When our youngest daughter was six weeks old, she came down with what we thought was a severe cold. We took her to the doctor and he told us to take her immediately to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). Doctors told us RSV is easily treatable but that she had such a bad case she needed to be hospitalized.
Later that night as I stood next to the plastic bubble my daughter had been placed in, I asked the respiratory therapist giving her breathing treatments if RSV was deadly. “Tell me the truth,” I said.
“Honestly, her condition is serious,” she replied. “About twenty-five hundred children die from this each year. Rather than worrying, though, why don’t we let the medicine do its work and let God do the rest?” But for the next two nights, Lisa and I were beside ourselves with worry. I can honestly say I have never prayed as forcibly as I did during those forty-eight hours.
She survived. Soon after her hospitalization I visited a young mother in our church whose newborn son had been placed in pediatric critical care in a different hospital across town. Doctors believed her son had bacterial meningitis, a disease more threatening than RSV. Watching her baby through the same type of plastic bubble she had been in, the mother asked me, “Have you ever seen this part of the hospital?” I told her that we had been in a pediatric critical care unit not too long before with our own daughter. Then I said, “I believe this is the part of the hospital where God hangs out.” She looked at me and nodded, and then we stood there for the longest time without saying another word.
Our own suffering allows us to speak with credibility to other people in pain because we’ve been in their shoes. We’ve walked the road they’ve walked. When we talk, other broken people listen because what we say and what we do carries weight. I’m reminded of the words Rainer Rilke used to conclude a letter he sent to a struggling young poet he had taken under his wing:
If there is one thing more that I must say to you, it is this: Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.
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