Leukemia? Brain Tumor? Drug Overdose? Autism? Kidney Failure?
Never, Ever, Did God
Choose You or Your Child
My God! God Is Not That Mean
Some of the most evil, misguided words about parenting are making the rounds again. When I recently saw them on Facebook, I had to stuff my hands in my pockets to quell the urge to pound the keys and type my anger and dismay. Why did I stifle that urge? I am and continue to be stunned and angry, but I saw that people get some sort of perverse comfort from this garbage. Last week, the noxious thing had 125 Likes and 31 people had shared it.
What is this vile prose making its rounds of the Web? It’s a pseudo-inspirational poem that tells parents of chronically or terminally ill, disabled, and challenged children how special they are and that God chose them.
The first time I saw a version of this God-chose-you nonsense was in 1985 on the living room wall at the Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville, Florida. Titled “Heaven’s Very Special Child,” it advises parents of disabled children that God chose them. It adds that He put quite a lot of effort into doing so because of the profound privilege to receive such a gift. I shook my head in disbelief that anyone could write such drivel and also that anyone was cruel enough to put it in plain view of the parents it was supposed to—but certainly does not—celebrate.
Parents and family members stay at the Ronald McDonald House because a child has a major illness—heart abnormalities, major organ failures, cancer, diseases that defy diagnosis, severe birth defects. Their child may have been in an accident so serious that life-saving techniques available only in a university hospital setting are necessary to keep that child alive. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House because my child, Alexa, had brain cancer.
Most of the time we stayed at RM House, I was exhausted, filled with dread, fearful, unable to eat or sleep, and emotionally, physically, and psychologically overwrought. I did not feel “special.” Reading that plaque and its message that God “chose” me only increased my anguish. I wanted to scream out loud, climb on a chair, remove the plaque from the wall, and throw it in the trash, where I thought it belonged. I still believe such drivel belongs in the trash. I’m shocked that it is doled out to heartbroken parents like it’s some sort of balm for their wounds.
Another negative aspect of such dreck is that it purports that mothers/parents of children who have life-threatening illnesses or physical/mental/developmental challenges are chosen for certain reasons. Flowery phrases extol their special strength and wisdom, and that they’re unselfish (or just selfish enough as one of them states), or that they are among the few capable of great faith, and worse, great love, the greatest love, because it’s “supposed” to be more difficult to love a child that’s sick or is challenged.
Let’s be clear about love: Mothers, fathers, and other guardians and caregivers do not need to be faced with the death of their child, or their child’s suffering and great need of hands-on care—whether it be for days, months, years, or a lifetime—to have the greatest, most supreme love for their child. I did not, do not love Alexa more than I love my other children. No special strength, challenge, or blessing from God was or is necessary to love all my children. That is what parents do: They love their children. It’s that love that moves us, unawares, to do all that we can for our children, from birth, because special needs, illness, or challenges aside, the human infant must have such intense care to survive. We provide that care and that love because it springs forth from our basic human instincts to care for, love, and nurture our children. It is one of the greatest human callings.
It mocks and disparages all parental love to say that calling to love our children morphs somehow into a different, higher love when faced with adversity.
I don’t say or even hint that it’s easy to care for a child who has a serious illness (or any other of the conditions I’ve mentioned). It isn’t. But just like when your baby is a newborn and it cries during the night, you get up and feed the baby. When your child requires that you sit beside them for hours and mop up vomit while chemo drips through their veins in an effort to save their life, you mop up the vomit—that is, “you get up and feed the baby.” When your child needs to go to the doctor for a checkup, you take your child to the doctor. When your child needs to go to a teaching hospital for brain surgery, you take your child to that hospital.
Would I and the thousands of other parents who have shared experiences similar to mine prefer to simply go to the doctor? Absolutely. But in certain situations, you have no choice. It’s part of the love, it’s part of being a parent. You don’t rise to the challenge because God has gifted you with a special child. You rise to the challenge because you love your child.
And anyway, what kind of a God sits up on a throne in the clouds and decides which child will be “special,” as noted in this disjointed prose? It’s abhorrent to describe, much less believe, that God scans the Earth and then decides which parent will conceive a child that has a disability or illness or accident. God would decide a child will have cancer? God would decide a child will have heart defects? God would decide a child will be maimed in an accident? God would decide a child will have autism? God would decide a child will become drug addicted? The idea that a supreme being and creator, one who loves us, would do such things is despicable. If God chose me to be the parent of a child who would have brain cancer and die of that disease, then I don’t choose that particular God.
My God! My God doesn’t operate like that. My God doesn’t micromanage the lives of people on Earth. My God doesn’t micromanage DNA. My God doesn’t manipulate a toddler’s blood cells and tweak them so that child gets leukemia. My God doesn’t micromanage the chambers in a teenager’s heart so that one is faulty and that child either gets a transplant or dies.
My God! Where do people come up with such garbage?
Of course, we ask why: Why my child? Why me? I have asked why a thousand times and counting. Why? And you know what? I don’t get many satisfying answers. Life has too many mysteries for me to fathom. I can’t figure out why a cell goes haywire and starts reproducing because some awful switch in a child’s body chemistry has jumped to on, producing rogue cells. I can surmise that the environment and what we’ve done to it are part of those answers. I also know that some things are just random. No answers are available. I know that I just have to live with that.
What I do know is that God doesn’t have much to do with child illness, disabilities, challenges. What I do know is that God did not choose me or any other parent to be the parent of a “special child.”
So where is God in this? Sometimes, I admit, that it’s hard to find God. Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, often says a variation of, “God, would it be so much skin off your nose to _______________?” Fill in the blank with whatever you think God should do. I’ve tried it, and God doesn’t always pay attention to my queries.
What God does is provide a source of courage when facing the nightmare of a diagnosis. What God does is provide a sense of calm when I want to do nothing more than scream. What God does is provide a sense of peace when everything and everyone around me seem to be at war. What God does is bless my efforts when I try to walk with courage and grace in spite of anguish and loss. I believe God does this for all parents.
I’m not a theologian. I’m not a pastor. I’m not even very well educated in the Bible. I do know that the parts about Jesus focus on love, not on blame, not on judgment, not on choosing which child will be sick and which parent will become a caregiver or a mourner. I prefer that God—the one that tells me to love and to keep loving in spite of the things that crush me, in spite of the things that try my patience, in spite of the things that leave me with only the tiniest shred of energy, in spite of the things that anger me. I grudgingly admit that those stupid poems bring comfort to some people, but it’s a false comfort. It also gives God and the angels a really bad rap. They aren’t picking and choosing special parents and special children. That’s too dark to imagine. What God does is provide light and a way to walk the path I took as a parent and the one I continue to take as a parent. I don’t walk that path because I was chosen. I walk that path because I love my children.