My husband and I love holidays! He loves to check out hotels online, make bookings and plan every tiny detail. However, with two kids in the past three years, most of our holidays and finances have been spent on pregnancy and baby related travel, and on visiting family. So this year, we were really excited about the annual family retreat that my husband’s office holds. This is a time where the employees of this organisation, along with their family members, get together for a few days in a beautiful location.
It involves fun and relaxation, meeting old friends and making some new ones, a time of spiritual reflection and learning, and thanksgiving for the work they do and for their families. We were waiting eagerly for this time and thought it would be a great break. Our two year old loved the kids’ session the previous year and our six month old is content as long as someone is in her visual range.
As the time for the retreat approached, my two year old caught a cold. This didn’t dampen my spirit. I was determined to make this little break work and to have a good time. I told myself that since the kids’ sessions were to be taken by close friends who our kids were comfortable with, there wasn’t much to worry about. In my mind, it was perfect!
The morning of the trip, we woke up at 4 am to catch the train and we were an excited bunch. However, as the train journey began, our two year old began to get cranky and stuck to us like glue. She refused to talk to anyone except for a chirpy six year old who befriended her. The rest of the journey and the day that followed only got worse. She was not the friendly, happy girl that she generally is, but instead was unhappy, grumpy and refused to listen.
We had two exhausted little kids and as soon as we could, we rushed to the room to get the kids to sleep. The swimming pool and recreational stuff was out of the question! By the first evening I looked at my husband and asked him jokingly, “Is this what holidaying with kids looks like?” We laughed at the thought even as our heads throbbed in pain and we longed for rest. At some point, I am ashamed to admit that I even wondered why she had to be ill at just the wrong time (our six month old also fell ill a day later) and how unfair it was that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the retreat.
This past year, at least one of us has been ill every time we’ve had to travel and the trips have always turned out so stressful and exhausting. I was tired at the thought of 3 days there with illness following us again! To be fair to the girls, they are generally easy, cheerful and adjusting, but when they are ill, I’m swinging between being super calm and super stressed to the point where I get overwhelmed and withdraw into my shell.
That evening, the speaker shared a thought that stayed with me. He asked us what we consider to be a normal day. He mentioned how we think a day devoid of pain, suffering or accidents is a normal day. Though we may not admit it openly, we somehow expect that, as children of God, we deserve to have pain free and struggle free lives, at least as compared to others around.
He reminded us that for most people in this world, pain in different forms is an inseparable element of their normal day. In a world which bears the marks of the curse due to the fall, pain, injustice, suffering and cheating are just a ‘normal’ part of life. God in His perfect wisdom, grace, love and goodness keeps us from these some days and gives us days and seasons when he allows us to go through these, for our good. He also reminded us that Jesus, in His suffering, identified with us and that we, in turn, through our sufferings identify with those who suffer and can learn to serve and love better through those experiences.
I realise that I only have two reactions to pain and difficult times – I run away from it or am overwhelmed by it. God’s word tells me not to let any trouble overwhelm me for Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). Jesus promises His peace that passes understanding, His presence at all times and His grace in all circumstances. Romans 5:3-4 says that suffering produces perseverance, character and hope. James 1:3-4 reminds us that perseverance through trials leads to maturity. I become more like Christ as I lean on Him and submit to Him in all situations. It is in my weaknesses that His strength shines through. If suffering can make me more like Christ and help me grow closer to Him, why do I resist it so much? If I worship the One who has overcome all things, even death, why do I get overwhelmed?
On reflection, I recognise that tough moments have shown me the sinfulness of my heart and my daily need for His grace. Parenting, with its joys and struggles, has helped me get a glimpse at what ‘selfless love’ is. I am forced to sometimes choose what is best for my girls even if it may inconvenience me. I am able to understand God’s unconditional love for me a little more as I experience times when I struggle to love even those closest to my heart.
That night, my husband and I spent time just thanking God for everything we have been taking for granted as a ‘normal’ part of our life, starting from our family, acknowledging that all we have and enjoy is only because of God’s grace. It has also been my prayer that I may learn to be thankful even in times of difficulty, pain and suffering, which is part of the normal. I need to trust that He who is infinitely wise and infinitely good knows what is best for me, and that I can have peace and joy in the midst of tough times knowing my life is in His hands.
I look back at the retreat with a heart of gratitude. The days were filled with disciplining, free times devoted to giving the kids medicines, cleaning up vomit or making them sleep, and a lot of crying and whining. But through it all, we enjoyed the community of God’s people caring for us and our kids, times of fun and laughter, and thought provoking sessions. I was awed by the majesty of God’s creation when we went for an early morning drive - the beauty of the starlit sky, the glorious sunrise, the beautiful little streams, the feel of the cold breeze on our faces, and the tall trees! It wasn’t the ‘perfect’ trip I had in mind, but it was a definitely more than that, for I saw God’s glory though creation and through a loving community.
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