“God sends burdens, and shoulders, too.”

— Isaac Bashevis Singer

Last week I had a conversation with a young man — a very fine young man who is loving and kind and generous and many other incredible things.  Another word that describes him is “angry.”  We all have reasons to be upset from time to time, and we all get angry now and then; but this good and kind young man has a very big reason to be angry.  His sweet little daughter, born prematurely with some differences, has spent her short life so far in and out of hospitals, going from doctor to doctor and clinic to clinic, with no assurance that there will be an end in sight.  Because this young father is all of the amazing things that he is, he is able to offer his child a wonderful life — a normal childhood under extraordinary circumstances, that he and his wife have created for their little girl.  Still, he is angry.  He is angry that nothing he can do will change the reality of his daughter’s life; and he wants to know why.  Why would God allow his child to be born into a life of hardships?   Why would he allow her to suffer through all these treatments that seem to have no end?  Why would a God who is known for his ability to do miraculous things miss out on the chance to grant just one more miracle to the child he loves so dearly?

As one who has buried a child long before his life had really begun, I can understand that anger.  If I allow myself to return to the memories of my time of loss, I can feel the burning rage that nearly consumed me.  It is real and it is painful and there are no words anyone can say that can soothe the pain.  There is a special sort of pain that a parent feels when there is no choice but to watch the suffering of a beloved child.

I chose the words of Isaac Bashevis Singer today, because they are precisely the sort of words that turned my anger to rage and unleashed torrents of tears, even though I knew people were only trying to help.  “God sends burdens.”  What does this mean?  Does it mean that God looked down at the moment a beautiful child was being formed and said, “I’m going to let this one slip through Quality Control?”  Does this mean that God singles people out for misery, just to test them in some way?  I don’t think I want to know that sort of god.

I struggled with these sorts of questions at the time my son died.  Please understand that the opinions I will share next were not gained in some magical sort of moment when I rose above my grief and became super-human.  They took years to reconcile; and I hold out hope that my young friend will also find his way to some sort of peace as he questions his way  through the days that lie ahead.

“And shoulders, too.”  Now we are moving closer to the truth I have come to embrace.  I do not believe that the One who created each of us would single out any person he loved into being and afflict them with pain and suffering.  I do believe that the universe operates in an orderly fashion and that the One who created it does not alter the order of Creation just to spare one person pain and suffering.  Being alive means living under the rules of order that keep the universe working smoothly.  As soon as I say that, all sorts of examples come to my mind that deny any order at all in our world — polluted air and water, wars, hatred, poverty; and then I realize that these are man-made problems, not things created by God.  We have altered our world  in ways that even we do not understand; and sometimes things go wrong.  When a car and a child reached the same point at the same time, due to human choices and error,  the car survived and the child did not.  When cells divide to produce a beautiful little girl and some of them come together in very different ways, we want to blame God for failing to create her in a perfect way; simply because we blame the inexplicable things on the One whose shoulders are broad enough to carry our anguish.

What I hope my young friend will discover is that God does miracles all the time; and that allowing a beautiful, but different, child to be born to two parents who see past her differences and treasure her soul, was the start of a whole string of miracles that will define her life — and his as well.  We are born with limitless potential.  Our Creator wants the best of each person he loves into being; but most of us use only a tiny fraction of the potential that lies within us.  It is only when we are faced with great adversity and filled with great love that we discover how deep the well truly is.  We all are walking miracles; but only a blessed few will discover this truth — and often it is discovered in the triumph over darkness and sadness and anger that comes our way.

To my dear young man I will say that his miracle is visible to everyone around him.  The anger will rise from time to time.  The struggles will come and go.  But what is miraculous is the gentle way that his little girl’s life is unfolding, surrounded by the miracle of Love that sees beyond all the pain, beyond all the questions, beyond all the anger, and fills her life with joy.  Young man, you are a walking miracle.  God did not reach out with his mighty finger and touch your sweet child with sorrow and affliction.  Rather, he saw that she would need incredible parents and touched the depths of love in her mother and father and called forth the miracle she would need to live life as a whole and beautiful person.

It’s not about burdens and shoulders.  It’s about unlimited potential and true created beauty.