This morning a friend and I were reflecting on how the older one gets (we're both in our thirties) the more one realizes the many different seasons and phases of life that one goes through. From an infant totally dependent on one's parents - through growing independence as a child and young adult - to the interdependence of marriage and family - then sometimes to taking on one's parents as dependents.
Holly and I experienced the absolute dependence of our own children acutely this week. Most of the time we roll along pretty well with the normal ups and downs of having three kids under five. But on Tuesday Holly got very sick with a stomach bug. I went home to help her for the afternoon and by 5:00 PM I had it too! It was pretty miserable in our household that day with Holly sick on the couch, me sick in the bed, and two babies needing to be cared for! By 2:00 AM, our oldest son had it. Thankfully, we were moving out of the worst of it, but the night was anything but restful with one kid throwing up and another needing to be fed three hours later. My appreciation for both my wife (who carried more of the load than I did) and my Mom increased - again! (I never thought about Mom's sacrifices while I was growing up - I just took it for granted that she was there to take care of me!)
Someday, Lord willing, our children will be raised and we'll enjoy a brief stint as empty nesters and then grandparents. But eventually, our parents may need care from us. I didn't think about this much in my twenties. I think it about it a little more now - especially as Holly and I see our parents giving more care to their aging parents. (And both sets of our parents are great models in this regard.)
Anyway, this morning I was thinking about how so much of life's suffering involves our relationships. Acute physical pain is one form of suffering. But there is another kind of suffering - more emotional in nature - that comes with the responsibility of caring for those who are dependent on us. Especially when they are dependent on us even while we are suffering.
This suffering in the nexus of relationships reminds us that our world is fallen and in need of redemption. And it teaches us to love others. So, there is both pain and joy in these suffering relationships. Pain in the sickness, the aging, and sometimes the around-the-clock care demanded of us - but joy in the love that suffering together builds.
It was really awful being so sick this week, with Holly sick too and the kids still needing care. I would rather live in a world where people never got stomach bugs! That part of the week was a reminder of the Fall. But in another way the experience brought its own joy. By the time we got through it, I felt closer to Holly - like we had weathered a storm together (however small it may seem - I realize that a stomach bug is small pototoes compared to the almost unbearable suffering of others). I appreciated her more, appreciated my own parents more, and appreciated my children more. Love was strengthened by the fact that we had endured the sickness together - having to give and sacrifice for one another even as we "suffered."