Personal Update, Theology

Dew Drops in the Ravine of Suffering

Finding the love of Christ deep within the ravine of suffering is an experience reserved for all who are truly Christian. Although I’ve both acknowledged and preached this truth for many years, every time the Lord determines to walk me through a valley, I’m humbled and renewed in my understanding of why suffering is a powerful instrument in the hands of God to disciple his children. 

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. - Psalm 119:71

For the last couple of months, my greatest joys have been mingled with intense trials. After four years of praying and waiting upon the Lord, he answered our prayers by blessing my wife and I with a child. That’s right folks, I’m Daddy Michael Teddy now, and my wife and I are glad to introduce Ethan Michael Teddy, born on the 27th of December, two days after Christmas.

A lot has transpired in these past few days, but writing them all down here would break the reasonable size limit for a blog post. So let me try and summarise as best as I can. 

The 9 months of pregnancy had been a bliss, medically. Every scan, and every test gave excellent reports and it was smooth sailing for the most part. Even Cinu’s cravings were at a minimum and she didn’t even vomit once. With all the symptoms and expectations we’d prepared ourselves for, life seemed to go on as normally as it possibly could. And naturally, we never expected anything to go wrong.

But what should have been a normal delivery ended up being a C-section when the baby went into distress. We were met by the doctor who was rushing to inform us that she had called for an emergency C-section because the baby wouldn’t come out and his heart rate was dropping. We got to see Cinu for a brief second where we encouraged her through tears and off they took her to the operation theatre. Our hearts sank, and our prayers intensified. 15 minutes later, Ethan was born, fully healthy and I was allowed to see him for the first time (all 2.8kg of him), and he was beautiful. The procedure had gone well and both the mother and baby were shifted to the room that evening. We went in with so much confidence, expecting a normal delivery, and came out on the other side saddened and confused about all that Cinu had to endure in those few days. Our stay at the hospital was prolonged for four more days and Cinu had a lot of unplanned recovery ahead of her. 

Then, Ethan developed jaundice and needed phototherapy. He struggled to gain weight for the first few days. Soon enough, he developed a puss discharge from his eyes and needed antibiotics. Not much later, when his umbilical cord fell off, his belly button wouldn’t heal well, and he needed Vitamin K injections. A few weeks in, Ethan developed fever and we were back at the hospital, where the doctors diagnosed him with urinary infection, and we found ourselves admitted for a week. They administered IV antibiotics, and on the second day, Ethan started vomiting his feeds. They then moved him to the NICU, and a barrage of tests ensued. He got better in a couple of days and they shifted him back to the room. In fact, we celebrated Ethan’s first monthversary (yes that’s now actually a word according to google) at the hospital. After an intense time of going up and down from the NICU and our room, we were finally discharged. A month later, we were asked to do an MCU scan which would check if he had any urine back-flow (where some of the urine flows back into the kidneys). I pretty much had to pin him down while they inserted a catheter and injected a dye so that they could capture the contrast images of his urine flow. After a 30 minute struggle with him crying and me pinning him down and trying to pacify him at the same time, he finally peed and the doctor messed up while taking those contrast images. His tube came off, and they had to do the whole procedure again. This time they got it right, and results were negative. He didn’t have any urine back-flow issues.

So, as you can see, it has been an eventful two months, mingled with great joys and intense trials. Adjusting into motherhood and fatherhood is hard work as it is without these challenges, and now, it all seemed too overwhelming. There were several of those moments when I pondered the question ‘why me?’ or ‘why us?’. Though we can take no pride or defence in our own righteousness, I wondered why God had allowed these challenges even though we love and serve him, when we know of many who reject God and have it all go right for them. I could relate with the cry of Asaph in Psalm 73

Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
- Psalm 73:13-15

As intense as some of those moments were, I knew I did not stand in that place from which the rich man cried out to Abraham for a drop of water to ease his pain. In the ravine of suffering, I had plenty of dew drops – precious hope and invaluable lessons. Now, I am well aware that what we went through with Ethan pales in comparison to what many of our fellow Christians have suffered. However, even in this small measure of suffering, I could see what the martyrs would speak about – Christ’s dew drops in the ravine of suffering. 

Here are five important lessons I’ve learned through this experience, and believe me when I say that these five are but a sample of the kind of treasures you will find when God walks you through these valleys.

  • God is good all the time
    We must never set our hope on things as transient as our experiences, nor must we discern truth from them. We are all emotional beings, and our thoughts are biased, and there have been enough reasons in this time period for me to question the goodness of God, to doubt his faithfulness. Yet, I’ve learnt that my hope is not in my feelings, but in God’s word. We must always let the Bible dictate what we believe because his word is true, living and unchanging. Through the many wonderful encouragements of Christian brothers and sisters, God carried us through, and let his truth interpret our experiences and not the other way around.

    His word is a treasure-trove of dew drops in the heat of panic and the loom of anxiety. The Psalms, the promises, the truth, Romans 8:28, all of it. His word is definitive. God is good all the time, not some of the time, but all the time.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose - Romans 8:28
  • Casting our burdens on him requires practice
    We all know how to sing, “Cast your burdens unto Jesus for He cares for you”. But this truth ought not to be something we merely acknowledge, rather, it has to be something that we strive to uphold when things go wrong. How? By training. 

    When we go through suffering, handing over our worries and sorrows to God is not an easy thing if we’ve never been trained to do that in times of ease. The Christian is called to live a life of perpetual casting off of his worries at the feet of the Lord. Just like a soldier prepares himself for war, and an athlete for his race, we too as Christians must be prepared to withstand the test of our faith. For just as war maketh true soldiers, and the race establishes an athlete, the test of our faith completes the Christian. 
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. - James 1:2-4
  • The role of tears in prayer.
    For some, tears are strange, unwarranted or even mawkishly sentimental. But tears have a place in the Christian life that is unavoidable. In fact, Jesus told us that blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Tears are an appropriate response to suffering, and the only reason why tears are bittersweet to the Christian is the assurance he has in the promise of comfort. As hunger improves the satisfaction in a good meal, and thirst intensifies the pleasure of a drink, so do tears deepen our experience of being comforted in Christ.

    Through it all, I recalled how my tears are being watched by God, and so I let him see them as I rested on the promise of his rescue.
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
- Psalm 56:8
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
- Revelation 21:4
  • Our children belong to the Lord before they belongs to us.
    The Bible never minces words when it comes to the role and purpose of children. They are a blessing from the Lord. Period. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:4-5). If you were about to step into a battlefield with a bow and some arrows, how many arrows would you prefer to have in your quiver? I would assume, as much as it could hold. In the world we live in today, children are a burden, an appendage that needs to be carefully considered, as to when we must add them and by how much. When I see this kind of thinking, one which I myself was prone to a few years back, where people prefer to wait a year or two, to get a better grip on something or the other before they have kids, I wonder why people behave as though children are a curse and not a blessing. 

    On the other hand, when those babies finally come, the world falls upside down, and it seems like even the sun, moon and stars revolve around the baby. Even we Christians, either disregard or deify the value of children. 

    I have realised that children are a blessing from the Lord, for the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:16). As parents, we are given the great privilege of raising them, not merely how we see fit, but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). We are called to raise a generation from God, for God, that they would walk in his ways, build His Kingdom, bless His church, and glorify His Name. 

    All of these realities balance our approach to children, when we ultimately realise that they belong to Jesus before they belong to us.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
- Psalm 127:3-5
  • Pride stains every pure thing
    Seated deep within the emotion I first expressed, of watching the wicked prosper while you suffer, is pride. Some part of me felt I was worthy of being treated better. As part of my wages for serving Christ, I expected to be rewarded in ways I wanted. Such pride always stains the heart of the Gospel message. The whole point of the cross of Jesus Christ is that the one who truly deserved to be rewarded was crushed under the weight of God’s eternal wrath, so that the ones who do not deserve a speck of that reward were redeemed. A deep realisation of this Gospel does not make one proud, it makes one humble. In fact, it so humbled the apostles that they would say things like, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings”. The root of joy amidst suffering is found in a deep and satisfied understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I realised that experiencing God’s grace in our lives as believers ought not to make us feel that we are more deserving than unbelievers. It is quite the other way around. Experiencing such grace should humble us because apart from the work of God to save us, we would have remained as lost as the world is. The joy in our suffering is knowing that Jesus is with us, and realising that that is enough.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
- Psalm 23:4




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