My son is nearing five months of age. He’s generally a really quiet baby; And so far, the things he cries about are truly cry-worthy from the viewpoint of a child under half a year with no understanding of object permanence: “Mommy and Daddy are gone, probably forever!” “I’m so hungry, and I’ll be hungry probably forever!” “My diaper is uncomfortable, probably…” you get the picture. Hearing him cry is heartbreaking; you can tell he’s just sure that it’ll never get better.
Thankfully, he doesn’t cry often (I have no delusions about my parenting skills, I know we lucked out). While I am waiting for the inevitability that he will one day become a Terrible Two, I have been enjoying “Reasons My Son Is Crying” immensely — partially because I know it’ll be harder to enjoy when it’s actually happening to me.
Still, the core concept of “Reasons My Son Is Crying” is “ah kids, their problems are so minor and silly”, and it’s been bugging me recently.
I’ll get to that in a second.
The Worst Failures of my Amateur Counseling Career
Ten years ago, when I was in college (around the time I became a Christian), I had a friend. We’ll call her “C.” One day C had a pretty bad breakup with her boyfriend, and I happened to be the closest friend at the time. I tried to comfort her with the standard stuff: “Plenty of fish in the sea,” “you’re awesome,” all that. She told me about how much the breakup hurt, and how it was making her rethink her faith in God. And…here’s where I went off the rails.
“You know, I have a friend whose mom died and girlfriend broke up with him all around the same time. He was in a wheelchair, too. And he never lost his faith.” That’s the gist. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I don’t even remember if it was true.
But what I do remember is how betrayed she felt. “I don’t care! This hurts me, and it hurts now. Why would you say something like that?” She had opened herself up to me, and I had tried to shame her back into faith. From the outside, I had perspective. Shouldn’t she be grateful for it? But our relationship was over. We never really talked much after that.
A couple of years later, in a similar situation, a different friend (“M”) confided in me about how much pain she was in because of a breakup, and how she didn’t know if she trusted God anymore. This time, I was on it. “Hey, let’s have a Bible study,” I said. Shaky ground already, but then I blew it. “It’s all joy, you know.” Boom. Another friendship over because I wouldn’t listen.
Looking back, if I could relive these moments, I would have done more listening and less putting my foot in my mouth. I would have sympathized more and talked less. I would have mourned with them, not tried to fix everything.
But in the heat of the moment, I would have put both C and M’s faces up on “Reasons My College Friend Is Crying.com”. Losing a significant other. Painful, to be sure. But count it all joy.
Squawk! Count it all joy! Count it all joy!
Our Christian culture likes to be a Joy Parrot. “Count it all joy, count it all joy,” it says as we struggle to lift ourselves out of the pit of our pain. Don’t be sad. Just smile. Sure you’re faking it, don’t worry. We all are.
But this isn’t correct Bible study. They pull the verse out of James 1:2; it isn’t even the whole verse, let alone the whole passage:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
This doesn’t sound like some fake plastered-on smile! Out of 60 words in 2 sentences, our culture has latched onto four without paying any attention to the other 56. James is writing to a church in extreme crisis; in Verse 1, he mentions that his recipients are “in the Dispersion.” They’re scattered far and wide, afraid for their lives. Christians are being persecuted and killed for sport. And it is these trials that James insists we count as joy.
Mourning the Small Stuff
But that doesn’t mean that anything short of a devouring by lions is unworthy of our time. For one thing, in the Beatitudes, Jesus Himself tells us that mourners are blessed; in John 11, He proves the importance of mourning when he arrives at his friend Lazarus’ house after his death, and weeps openly. Jesus allows and encourages a holy mourning in His people.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us a clue.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
This comes hot on the heels of a description—in verse 8—of what kinds of “afflictions” he’s talking about. “afflicted…perplexed…persecuted…struck down.” These seem anything but “light” and “momentary!” And so it’s crucial here to realize that it’s all a matter of proportions. The weight of glory is beyond all comparison, but if you could compare it to the afflictions you’re suffering now, even your weightiest, most painful, longest-lasting Earthly pain would be light and momentary. The joy is so great that these pains which help cause them are negligible.
My Son Is Not Crying Because of War or Famine
Which brings us back to “Reasons My Son Is Crying.” The silly and negligible problems kids have on a daily basis are so ridiculous in comparison to the real world, right? This seems to be the core humor of the kids on the site, especially when they’re upset about things like “He’s not allowed to put his hand in the toilet,” “I told him to put pants on,” or “He doesn’t want to put a coat on even though it’s 6 degrees outside and snowing.”
As adults, it’s clear that all of those things are bad ideas; they don’t know it yet, but the “light and momentary inconvenience of wearing a coat is preparing for him a day without frostbite or hypothermia.” Even when it’s not obvious, like “He cried because I came into the room and said ‘hi’ to him,” the crying will still pass eventually, and the son will realize that dad was professing His love by saying “hi.”
In the moment, that’s hard to see, whether you’re 5 months or 50 years old. I don’t want to dismiss my son’s pain just because I know there’s greater pain out there; God doesn’t, either. And someday, in the end, when He has healed all wounds, even the memory of this pain will be a source for our joy.
So embrace all of your afflictions, whether light or lighter. And remember that the small ones feel the way the big ones will one day seem to us. Embrace your mourning; it makes us more like Jesus.
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This post was edited for clarity and math on March 12, 2015.