“God is so mean,” Brennan pronounces as I hold him on the rocking-recliner in his bedroom.
“Why?” I inquire. A bit take-aback, to be honest. I never know how to respond to these type of statements. I realize my response can be pivotal to his understanding and relationship with God. As much as I like my kids to be real, I also often wish they just compliantly accepted what I consider to be Truth and never asked difficult questions or struggled with faith-issues. That would be so much easier!
“Because He’s not helping me fall back asleep!” Brennan says with frustration.
It’s 11:30 p.m., the night before his first day of first grade. Though he fell asleep almost immediately upon putting him to bed early at 7:45 (my desperate attempt to make up for weeks of late nights and our crazily quick turn-around from summer vacation to first day of school), he has been awake again since 9:45 p.m. He desperately wants to go back to sleep, but his little sleep-deprived and excited body won’t let him.
My mind thinks a thousand thoughts as I hear his reason for thinking God is mean: How cute that he would be turning to God during this time of trying to fall asleep. I remember that I prayed with him earlier in the evening and asked God to help him fall back asleep. I wonder if I’m teaching him to think prayer is a “magical pill.” I want him to know he can turn to God for everything, but wonder how to help him understand everything we ask for we may not “get.” I wonder why that is so myself! I’m glad that he feels the freedom to be mad at God. I’m scared that he is mad at God. I want him to know it’s okay to be mad at God.
“I understand, Brennan,” I say as I hold and comfort him.
Pause. I’m not sure what to say next…if anything.
“God gave you a mommy who can hold you until you fall asleep,” I hear my voice say softly. I’m not sure where those words came from, and I’m not convinced they were what Brennan needed in that moment.
“Hmph…” he responds, as he snuggles in closer, “I wish I were asleep right now. I still think He’s mean.”
I rub his back and give him a kiss on the top of his head.
My thoughts continue to wander as I hold my frustrated boy. In the midst of wondering what to say to Brennan and processing what I think about how he feels, I realize I’m kind of mad at God, too!
It’s the night before the first day of school. We just returned home from two weeks in Florida less than 24 hours ago. I’m tired, I’m coming down with a sore throat, and things haven’t gone as smoothly as I like today. My day was filled with unexpected errand-running (despite my best efforts to have everything ready before we left for vacation) and a whirlwind of activity. Though I got the kids to bed early, my evening has been interrupted by Brennan’s inability to fall asleep. I had hoped to have laundry put away, the breakfast table set, and lunch boxes packed by now. Not to mention, I had also hoped to be in bed sound asleep. Instead, not only was I not in bed sleeping, none of those other things had happened. This sick momma needed a good night of sleep before an early school morning, and it wasn’t happening! Yes, I must admit, I’m a bit frustrated at God myself for not helping Brennan fall back asleep!
So how do I face this reality? How do I come to grips with things not going my way? Especially when a part of me believes God could be a bit more helpful in this situation, if He so chooses. Isn’t one of the perks of being a Christian the ability to take my requests to God in prayer…and for Him to help me?!
As I hold my frustrated little son, who thinks God is mean for not letting him sleep, I grapple with one of the biggest questions Christians have for God: Why does it seem like God doesn’t answer our prayers?
And I ponder my response to Brennan, the unplanned words I heard come out of my mouth: “God gave you a mommy to hold you until you fall asleep.”
I worry my response seemed to be avoiding his reality. Who cares that I’m holding him?! He’d rather be sleeping. Yet, at the same time, I hope that reality gives him comfort, comfort in the midst of frustration. The same God who we feel is allowing something “bad” to happen (not falling asleep), is the same God who has also put many good things in place for us, in the midst of our discomfort and disappointment (a mommy to hold him).
What can I draw comfort from as I hold my child, frustrated that I’m not in bed, sound asleep? To be honest, in the moment, I couldn’t really find anything. But a day later, as I’m typing through this experience, I realize God gave me a special time with Brennan, the night before his first day of school. The night before a big day for me ~ my baby was heading off to all-day school. All three kids were now in a stage of life that once seemed light-years away. As much as I’ve looked forward to this day, now that it’s upon me, I’m a bit sad and nostalgic. The laundry got done, the breakfast table got set, and the lunches were made. I was a bit tired, I must admit. But I now have the memory and experience of holding my baby and rocking him to sleep, the night before he officially became a “big boy.” There are few things I enjoy more than cuddling with my children.
Things will not always go as planned in this world. God does not promise a smooth road through life. Trials (much bigger than a lack of sleep!) and struggles will come our way. Prayers we fervently pray will not always be answered. But God does promise us this: He will be with us. He will comfort us. He will give us good things in the midst of the bad (a mommy to hold us, a child to snuggle).
As I tucked Brennan in to bed the next night, I read to him from The Jesus Storybook Bible. We were reading about Moses and the Israelites, wandering in the desert:
So there they all were. Grannies, granddads, babies, uncles, aunts, children, moms, and dads. Out there in the middle of the desert. They had blisters from all the walking. They were hungry. And thirsty. And much, much too hot.
‘We don’t like it!’ they said. ‘It stinks!’
As I read those words and thought of the Israelites reality, it reminded me of me…and Brennan. We were tired. We didn’t like it. We were mad at God. Just like the Israelites:
‘God doesn’t want us to be happy,’ they said. It was the same lie that Adam and Eve had heard all those years before. ‘God has brought us out here to kill us. God doesn’t love us!’ But they didn’t know God well, did they?
I was finding myself impacted by these words, written for children.
Every day of their journey, God kept on showing his people how well he would look after them, if they would trust him, and obey him. When they were hungry, God made the sky rain with food. . .when they were thirsty and started quarrelling, God made water flow from a rock. . .And still God’s children didn’t trust him or do what he said. They thought they could do a better job of looking after themselves and making themselves happy. But God knew there was no such thing as happiness without him.
My mind raced with all I knew about the Israelites. Forty years ~ FORTY! ~ of wandering and waiting on God. Forty years of tiredness, hunger, sand, struggles. I’m sure they prayed. And I’m sure they felt like God didn’t hear or answer their prayers. Yet, as we look at it in the whole picture, God was always there. God cared. God provided.
God knew there was no such thing as happiness without him. That is why we pray. He won’t take away all the hardships of life. Those are there whether we know Him or not. But with him, in the midst of all the struggles of life, He can bring us happiness. That’s His promise to us.
Somehow, as I grow in this knowledge and this perspective, I hope and pray that my children will grow in the knowledge and perspective as well. That in the midst of life not going their way, they’ll ultimately recognize that only through God can they find joy in the journey. That He is there, even when it feels like He isn’t. And that He gives us other good things, even when the thing we ask for isn’t what we get.
I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13