“Thank you,” she said with quivering voice and lips.
It was 1983 and Alethea was about to enter the first grade. For some unknown reason the state of Kentucky required all children to have a blood test before entering the first grade, not a prick-your-finger blood test, a sure enough needle in the arm, draw out a vile full of blood test.
Before we left the apartment I had taken great care to prepare Alethea as best as I could for the realities that were coming. Quietly, I was pleading with God to let me be wrong about the test. When we entered the exam room, the nurse was kind enough to find out Alethea was left handed before she began. So I sat on her left side holding that hand while the nurse worked on her right arm.
Alethea was so brave, sitting erect with her head held high. Her lower lip quivered a little but she kept her cool. I on the other hand was a wreck. My stomach was tied in knots; my mouth was dry; and I had that car-sick feeling just trying to hold it together and be brave for her. My tension increased as I could see the nurse was unable to find the vein.
Finally, she shook her head and released the rubber hose with a snap. That’s when Alethea looked up at her tormentor and said, “Thank you.” She then looked at me and asked, “Is it over?” As I replied “no honey,” explaining they had to try the other arm, she burst into tears. She pulled herself together and sat perfectly still as the nurse proceeded. I wanted to grab her and run out the door, but I restrained myself and by the goodness of God the needle went straight into the vein.
I suspect Alethea has long forgotten that traumatic experience. I never will. Upon ever remembrance I relive that sickness and moral tension of contributing to my daughter’s anguish. It does not ease my discomfort to remind myself I was constrained by the law and my desire to be a good father. It doesn’t help me to argue it was for her good, nor that it had no lasting effect. What I know is that I continue to suffer discomfort for causing her a little pain twenty five years ago.
I suspect my ongoing discomfort has as much to do with my own sense of inadequacy to prevent the event as it has to do with her pain. Memories can remind us of who we really are while dreams on the other hand too often serve to delude us into fantasies of being who we wish we were.
This account of paternal suffering also reminds me of our heavenly Father. He too knows the anguish of participating in the suffering of his child. He chose to do the right thing rather than opting for the easy way out. However, His suffering is infinitely greater than my own. He was not inadequate. He could have prevented his son’s pain. Instead, He chose with His Son to enter into all of our sufferings and suffer with us. Beyond that He invites us to enter into the suffering of His Son by entering into the suffering of others.
Theologically, I am an Armenian; I am not a Calvinist. We have free will to choose and God responds to our choices. But I do believe God is sovereign and all powerful. Having committed my life fully to Him I must trust He leads me wherever I go. The path He chooses for me is littered with suffering, yet I believe it all works together for my good (Romans 8:28).
All of us know what it is to suffer. Followers of Christ should especially know this. The question is how will we respond to God and others when we suffer? Will we have the grace in the presence of our tormentors to look upward and say “thank you?’
[By the way, Alethea is now a pediatrician.]
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:16-22 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
1 Corinthians 12:18-27 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.
Philippians 1:27-30 27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents-- which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
2 Timothy 1:8-12 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
1 Peter 3:14-17 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.