain. Prayed and felt the sick discouragement creep in, quicker each time, when I see him ill – again.

I’ve tried to convince myself I can see a purpose to all this. Sometimes I can. When he’s well I can. When I see his courage and patience and trust, sometimes I can. But then he gets sick and his childhood slips away and it’s hard to hold on to hope. Doubt nibbles at the edges of my faith: What is God doing? Does he care? Is he even real?

You tell me (“you” being the voice of a dozen books and talks) to cry out to God, to bring my questions and confusion to him.2 God’s word tells me this. I tell myself this. But sometimes I don’t want to pray. I don’t want to tell God how I feel. I’m sick of saying the words. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes I’ve had enough.

There are not always neat answers. Maybe there will be this time, maybe there won’t. Job never had an answer – or, at least, not one that was revealed to him. The writer of Psalm 88 had no answers, and he wrote the only Psalm that is utterly despairing, without a hint of hope.

How grateful I am that God included Psalm 88 in the Bible! There are others that teach me how to fight for hope when I am discouraged (e.g. Psalm 13, 42, 130), but this psalm tells me that sometimes it is okay just to cry out. At least the psalmist knows who to cry out to. His lament is the measure of his faith:
O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you… O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:1, 14)
I might not have hope. Sometimes all I have is a handful of ashes, the crumbled remnants of my faith. But I do have words. I have God’s own words. He doesn’t pretend this is okay. He doesn’t pretend it makes sense. He puts the words of the psalmist in my mouth, and invites me to speak them.

And when I can’t speak – when my mouth won’t shape the words – I know that God’s Son and Spirit speak for me (Rom 8:26-27, 34). I know that once, on a cross, there was One who made the psalms of lament his own, so that, one day, we will no longer have to speak them (Psalm 22:1-2). I know that he is still my hope, even when I can’t see it.

There are times when all I can do is cry out.

There are times when I can’t cry out, but I know Someone is crying out for me.

Lord, give me the strength to at least cry out.

1. Our son suffers from migraines and Chronic Daily Headaches – which means he gets debilitating headaches regularly, sometimes for weeks at a time. It's over two weeks since I wrote this, and the headaches are continuing, but we've had some new medical advice and are realising that we will have to start managing this as a chronic condition.
2. I wrote about some of these talks here.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.


Gordon Cheng said...

May God give his grace in great oceans to you and to Ben, and to all who suffer with you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for honestly sharing this. It is very raw. It's so hard when we see the pain in our children. I need to keep remembering that God is and will be a better parent to them, than I could ever hope to be. I will pray for your boy's headaches, and your family's faith in God.

Suellen Milham said...

I have been following your blog for about 9 months. One of the Minister's wives in my church shared the link with me when I started working part-time as a Women's Ministry Worker. I have appreciated your writing and your direction to the writings of others.

I have just read 'a cry of hopelessness'. I have been greatly supported and encouraged through your blog and, now, I hope I can encourage you.

I am the mother of five children, aged 17 - 25. My fourth child, Kenan, has just left home to go to University in Sydney (we live in regional NSW). When Kenan was in late primary school he developed migraine headaches. He started High School with a few good weeks and then he missed a cummulative three terms of Year 7, almost two terms of Year 8 and a term of Year 9. These were very hard years. Reading your words "I don't want it any more; this struggle and these doubts and these unanswered prayers" are a direct quotation of the thoughts I had at that time.
Nobody seemed to understand the weight I was carrying - God did, but I often failed to fully appreciate that. I was offered so many suggestions of what to do and we tried so many remedies and treatments. It was discouraging to be told that the pain wasn't going away so he would have to learn how to live with it and function. We tried making him go to school but would get the inevitable call to come and get him. Kenan's migraines finally left, the everyday headaches have taken longer. I can't tell you what made them go away - we were praying, waiting for him to grow, trying to reduce stress, adjusting his diet and taking him to all sorts of health professionals.

Last year, Kenan did his Higher School Certificate. He hadn't had a migraine since the middle of Year 10. We made the decision at the end of Year 11 that he would not continue with Mathematics, because whilst he was a capable student, this was the subject that his absences had created the biggest gaps in. I was terrified that the pressure of the final year of school would bring it all back and so resolved to keep things as peaceful at home as possible and I worked hard at not having my expectations too high for him. We prayed that he would get through school as a whole person who loved and honoured the Lord Jesus. In the middle of his final year his closest mate at school became a Christian. They had been at High School together for five and a half years and, finally, the gospel impacted his life. When Kenan looks back at his time at school he remembers lots of good experiences and doesn't seem to give much thought to those dark days we all found hard. He talks about the conversations he had with this friend and is consumed with trying to encourage him in his faith (he has moved to South Australia post-school).

God answered our prayers in more ways than we could have hoped for. He taught me to be dependent on him; to not doubt his sovereignty and goodness and, he has given us a well boy, but better than that, we still have a son who is part of the kingdom!

My heart goes out to you. I am encouraged to read the words that you have turned to in the Psalms for sustenance and pray that God will grant you patience and confidence in him. I am asking our Father in heaven for your son too, that he will come out the other end and he will continue on to love and serve him all the days of his life.

May God bless you and your family and your ministry with 'words' richly…..

Caroline said...

Jean, I hesitate to mention this, because I know what it's like when people seem to think that they've got answers, when really everyone is so different.
But on the other hand, I feel that if I don't mention my experience, which is that my migraines ceased to be a problem after I used the RPAH elimination diet to work out triggers, I may be not be being helpful. And if the migraines aren't improving by the usual medical means, it might be worth a look.

In any case, thank you for being so honest. We've had a difficult week here, and what you have written was helpful to me.

Leslie said...

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now.

I join with Suellen in letting you know you are not alone. My daughter, now in her Senior year of high school here in the states, was sick for several months during her Freshman year. I would lay next to her at night as she cried in pain & sleeplessness and pray for it to pass for my sake as well as hers. In the end, God did let us find out the cause of her physical ailments (her thyroid) and she will deal with it the rest of her life. Looking back, I believe He used this in her life to cause her to make the decision to switch from a public school & all the girl drama to a Christian school where she has grown spiritually.

I will pray for you & for your son & entire family as I know how these things effect everyone.


Brad Hansen said...

Hi, Jean - Our son began having chronic headaches and migraines when he was 16. He's now 24. In addition to the headaches, and probably because of them, he deals with depression. His doctor has been after us to file for disability. It's worn my wife and I down, realizing that we can't control his illness or his response to it. Prayer is so hard. Having faith is hard. It's so much easier simply to quit praying. Yet God keeps bringing us back to his promises: Ask. Seek. Knock. Yes, Ps 88 is a comfort in its own strange way. I suppose that I see Christ in that psalm, embracing the dark for the sake of his beloved. I'll pray for your son today. In Christ's fellowship, Brad Hansen

Jean said...

Thank you, friends, for your encouragement and kind words.

Thanks, Gordo, for your prayers (and I turned comment moderation off - problem being that I now don't get notifications! Aaargh!).

Macca, thanks for your encouragement. And yes, God is a better parent than I will ever be. Thanks for the reminder - it is good to hear.

My husband Steve has been so helpful in reminding me that this is a time of trial, but God is with us. That post described the darkest times: but I am finding that God is there when you hit rock-bottom. Sometimes you have to come to the end of yourself and your striving to see it.

Suellen, it was so encouraging to read of you going through a very similar experience: it's hard not to feel alone and like no-one understands, especially when you say "headache" - not really very dramatic sounding!

Caroline, yep, I have had a look at the diet, not quite there yet, as we are working through so many things, but we are being careful with big doses of MSG at the moment. Mostly it doesn't seem diet related - more to do with stress, sun, sleep etc - but always have this in the back of my mind.

Leslie, good to hear of someone else going through similar things. And yes, already I can begin to see that it's having a helpful effect on us as a family - forcing us back to our first priorities, teaching us to adjust life to support Ben. His school is public, but doing wonders for him; however, I hear what you say about girl's groups, I have a 14-year-old daughter and it hasn't always been easy for her.

Brad, I too will pray for your son, and for you and your wife, that God will be with you in the dark days, and help you hold on to him as he holds you. I agree - it's in Jesus that we see Psalm 88 ultimately fulfilled. How wonderful it is to know that he suffers with and for us, and in our place! It's one of my greatest comforts.

Jan said...


While I get migraines, I am thankful my sons didn't. However with one of them, there were other issues which will result in lifelong medication, so I have some idea of what you are all going through.

In another Christian forum I read, several there mentioned investigating special tinted glasses which shad good results. Children seemed to be like your son, almost constant headaches. I'm not a medical person and know what it's like to have unhelpful advice offered for a child, but it may be an avenue to investigate. I'll see if I can find a link.