The one in pain makes a lot of assumptions about the one they think has it all. “What would you know? You’ve never been tested by such trials!”
Here, that shy wry smile breaks inside, never to be displayed to others. Little do they know that we have walked in those shoes before them. We have been married seven and a half thousand days. Of course we have experienced it all.
Alas, my beloved has experienced my pigheaded arrogance and frenzied rage, mostly in those early days when we were still finding our feet, but sometimes even now, usually when caught in the crossfire between misbehaving kids.
“Ah, kids,” they protest. “So you wouldn’t have a clue what we’re going through!”
Some families are harassed by their in-laws because they have only been able to have one child. Some in-laws demand one half of the couple divorces the other due to infertility. Some couples bear the loneliness alone, sobbing within at every gathering of friends as toddlers tear past them, causing mayhem. “Yeah, exactly, so what do you know?”
I know that you shouldn’t make assumptions. I guess it’s my fault for unpublishing nearly everything I wrote prior to 2008, obliterating all the raw emotions of those heartbreakingly difficult years. Here a few sentences from 2009, eight years into our marriage:
Childlessness used to bother me immensely. The company of my niece would draw tears from my eyes, while every enquiry after my children from well-meant friends would churn my stomach over. But everyone has their trials and in time our faith heals us…
Here another from 2005:
It’s pain like mourning; like losing someone. It’s a loss, but others don’t seem to understand, driving life on as normal. It’s the pain of knowing that you have reached the end of the line, that you will be an ancestor for no one, that you will never have grandchildren who will ask you about your youth…
But you see children amongst us. Children who look like us. Children we love, but who nevertheless drive us to distraction, arguing and bickering, disrespecting and being rude to one another, causing us to yell and scream and raise our voices — something that those who had ever experienced the pain of childlessness would never, ever do. Yes, but those are just assumptions.
Everybody has their trials and tests. Tests of every kind. Raising kids is hard — really hard — whatever the ideals you have when you’re young, when you believe you won’t behave like your parents did. We’re raising two siblings very close in age and every single day is a challenge, as they fight and argue, and play mum and dad off against each other, insisting that we’re unfair, or biased, or unjust. Now and then, there is the rage which shakes the entire house, and breaks our hearts — but this is what we signed up for.
Yes, I’m sorry: this is just parenting. Even the child who has had three operations close to their brain — which terrified us and broke our hearts again — gets yelled at when they misbehave. It doesn’t mean we’re lesser parents, who could never possibly know what it’s like to be childless; it just means we’re human, trying our best but failing daily.
Believe me, we too have had tests and trials. Everyone does, for this is the nature of this testing realm. That is the promise of the Lord of creation, who tells us that He created life and death itself to test us as to which of us are best in deeds.
Some mothers have a premature birth. Some children are born with syndromes or impairments. Some parents cannot conceive. Some children have lifelong disabilities or health complications. Some couples have the children they long dreamed of, but then their marriage falls apart. Some parents see their children graduate university, only for their son to be killed in a car crash. Some children see their mother battle cancer. It goes on like this.
Some of us ventured out into marriage, full of hope, thinking we knew all there was to know about ourselves. Then everything was blown out of the water by medical examinations that changed our worlds forever. Some of us learnt things about ourselves that we’re still coming to terms with close to two decades later.
Many of us — though we may never say so — have been poked and prodded, and sliced open, subjected to invasive investigations. And after that, long and intrusive assessments, interviews, check-ups, court hearings. Many of us experienced the decade of emotional trauma before we heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet. We cried much, nights spent praying for relief, scared of the intense nightmares which afflicted us.
Every single day brings a new test. Mostly we fail them, because we forget that is what they are. We go on autopilot, forgetting what life itself is for. We forget that we are constantly being tested as to how we respond to every trial we face: to respond with kindness or contempt, to do good or bad.
Never assume anything about your companions or what they hold inside. It is most likely that nearly everybody you meet is dealing with or has dealt with unimaginable tests of some kind. That they do not speak of them to every passing friend or stranger changes nothing. Perhaps you will find them a sympathetic confidant, if only you could look beyond those assumptions.
Perhaps “What would you know?” needs to make way for “What do you know?” Perhaps those that travelled the road before you have something to share, that may even be of benefit, if you could hear them. Don’t assume that the smiling couple hold no tears inside. Stop to listen; you may be surprised.
All of life is a test. Understand that and you will look at life completely differently. It won’t make the trials any less burdensome, but it will change your perspective. Pain is still pain. Loss is still loss. Anguish still anguish. But, mindful of our true reality, you will find the strength to carry on.
Never say to anyone, “You’ve never been tested by such trials!”