Why won’t Jesus make me better?
One of the hardest situations I remember as a mom was having a miserable, sick child. Especially when the child asked me, “Why won’t Jesus make me better? I prayed, you prayed, Dad prayed. Jesus could do it, but he won’t.”
Obviously, it’s not a question only children ask. Basically Phillip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts? addresses the same question powerfully. And it’s not an easy question to answer. For ourselves or for our children. I’ve always struggled with that question. The hardest times were when the question came from our most black-and-white child. She was usually the quickest to assume Jesus would answer our prayers. But then she also was the quickest to wonder why when he chose not to answer the way she expected. Her disappointment was hard for me to watch.
My struggles to answer her.
I remember struggling to answer her. God answered prayers–I knew that. I even knew of miraculous answers to some prayers. But I also knew God’s answers are often not what we are hoping for. Yet, how do you explain to a child that God loves us immensely and still allows us significant pain?
With great difficulty. And great humility.
I remember saying “I don’t know” a lot. I also said that I knew sickness was one result of human sin. And that sickness is not a result of the sick person’s sin but the state of the sinful world. I remember thinking of the blind man Jesus healed, when my daughter asked me why God was punishing her. She wondered what sin God was punishing her for. I recalled John 9:1-12, where Jesus tells his disciples that the man’s blindness is not a result of someone’s sin. It was a vehicle for God to glorify himself through Jesus’ miraculous healing.
Of course, my daughters would have loved to be miraculously healed to bring someone to faith. Wouldn’t we all? The tricky thing is that God glorifies himself in different ways in different times and places.
God working in our pain.
The other thing that always struck me in those difficult times is the fact that God uses our pain to bring us to himself. As C.S. Lewis explains in The Problem of Pain, “[P]ain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Obviously, it would not have helped to share that quote with my four-year-old daughter. She was already looking to God. So she did not need his megaphone at that moment. She needed to be reassured of God’s love in her pain. But her pain was God’s megaphone to get my attention and to give me a teachable moment to share with her.
No pain in heaven.
What I told my daughter is a different part of that process. God also uses our pain to remind us that this is not our true home. Our true home is in heaven with him. There we will never be sick or hurting. I told her that being sick could help her value the knowledge that heaven would someday be painless. Honestly, if life on earth were painless, we would have a lot harder time longing for heaven. Pain and sickness are earthly results of the Fall that make us yearn for God and his perfect home.
Did that solve the problem for my daughter? Or for me? Obviously not. But it gave us a teachable moment and an opportunity to focus intensely on God’s work in our lives. It emphasized his sovereignty and his love. For me it also emphasized my dependence on God. I had no idea how to answer my daughter. So, I was forced to pray a lot while trying to answer her questions–and mine.
And isn’t that the point of a megaphone? It gets our attention. Every time one of my daughters asked me, “Why won’t Jesus make me better?” God had my full attention.
Stay awake and pray for the baby!
One of my most memorable experiences from childhood is thinking that my baby sister was going to die. It was Sunday afternoon, an afternoon my parents usually rested. My two little sisters were also napping. But I was not sleepy. I was scared. That afternoon, when I told them I wasn’t sleepy, my parents told me, “Stay awake and pray for the baby while we try to sleep.” So I did.
My till-then healthy baby sister had recently enjoyed supplemental bottles of juice, which she liked better than nursing. She had decided she preferred this easier way of feeding and refused my mother’s breast. I remember vividly the scary time of my mom trying formula after formula with her, trying to end my sister’s hunger strike. She seemed to be allergic to everything. And she refused to return to the breast. Allergies have become so much more understood now, but they were unknown territory for my parents.
This was fifty-five years ago, and my baby sister was dying of constant diarrhea.
She was dehydrating. Finally, the doctors told my parents they needed to keep her alive by feeding her rice water until her little system calmed down. Rice water. The rest of the family seemed to eat endlessly the rice this water had boiled.
I remember having permission to sit in the living room, normally off limits for me and saved for guests. Because of its big clock, I was allowed to sit there. I needed to pray until the clock registered the appointed time for my family to wake up.
I watched the hands of the clock continuously, and they never seemed to move.
Though I saw that the hands somehow moved to a different place on the clock, I could not catch them moving. It was perplexing. And fascinating. I moved closer and closer to the clock, studying it. I needed to see the hand move. In later years those minutes that seemed everlasting during that hour or two have reminded me of my adult prayer life. How often doesn’t it feel that God is taking forever to answer a prayer? And since we can’t know at first if he’s saying no or saying to wait, the waiting feels the same.
That day when my parents told me to stay awake and pray for the baby, I’m sure they were needing to occupy their five-year-old. But whether I was able to pray effectively or not, my parents taught me the importance of prayer to them. My staying awake and praying had no huge significance like the disciples who were asked to stay awake and pray with Jesus. But it did have the significance of reinforcing the truth that God is sovereign. Only he could heal my baby sister. The doctors’ earlier attempts had not been successful, and my parents knew God was in charge. That day I watched the clock more than anything else, but I did stay awake and pray for the baby.
My baby sister did recover, and I never forgot the day I was the only one in the house awake praying for her.
Starting young with growing roots deep into Christ.
I love this photo of the boy sitting in the huge tree. The enormous tree seems to be wrapping its arms around him and bringing him contentment. A child this age can’t understand the root system of a huge tree like this. Nor does he know the concept of a child growing roots deep into Christ. But he can know where he feels safe.
Rooting ourselves deeply in Christ makes us feel safe in the arms of God, as this boy feels in the tree. And it can start so early. Praying with a baby who is fussing for a reason we can’t understand. Praying with a toddler over something he feels terrible about. Little ones can learn that Jesus answers their prayers in amazing ways and that he is their ultimate safety.
Writing a talk the other day, I thought about how our children began putting down their roots into Christ at an early age. Inspired by Trent & Smalley’s book The Blessing, we gave one of our daughters the symbol of a young tree. It symbolized how we saw her in Christ, as a child who loved Jesus and sought to live for him. At her young age it was impossible to know all the fruit God would allow her to bear. But we saw the beginnings. We gave her the symbol of a very young apple tree and found a real one to take her picture standing near.
The passage we chose for her was Psalm 1, with an emphasis on verse 3: “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
As an adult growing roots deep into Christ.
That verse has realized its promise. We’ve seen our child become an adult woman who has an active prayer life and active ministry to the many people God has placed in her life.
Another favorite passage that now fits her and is a challenge for each of us is Colossians 2: 6-7— “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (NIV).
Remembering the traumas she experienced in her young adult life, I am so grateful that her rootedness in Christ allowed her stay safe and know she was in the arms of Jesus. Even when she wondered what in the world God was doing in allowing her to get so sick. Multiple times even when she nearly died.
Growing roots deep into Christ moved her from being a child who played church–preaching to and baptizing dolls and stuffed animals–to a grown up who preaches to and baptizes real people. When she was four years old, we had no clue that it was more than play. But God knew. And he grew those roots and built her up in him.
[photo by martha-dominguez-de-gouveia-567149-unsplash]