“Mom, why did I have a brain injury?”

The dinner-table inquiry of my eight-year-old hit me like a ton of bricks. The heaviness wasn’t due to the novelty of the question but to its repetition. The ‘why’ has become a recurrent question for a child who is becoming increasingly aware of his differences. And the question is one that necessitates answers that come in deepening layers over the years.

My son knows that he has cerebral palsy. He knows it was caused by damage to his brain. And he knows a developmentally appropriate medical explanation for what happened in my pregnancy and his earliest days of life. Yet his question still remains: why?

The conversation around the dinner table labored on as my husband and I both grappled out loud, before our children, with what we know of the God in whom we profess faith. Of his sovereignty. Of His good purposes. Of the glory He can receive in all things.

Answering Hard Questions

Our ten-year-old, listening and processing from the seat to my left, interrupted, “…but why would God’s plan include something bad?”

It’s easier to talk about suffering and disability when it isn’t sitting right next to me. But it’s another thing to apply what I know to be true in the very present reality of pain, tears, weariness, and grief.

In that holy moment around the dinner table, the heart of what we could share with our three boys is that we really don’t know why God does all that He does. We don’t know why God has seen fit for life to include unending therapy appointments, specialist doctor visits, special education, surgery, orthotics, and the list could go on.

But we share what we DO know: the promises and purposes of suffering that He reveals to us in His Word. He hears us when we cry out to Him in our suffering. Suffering and disability are platforms for His glory to be revealed (John 9). Suffering produces endurance, character, and hope (Rom. 5:3). Current sufferings are not worth comparing with the coming glory (Rom. 8:18). Suffering allows us to identify with Christ (Phil. 3:10). Suffering produces dependence on God through prayer (James 5:13). Trials build in us steadfastness that leads to wisdom (James 1:2-5).

Even then, we ask ‘why?’ The question remains because God is God and we are not: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” (Rom. 11:33-34).

Scripture is replete with examples of pain and trial as necessary pathways to redemption and glory. But I tell our boys (and my own heart) regularly that the cross is the place where we see the pinnacle expression of this mysterious reality: that God can use that which is most terrible to accomplish that which is most beautiful. And our lives as God’s children in this fallen world are terribly beautiful.

A Shift from “Why?” to “Who?”

How do I get to this place? By shifting the question from “why?” to ”who?”

Am I trusting in a reason I could receive in response to ”why?”, or am I trusting in the Creator, whose riches and wisdom and knowledge are infinite and unsearchable? Is the promise of the presence of the King of the Universe enough for me? Only then can I bring the ”why?” and ”how long?” and “what if?” questions to Him and find my gaze shifted from my circumstances and very real pain to the Good Shepherd who restores my soul.

The psalmist writes, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2). Repeating the refrain of the psalmist reminds me of two things:

First, I must lift my eyes. My gaze is often affixed at eye-level, where circumstances take center stage and my eyes are a river of tears. He faithfully lifts my eyes with the gentle reminder that circumstances are ever-changing and will never prove to be “enough.” By His grace, I can focus less on the questions I am asking Him, and more on Who I am crying out to.

And secondly, I must believe God Himself is my help. True help and hope aren’t found in my finite understanding of suffering or in the temporary placation of difficult emotions. True help and hope are found in the person and presence of God—the majestic, uncreated One who is worthy of my trust.

Just as the Lord does this repeated work in my own heart, lifting my gaze and reminding me that He is my help, I pray that He’ll do the same in that of my children. By grace, my son and I can learn to lift our eyes together, learning to find joy in our Father, whether we find ourselves sitting around the dinner table or in a hospital room.

I anticipate the ”why?” question will continue to be asked. Because grief is cyclical, the next wave will crash in when a new season of life or a newly noticed implication of disability surfaces.

But I also anticipate that each time the wave crashes in, He’ll more and more impress upon each of us the pleasure and safety of His presence with and in us. I can lay down my need to be “strong” or have all the right answers by sitting at His feet and remembering that “[t]he Lord is [my] keeper” (Ps. 121:5). And He keeps His covenant children because He gave His one and only Son. The Lord endured the terribly beautiful cross, ensuring that His beloved children do not have to be alone in the terribly beautiful moments and seasons of this life. What an unbelievable reality! May we not miss the wondrous gift of His glorious presence.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is wife to Michael and mom to her 3 sons. They live in Madison, AL where they are members of Valley Presbyterian Church. Laura earned her master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy before staying home with her boys. She serves as Substitute Teaching Leader in her local BSF class and in various ministries within her local church. She loves baking, gardening, running, and spending time with her very energetic family.