“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own …” (Habakkuk 1:5-6)
My two month old baby girl has a problem. She has what is called a “posterior tongue-tie”. The little bit of skin that attaches the bottom of her tongue to the floor of her mouth is attached a little bit too far forward. This creates a lot of tension in her mouth, and severely limits her ability to move her tongue. That may not sound like that big of a deal, but the consequences can be more serious than you might imagine, especially for an infant.
It became apparent that something was not right almost immediately when she was seriously struggling with breast feeding. She always seemed to have a good latch, but she simply wasn’t sucking the milk out (even though we knew my wife was producing milk). Eventually, out of necessity we gave her a bottle. She took the bottle okay at first, but even then, as she started to get bigger she slowly started to struggle to feed, even from the bottle. That was when we had her checked by a pediatric dentist. The concerns went farther than just her struggling to take a bottle. The tongue tie was putting a great deal of stress on her tongue, creating a lot of extra tension in her neck, shoulder and arms muscles (all those muscles are connected). There was concern about her not being able to eat solid food when she was old enough to eat it since her tongue would not be able to make the motion needed to push the food to the back of her throat. There was concern about her speech being slow to develop, and be severely impaired when she grew older. She could even have serious tooth decay since she would not be able to fully clear food away from her teeth with her tongue. This seemingly benign problem could have a lot of serious consequences as she got older. All-in-all, we knew that something had to be done.
We decided the best thing for her was to get a “revision”, which basically means the dentist used a laser to cut that skin back, freeing up her tongue. Not only was this a quick (less than one minute) outpatient procedure, but no strong pain medications were needed. Since she was so young there were very few nerve endings in that section of her tongue and she would not feel much pain. Great! Problem solved, we can now ride off into the sunset with uplifting music playing, feeling confident in a happy ever after that was sure to follow. Certainly everything would now be smooth sailing.
Not so much.
After a “revision”, the biggest concern is that the skin that was cut will re-attach itself, and bring the problem right back. For that reason we were told that several times a day for several weeks after the procedure we would need to put our fingers in her mouth and stretch out the wound to prevent, or at least limit, reattachment.
The stretches are arguably the most difficult thing I have ever had to do as a parent.
My baby girl lays on her changing table, calm and peaceful. She might even smile and coo up at me as I gaze into her eyes. She has complete and utter trust in me to keep her safe and cared for. And then I jab my fingers into her mouth, and stretch out an open wound under her tongue while she cries out in pain.
We are told that she is not really in pain. We are told that the laser killed most of the nerves. We are told she is just crying because she doesn’t like our fingers in her mouth, it makes her uncomfortable, and stressed. But from where we are, she looks like she is pain. The cry in her voice doesn’t just sound like discomfort, but pain, and even betrayal. It breaks our hearts as parents every time we have to do it.
So should we give up with it? We have certainly thought about it. No parent likes to cause their child pain. Every fiber in our being tells us that we are to protect her from pain, especially when she is this young and fragile.
But if we stop now, then what was the point? Like I already said, there were serious concerns that needed to be addressed. We truly believe this needed to be done. We believe this was truly in her best interest, even if it causes her pain right now. If we give up now, would we be stopping for her, or for us?
No, we continue! We know she doesn’t like it. We know it might even be painful for her (even if the experts tell us otherwise). The cries break our hearts when we have to do it, but we know that in the end, she will be better for it. We know it will help her in the short term to take her bottles easier to take. We know it will help her as she learns to eat solid food. We know it will help her leaps and bounds as she start learning to talk. We know that it could very well save her from a lifelong speech impediment that could seriously affect her life.
It may cause her pain now, but we know that the pain of the moment will pass away, and she will be the better for it in the end. We cannot be selfish and withhold that which is best for her, even if it breaks our hearts in the meanwhile.
However, as I think about how I am inflicting pain upon my child, knowing that it will ultimately be the best thing for her, I can’t help but wonder if God, our heavenly father, ever does that to his beloved children. Does God ever cause us pain or suffering, knowing that it will ultimately be for our own benefit?
I think about the age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I have long held to the belief that bad things happen in the world as a result of sin, and the works of the devil and his army of fallen angels. And while that is most certainly true, I have taken that belief to the ultimate conclusion that we ourselves (mankind collectively) are responsible for all the bad that happens to us. I concluded that God allows bad things to happen to us because in our free will we make bad decisions that have bad consequences. I concluded that he may even allow the devil or his minions to inflict pain and suffering on us. I think of Job as a primary example where God said to the devil, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (Job 1:12) and even later allowed even more suffering by saying, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” (Job 2:6). I always told myself to take comfort that even while God may allow bad things to happen to us that, “… in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). But while God allows these bad things to happen, he would never directly cause us to experience pain or suffering, would He? He can use bad things that happen to us for good purposes, but he would never directly cause them, would He? God could never be the source of pain or strife, could He?
Or could He?
If God knew that experiencing certain pain or suffering would ultimately be to our benefit, why wouldn’t he do it? If he knew that it would steer us away from sin, and into closer and deeper trust in Him, why wouldn’t he do it? If I, as an earthly father can see the benefit causing my child momentary pain now will ultimately help her with things like eating and talking, how much more would our Heavenly Father be willing to cause us pain if he knew it will ultimately lead us to eternal life?
The more I began to ponder this I realized that God does in fact inflict pain, turmoil, conflict and hardship on his children. When the nation of Israel had turned away from God and were leading lives of wickedness and debauchery, he actively sent them into exile. He didn’t simply allow the Babylonians to come and plunder Israel and carry them away as captives. No, He actively “rose up the Babylonians” (Habakkuk 1:5-6) and unleashed them upon His people Israel. He actively inflicted punishment and pain upon His people.
One could argue that this was done out of wrath, not love. One could argue that God was heaping judgment upon the people of Israel and that He was writing them off as failures. But that is not simply the case, as God spoke to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah while they were exiled in Babylon saying:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters … For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.” (Jeremiah 29:4-6,11-14)
God was not writing off Israel. He had not stopped loving them. He was not simply unleashing wrath upon them. He was giving them an epic wake-up call. He knew that if they persisted in their wickedness that, as a just God, He would have no choice but to cast them away. So he actively handed them over to Babylon to get them to see their sin and repent. He did it, fully intending to save them from the hands of their captors and bring them back into relationship with Him, which He did. He inflicted pain upon them, knowing it would ultimately be for their own good.
Just as God worked His discipline upon His children, Israel, God often times does the same for us. He may very well cause us pain for the purposes of discipline. After all, God says that, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
God’s ways are higher than our ways, and sometimes we don’t understand why we must be forced to endure some things that cause us so much pain. My baby girl doesn’t understand why her father would inflict pain upon her; she doesn’t understand that it will ultimately be better for her; right now she just knows that it hurts. Likewise, I don’t understand why my Heavenly Father would have us to go through such heartbreak deciding what to do for my daughter. I don’t understand and I question why she couldn’t have simply had a perfect tongue to begin with. I just know right now it breaks our hearts.
But just as my daughter will ultimately have to trust in me, I will have to trust my Heavenly Father. This will probably not be the hardest trial in my life, as a father or otherwise. I’m sure I will have plenty of pain before my time on this earth is done. But whether God is simply allowing the pain, or even actively causing the pain, I can rest confidently knowing that whatever God is doing, or not doing, is ultimately for my own good. Even if I don’t see the benefit until I am with Him in heaven. And then I know that everything will make sense, and I’m sure I will thank God for giving me pain.
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