I felt them in my wife’s tummy before they even entered the world. I knew them when they needed us for everything. I feel towards them a protective instinct that even I don’t always understand. It’s an absolutely right and an inherent desire that I do not want my children to suffer. Something would be wrong if I was ambivalent about it; but I equally believe it’s naïve to think that my children will not suffer in this earthly life.
I wrote this poem knowing that particular desire and longing, and, at the same time, wrestling with the utterly compelling narrative of 1 Peter 1:3–9 that, under God, suffering has a purpose. Peter speaks of rejoicing at the inheritance kept for us in heaven, even as we experience ‘little while’ trials.
It is by far the better thing for my children to know that, when they face suffering, they are free to accept it under the will of their Lord, because Christ himself has won for them an eternal glory, compared to which the outward troubles of this life can be considered light and momentary. Rather than misguidedly trusting that their earthly father will be an ever-present, unfailing protector for all of life’s circumstances, my children can know their loving, heavenly Father, described in Psalm 139.
Through skin and flesh I detected each baby moving within. God had already seen their unformed substance; he saw when they were made in the secret place, when they were woven together in the depths of the earth. Struggling for insight, I find myself trying as best I can to understand my children’s needs. God knows their words, before they are on their tongues. I attempt to offer my children care and protection whilst daily battling my own self-doubts. God himself has hemmed them in, behind and before, and laid his hands upon them. As they get older, I increasingly find I am not even in the same place as my children.
There is nowhere they can go where God is not.
As we wait for our inheritance, I ask God to give me a sincere love for each of my children, joyful, patient, faithful in prayer. Rejoicing with them when they rejoice. Mourning with them when they mourn. Like Peter, I want to remind them always that in Christ they have everything they need, for this life and for the life to come.
Should you be wondering, the apple trees and the churchyard wall can be found at St Aidan’s parish church, Thorneyburn, a remote spot in Northumberland, in the far north of England.
The swing isn’t there anymore. That’s okay.
Little While Trials
Between apple trees and church yard wall, a simple wooden slat suspended, hung by faded red blue rope. Push, and watch you gently turn.
All the while you question me: Why are bad things there? Why do nettles grow? Why does God let people die?
Too young yet to understand. Each push brings a cry inside. Child, I do not know why. I bring questions too: Child, what will it do to you? What hand to hold fast? Will you be held, child, by grief, by time, by vanity; dissatisfied, lost? Get you behind her Satan!
Yet my spirit knows a deepness still to which I dare not commit.
The irrepressible desire of my flesh heart is for your immunity, forever safe from nettle stings, turning on this gentle swing.
Spirit! Intercede for me and ask: in grief this child will yet rejoice. That she will receive her Lord, who heard her questioning me, who brings to my feeble heresy suffering so scarring, so complete that though in sorrow no answer comes, her salvation does endure.
Child, may your lips bring praise. Child may you overcome the obstacles I put in your way.