I’m Really Bad at Suffering

“All people suffer loss. Being alive means suffering loss. Living means changing, and change requires that we lose one thing before we gain something else.” -Jerry Sittser

I have come to realize that I am really bad at suffering. Losing Lucy was the first time I have ever suffered a tragic loss and it has been hard to learn how to live with suffering. I know it will get better, but this pain will never go away. It’s such a foreign concept to me. I think one reason I love Elisabeth Elliot is because she is so good at suffering. Her first husband was murdered and then her second husband died of cancer. She also had a granddaughter who was stillborn. She isn’t bitter or drowning in self pity (although I’m sure she’s had her moments.) She is strong and joyful. She writes amazing things like “Fear God and fear nothing else,” and “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” I want to bear my suffering like she does.

My childhood was wonderful. I wouldn’t change anything about it. My parents reminded me over and over again that I would always be number three in their lives, which was incredibly comforting, believe it or not. My Mom would tell me that God was number one in her life, my Dad was number two and I and my siblings were all number three. Honestly, what could be better?

When I think of my childhood I picture myself climbing one of the mango trees in our backyard while eating a mango at the same time, the juice running down through my fingers all the way to my elbow. I never wore shoes. I always felt loved, I was disciplined consistently and I knew about God from babyhood. I always had four playmates with me wherever we lived. I was happy and confident in who I was. I knew God’s love and I felt Him smiling down on me.

I got my college degree in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education. I feel like I’m good at teaching and I absolutely love it. I never had to worry about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I knew when I was 5 years old. I married the perfect man for me. He is my best friend. He makes marriage easy. He is the best Daddy I could ever dream up for my children. We got pregnant the very first month we tried. We had a healthy, blonde baby boy 9 months later and we had his healthy, gigantic blonde brother two years later. I knew God’s love and I felt Him smiling down on me.

Then my baby girl died and so did my dreams for a large family like I had grown up in. The shock of the pain was incredible, like nothing I had ever felt before. Excruciating pain. I felt like I was writhing. I wished it was physical pain so at least it would be familiar. Then at least I could take some pain medicine, although it would probably have to be straight morphine to touch the pain. Then, right when our hopes for another baby were rising at the sight of that positive pregnancy test they were dashed so quickly by the loss of our Jude. I felt unprepared for suffering. The most suffering I had ever experienced was breaking up with boyfriends and my three ankle surgeries and one knee surgery (sports injuries, long story.) But that doesn’t come close to the pain of losing my baby and my ability to have safe pregnancies. It suddenly felt like a different world and it did NOT feel like God was smiling down on me.

Sometimes I wonder if I had suffered more in my earlier years would I have been more prepared for this most terrible suffering of my life? Then, I wonder if there is any way to prepare my boys for suffering that is sure to be a part of their future. I know that my job as a mother is to protect my children, but how do I do that while preparing them for suffering at the same time? I’m still not sure how to do that. I do think your childhood is the foundation for the rest of your life. My sons’ childhoods are something that demand protection and love and security. When they look back on their childhoods I want them to feel the magical purity of it, to remember fun and innocence and safety. But I also want them to be prepared for real life when it hits.

When Liam was a baby I was surprised by the intensity of pain involved with teething. He cried for hours, didn’t want to eat or sleep and was obviously in a lot of pain. It was pitiful, but when that tiny, blindingly white tooth finally broke through he felt so much better. It was a sad realization when I remembered that he had a mouthful of teeth to break through in the coming months and years. I wondered why God made teething so painful. He could have engineered it a different way so that it was pain-free like when our hair grows or our bones grow. Maybe He made teething so painful so that babies could prepare for a world that includes pain. Maybe it’s one of His built-in suffering training exercises.

As unprepared for suffering as I felt, what would it have been like if I hadn’t experienced the small sufferings that I did? I was always the foreign girl with a weird accent. In Africa I was the weird American and in America I was the weird African girl with a British accent. I had to start lots of school years at a new school (often in a new country) without any friends. Those surgeries I had in high school and college humbled me in lots of ways and taught me a lot about suffering. Being on crutches for weeks, being in intense pain and having to relearn how to use your foot through hours and hours of physical therapy are good ways to humble a person and acquaint them with suffering. I know that all of the small pains I went through did help with my suffering now, but I still felt very unprepared. I still don’t know how to live with this pain and be ok with it. It is so unnatural for me.

During the month we lost Lucy, my boys stayed with my parents many nights while we were in and out of the hospital. The week after Lucy died, Liam’s behavior was horrible, but we just assumed it was because he had been away from his parents and the fact that his baby sister just died. The morning of his birthday party, one week after Lucy died, he woke up with blood running out of his ear. A lot of blood. And his pajamas and his blankets were all stained with blood. We later found out he had had a terrible ear infection for a while and it got so bad that his eardrum burst! I felt SO bad, I couldn’t believe I let that happen. I felt like such a bad mother. My Mom felt bad too, but she reminded me that, “It’s just making him tough, and preparing him for life.”

A lot of times I feel so guilty that my sons have to go through this tragedy at such an early age. They will grow up knowing that their baby sister is dead. Sometimes, Liam says sad things like, “I love Daddy so much. Does that mean he has to go up to heaven now?” Or “When Lucy went up to heaven we still loved her so much.” And he looks so heartbreakingly confused. I know it’s hard to see your Mommy cry every day and struggle to do simple things like go grocery shopping or go to church. Asher often randomly comes up to me and asks, “Mama? You miss your Lucy?” This is how they are starting off their childhoods, but I can’t change it and I know God is in control. I find comfort knowing that when they are older and they lose someone else they love they will have some experience suffering such a loss. They won’t be floundering in disbelief like their Mommy is now. It will be a bit more familiar to them and they will be better sufferers. It is sad to see your children suffer, but if they are, remember that it is making them stronger and it is preparing them for a future in a fallen world.

Romans 5:3-5  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.


16 thoughts on “I’m Really Bad at Suffering

  1. Bethany I think about sufering all the time because nothing catastrophic has happened to me yet and I know it probably will..your so open and honest with your suffering and do so with such grace. I believe that because I have seen a glimpse of true suffering that it will one day be of comfort or less shocking. This probably sounds crazy and makes no sense! Still praying for you.

    • Thank you Sara! It doesn’t sound crazy. I think reading about other Mom’s losing their children before I lost Lucy has helped me some. It is a reminder that it can happen to anybody. Thanks for praying for me!

  2. That verse tells us that suffering eventually leads to hope. God’s love is poured out into our lives.He is a good Father and suffers with us in our pain. We can trust Him even in the dark. No one loves us like He does. I am sorry that you have had so much deep sorrow. I love you.

  3. Amen. Thanks for writing that. I have a couple of awkward ideas that I think I’ll want to delete right away:
    1. Nobody really gets ‘good’ at suffering, but people that look good at it have a ton of hard-earned practice that none of us want.
    2. Nothing prepares you for this. I’ve been beaten down a whole bunch of times, and I thought I was pretty good at suffering and faith. Nothing compares to this, because losing children just ‘doesn’t happen.’

    Your honesty is fantastic. Whatever ‘on track’ is, you’re there. It’s just so hard to tell, because the whole thing is so hard.

    • Not awkward! I love the feedback and I agree. This post sat for a while as a draft because I wasn’t sure how to word it without making suffering sound like a skill. Suffering shouldn’t even exist and no one is really “good” at it. But here we are burying our babies. I just feel so out of my element and I’m frustrated that I trusted this world to be a good place. I was much too at home in this broken place. I wish I could go back and tell myself not to get so comfortable, to remind myself that heaven is where suffering doesn’t exist, not here. But you are right, nothing can truly prepare you for the loss of your child.

  4. As you know, I am so on the same page with you. I had a perfect childhood full of love and God just like you did. I only had breakups and one broken ankle (we’ve even had surgery on the same body part:) as pain in my life. I too had to move and start at a new school with no familiar friends 3 times during my elementary years. I love that I can share these similar foundations with you. But those are all such small things compared with this shock and deep hurt. I wonder if it’s harder because we are so unprepared for this kind of hurt or better because it’s not piled on top of previous hurts? It must be what God chose as best for us.

    I love your love for your boys and agree that will be helpful to them in their lives. And sometimes, in good moments, I do feel like what that verse says is happening to me. I know God is using it for good. I know this world is not our home, but I hope that He does allow some happy things coming our way while we’re in it regardless. I think He will. If He is the same God as He was before this, that God has allowed a lot of joy and peace in our lives. And so He will again.

    • I didn’t know you had a broken ankle too! And I didn’t know you had to start several different schools either. I have also wondered if having intense suffering before this would have just made it worse instead of being helpful. I don’t know but I love your thought that whatever happens is what God has chosen for our lives. That is comforting. I’m praying we both experience His peace and joy in our lives again (soon!)

  5. Bethany, I know how you feel. I had a blessed childhood and the whole bit too. Losing my Asher was by far my first experience in suffering, and it has been very hard. At the same time, it is really the first time in my life that I am truley leaning on God for support, and He has poured love over me and my husband in so many ways. If it wasn’t for our trials, God wouldn’t have the opportunity to work miracles and really show us His love. And just remember that miracles come in shapes and forms that we don’t always recogonize. And also remember that as hard as it is to be separated from our children, we will spend an eternity with them in Heaven. ((((HUGS))))

  6. ps. You are showing your boys that it is ok to grieve, and that God will love them through the tough times. They are very lucky to have a mama and family who love their Lord so deeply.

    • Thank you Jenny! They will definitely know about grief their whole lives. It is hard to not feel guilty sometimes, though. I’m glad God is taking care of them and isn’t surprised by any of this.

  7. Another grieving Mama wrote this and I thought I might share it with you, as it truly resonates with me:

    Dear Non-Bereaved Mama,

    I am so grateful that you don’t know how life is after the loss of your child. I am so grateful that you don’t know the pain, the heartache or the desperation that takes occupancy within my heart.Sometimes I wish you would just “understand” me, but then again I am so grateful that you don’t. Sometimes all I want to do is sleep and sometimes I am afraid to. Sometimes I am so sad.Sometimes it is too hard to look in the mirror because there I see the pain in my eyes that I feel in my heart.Sometimes I want to tell you how hard it is but I have resorted to just telling you I am “okay,” that’s what the world thinks I should be anyway. Sometimes it is easier to just be “okay” in society until I get home to silence and then, then I wish I had a friend. I have many “sometimes” but I always have an “always” and when those “sometimes” happen, the “always” is always there. Always missing my child, Always. Not just sometimes, always. Sometimes I feel awkward and alone. Sometimes when you tell me you are having a rough day because you have to rush your children here and there and laundry and homework, I get really mad. What I wouldn’t give to have to take all my children to three different places and to teach one more math. I wonder how you could say that to me? But as I think back to my life before loss, I really didn’t think about such things either. So as much as it makes me mad, I know you just don’t “know.” And I don’t ever want you to “know.”I really cannot help all of these feelings. I did not ask to feel them and I don’t want to feel them. I did not sign up to be a grieving mama, there was not a college preparatory class for this. It’s much harder than it looks.Much harder.Every single day of my life, I see room for one more. When a smile is on my face, a tear is under the surface. Some days are better than others. And some, some days just stink. The bottom line friend is this, I miss my baby. I love her therefore I miss her, therefore I grieve. I will (for the rest of my life) miss my child every single day.I will (for the rest of my life) love my child every single day.I will (for the rest of my life) grieve my child every single day.To sum it all up, I will be done grieving when I am done breathing.Sure I will laugh, I will love, I will live…but I will do all of those things missing my child. Always.See friend, I respect and understand the place that grief resides in my life. I ask that you do too.And if you see me having a moment, please understand grief is like a current for me, I never know when it will take me under, when it will pull me here or there, but I do know when the current releases me and when I have the strength to go back out, that I truly wish my friends would be there. If grief scares you, can you please take a moment and think about how much it scares me too? I don’t have a disease, I am a mother, just like you, that loves her child and you loving your child is beautiful.For me friend, for me, grieving is missing and loving my child.I will always love…always love my child. Loving my child is beautiful too! Thank you friend for listening. Thank you.With love,

    Grieving Mama

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