Struggle produces strength.
This is what Connor's physical therapist said to me one day years ago as she worked him over. "Lots of parents don't understand that it's the struggle that's important, that's what build the necessary strength. But, it's really hard to watch someone struggle. Especially when it's your kid."
It's been my mantra ever since.
Struggle produces strength. In her book, Rising Strong Brené Brown says, "you're imperfect, you're wired for struggle, but you're still worthy of love and belonging."
We've been weaning Connor off his arthritis meds, he's been in medicated remission for a year now and we felt like it was time. But this last month, he's been hurting and swollen in his hands, arms, knees, feet. I knew, we both knew, it meant getting back on the immunosuppressants. We saw his rheumatologist yesterday, she's a kind woman in her 40s who wears a messy pigtail and wrinkled pants. She's unkempt in a way that reassures me she's focused on her work, which is my son's well-being.
I told everyone I was fine with the news that he was back on meds. And I was, I still am.
But, then when it all stops, the kids finally tucked in and sleeping, Caleb's chest is rising and falling beside me in the dim light, this is when I struggle. Why this? Why him? Why haven't you healed him, God? I've asked, I've commanded. Why?
Why is the wrong question to ask. It's like a spoiled toddler at bedtime, no, you can't have cake, it's time for bed.
I read the story of Jacob wrestling God to the boys for Bible back in the fall. This is a story that always makes me pause. I didn't understand why Jacob wrestled with God, won, was given a limp, and then was blessed.
Now I think I understand a little.
Wrestling--which is the root word of "struggle"--is important and necessary when relating to God.
I tossed and turned all night, wrestling with the fact that Connor isn't healed, that I can't control this. I couldn't even really pray in the small, quiet way I like to because this raw, rough, primal feeling was inside me, demanding, demanding, demanding this miracle.
In the morning I got up early to run and I still hadn't won, I still hadn't released it. I still couldn't pray or think clearly, really.
Then I remembered that the struggle is what produces strength.
Eugene Peterson translates the word "patience" in the litany of new clothes Christians are supposed to wear in Colossians 3:13 as "quiet strength"--that was today's mantra, quiet strength.
Wrestling, grappling, is important in the way of knowing things--it's really how we acquire knowledge, understanding. Pushing through a really difficult task toward a bigger project, working to understand a huge idea. It's how we learn and grow.
I didn't really know Caleb until our first big fight after we were married. I learn so much about my children, watching them struggle through the lessons in their weaker subjects.
In wrestling with God, I got to know him a little bit better. I got to know myself a lot better. I don't claim to know him terribly well. Though I've known him all my life, yet I feel barely acquainted with him.
Here's what it is: I didn't set the stars in motion, I didn't set the planets swirling, I don't know how gravity works, I can't make Connor's disease go away.
I can only know God and trust that he will take care of it all, put it all together, when the time is right, which will not be when I want it to be.
Wrestling, here, led to surrender. And then sadness and resolve and just the same small prayer: you're big and I'm so so small. I can't fix this. I want to desperately but I can't. I don't know why you haven't, but I know you're there and you love us. I won't even ask why.
In George MacDonald's classic story The Princess and The Goblin, the brave little princess calls her father King-papa. And as ridiculous as it is, I've never felt comfortable with the name God when I pray, and I pray like a spoiled child, but I think he's ok with that. This morning, after hours of wrestling, I found myself addressing him as King-papa. I think that fits, that's what he is: far off and strong sometimes, near and tender others. Always loving and faithful.
My best prayers are the honest, brutal ones. Ones where I'm cussing, it hurts so bad. Or ones where I'm silent because there's nothing left to say.
That's where King-papa left me this morning: silent, expectant, surrendered, walking with a limp.
I don't understand how prayer works, really. I just know that the struggle/surrender cycle is a familiar one to me. It's not particularly comfortable, but it gets me to a place where I'm no longer only thinking of myself, in fact, I usually end up thinking about him. Calling him some not-Bible name, feeling inexplicably private and cozy and loved. Like an ornery toddler who's been denied cake and put firmly to bed and fed a nutrious breakfast the next morning. I'm bright-eyed and curious and feel loved and safe.
But the tantrum, the struggle, the wrestling, the prayer, was central, was integral to getting to surrender.
And I'll have to do it again, and again, and again, and again. Circling ever upwards, downwards, I don't know, just onwards toward Christ who is all and is in all.
Struggle produces strength.
I'm learning to embrace it.