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How my son’s illness made me ponder the meaning of suffering

Child crying on mom's shoulder

Anna Kraynova | Shutterstock

Cecilia Pigg - published on 06/20/23

When my son's high fever led to scary seizures, all turned out well. But the episode caused me to reflect on how Jesus faced suffering.

I felt powerless as I held my 10-month-old son and his body shuddered and convulsed. His unseeing eyes stared unfocused or darted around. It felt like time stopped, and all I could think to do was tell him I loved him and that he was doing a great job. I told him this won’t last forever.

I hoped that was true; but those couple of minutes definitely felt like forever. When his fists relaxed, and he came back to himself, I felt grateful and held him close. My Google searches reassured me that this seizure was almost certainly due to his fever, and that one febrile seizure, though scary, was common and nothing to worry about.

… the abruptness of both seizures, and seeing my little boy so helpless, really did a number on my heart.

When my son started convulsing again a few hours later, it was scarier. His face turned bluish, his nostrils flared, his fists clenched, and his eyes started rolling around. I again reassured him and told him how much I loved him. But the abruptness of both seizures, and seeing my little boy so helpless,really did a number on my heart.

Let’s skip to the reassuring ending before exploring that, however — all resolved well. My son’s fever finally broke a couple of days later. It turns out that two febrile seizures in a day can still be within the range of normal. The human body is truly amazing.

The lesson Jesus wants me to embrace

As I’ve reflected on this experience, I’m reminded of the lesson Jesus has tried to help me embrace for most of my adult life. My life is not my own. I am not the one in control of my life—or anyone else’s for that matter. I had a different plan for my vocation, a different plan for my fertility, a different plan for my working life.

Yet Jesus has shown me over and over again how inadequate, shortsighted, and fruitless my plans are in comparison to His. In every new curve on life’s path, I am learning to lean into Him more rather than relying on my handwritten directions.

Somewhere in the process of ignoring, listening, discerning, ignoring, praying, and slowly catching on, I am discovering fulfillment in the crosses and graces I receive daily.

I would not have chosen for my son to be feverish or have seizures. And I would not have planned for it to happen on our wedding anniversary — while out of state on vacation, to boot. But I also could not have imagined having this particular son, or this husband, or even being married at all!

Somewhere in the process of ignoring, listening, discerning, ignoring, praying, and slowly catching on, I am discovering fulfillment in the crosses and graces I receive daily.

Little moments can be the most decisive

Practically, that looks like a lot of “Jesus, I trust in You” prayers and reading authors who ae big on littleness, like St. Therese. It means looking back at my day each evening, finding where I leaned into what was in front of me — and where I failed and clung to what was easier or more comfortable.

Because it is not just in my children’s seizures, in discerning marriage, and in other big life moments that I have to learn to surrender. It’s also in those everyday moments where I want to live just for myself. When I want to ignore the needs of my boys and the house to read another chapter (or seven), or to click on another article (or 10). I am trying to notice the little ways I refuse to surrender so I can be more aware next time I have the choice.

How is it that in our littleness, our weakness, our self-sacrifice, and our suffering that we become better listeners and doers? That is the strange but compelling mystery that gives life to our faith. That is what Jesus did. Maybe one day if I can cultivate a humbler heart, the realization of this won’t seem so radical.

For now, thinking back on my son’s seizures, I force myself to look up at the cross. Jesus hung powerless, in obedience to the Father, and on behalf of all of us.

I don’t understand, but I want to accept.Thy will be done!

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