Nicholas D. Wells, April 30, 2021
Imagine, if you will, a small boy. We’ll call him Tim. He is almost 4 years old with large brown eyes and a piece of hair that tends to stick up on the top of his head. He loves to play games and dig holes in the sandbox and chase the cat around the house. But apart from his mom and dad, what Tim loves most in this world is a small stuffed bunny rabbit that he has named Peter. Peter must be tucked into bed with Tim each night so that Tim can talk to him as he falls asleep. Peter often sits on the table next to Tim as he eats lunch and sometimes can be seen sticking out of a pocket when Tim is digging the aforementioned holes.
Maybe you had something like Peter when you were small; maybe your children have something like Peter right now.
But little boys lose track of things, and one day Peter goes missing. A few minutes of concern turn into hours of frantic searching, with Tim’s panic growing by the minute as he enlists family members to help. But all to no avail. Bedtime comes and Peter is still missing. Tim’s sister even suggests quietly that he might have fallen out of the car that afternoon when they drove to the park. Peter might be gone forever.
Tim is beside himself. How will he fall asleep? Who will he talk to? Sniffles turn into sobs as bedtime approaches.
Now please consider: How does Tim’s father react to this dreadful day in Tim’s life?
You can probably see it in your mind’s eye. Tim’s father looks diligently for Peter. When that fails, he tries to comfort Tim. That comfort takes several forms.
He reassures Tim: everyone will keep looking and Peter might still turn up. They can drive down to the park in the morning and look for Peter. He explains that he understands how sad Tim must be and how much he loves his rabbit. He might mention other stuffed animals in Tim’s room (for there are several) in the hope of turning Tim’s attention from the pain of losing Peter.
In the end, as the evening wears on and Peter does not appear and Tim’s sobs are more forlorn, Tim’s father simply picks up his little boy and holds him, rocking a little, rubbing his back, and saying “it’ll be alright” or such things as parents say. Tim quiets down some. After a few minutes, he chokes out a few words about his sorrow, which dad says he understands, and then, in due time, Tim falls asleep in his father’s arms.
But what is his father thinking as he watches Tim during this memorable evening?
Does he think Tim is foolish? Stupid? Immature? Of course not. He is a small child.
Why does Tim’s father not react in the same way that Tim did? Surely he knows from his experience in recent months how important Peter is to little Tim.
Because Tim’s father has the perspective of a man of 30. When he reassures Tim and when he offers ideas to help, it is with an understanding of things that Tim cannot duplicate, even if his father tried to explain his reasons. Tim’s father knows that Peter might still be found—the rabbit has been missing all of three hours. Tim’s father knows that a new stuffed rabbit can be had in a day or two, identical in all respects except the dirt from Tim’s small hands, which will soon be visible on a new rabbit. But—perhaps most interesting of all—Tim’s father knows that in time, the lost bunny rabbit will not matter very much to Tim. It might take a few days. It might take a few months. But Tim’s father is quite confident that in 15 years, the feelings that Tim has tonight will change dramatically. If Tim remembers the day at all, it will be with a smile and a shake of his head and a quiet comment about how much he loved that crazy rabbit. Tim’s father knows what lies ahead for Tim; that at the age of 18, or 30, the trials of a 4-year-old will have taken on a perspective that cannot really be explained to the 4-year-old.
At the same time, as Tim’s father holds his son, it would not surprise any who know him to see him shed a few tears with his little boy. Why would he cry, knowing what he knows and having his 30-year-old parent’s perspective? Simply because he is a parent. And his little boy, whom he loves more than his own life, is suffering terribly at that moment, and there is nothing that his father can do to remove the suffering except offer the comfort of saying “everything will be okay.”
And because that is all he can do, what Tim’s father wants most of all is simply that Tim, in the midst of his pain and his grief, will believe his father’s words, will trust that his father knows that really, truly, it will be okay, even if Tim cannot comprehend how this could be true.
Every parent has experienced a version of what I just described, probably dozens of times. It may be a lost toy, or a scraped knee, or a mean word from another child.
Now think of the above story and ponder this fact: As Tim is to Tim’s father, you are to God.
Please think about what that means.
You are suffering—or you will suffer—terrible trials. They may be physical, emotional, or mental. They may be caused by the actions of others or your own mistakes. They may be short or they may last for years. But just like Tim, you will feel tremendous pain. You may cry out that it isn’t fair, that it’s too much to bear.
Imagine, if you will, God trying to comfort you in these trials.
He might tell you that the trial will pass. Of course, He knows when it will end, and He could end it now, but He allows it to continue. He has his reasons. That is a subject for another time.
If He could, the most important thing He would do is simply to hold you and say, “Everything will be okay.” Just like Tim’s father, His perspective is such that He knows this is true. But from our vantage point, it seems utterly impossible.
Consider some of the trials we are called to pass through. Your child commits suicide. Your wife is dying of cancer. You are unemployed and about to declare bankruptcy. You are addicted to drugs. Or, perhaps it is something that no one else can even see: For years, you have been so filled with anxiety or depression or hopelessness that you struggle to get out of bed each day just to go to your miserable job before falling back into bed at day’s end.
Your first reaction is to ask, “How can this ever be okay?” “How could I ever come to a place where such suffering was not the most important thing in my life?”
The short answer is that I don’t know. But I know that God knows.
As with Tim’s father, what God most wants is that we trust Him, that we trust His perspective, His vantage point, His understanding of what lies ahead for us. That we believe when He says “Everything will be okay,” that indeed it will be okay and that in some future age when all tears are dried and all wrongs righted by the Master Healer, we will look back and, perhaps with a small smile and a shake of the head, say “That was a difficult time.”
The key is to understand that our experience here—even 100 years of experience—is fleeting. It is intended to be a training ground, a school. But our understanding of our entire existence here is less than the understanding of a four-year-old child sitting on the knee of his grandfather. Grandfather tells stories to teach the little ones, but they will not really understand what grandfather knows until they are grandparents themselves.
Yet also, as with Tim’s father, God weeps with us. Not because He is weighed down with the same sorrow as us, but because His child is hurting. And for whatever reason, the hurt is not going away immediately. His little one will learn in time that everything will be okay. The growth occurs, the perspective deepens, the child grows up. But for now, it hurts, and God knows that, and He loves us, and He weeps because of it.
In the meantime, all He can do, just like Tim’s father, is hope that we will believe Him and that we will come to Him for comfort, since He is really the only one who can say with any assurance–we might say, He the only one who can say with any authority–that everything really will be okay. Because only He can see with the perspective of eternity, can see the end from the beginning, can see us as we will be, ages and ages hence, looking back at the training ground of our youth; and so he can say to us now, in anticipation of that day, “Peace I Give Unto You.”