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I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room, and my one-year old child has been on the operating table for four hours. Anxious is an understatement.
My baby still has about four more hours to go, if the nurse who just whispered the update estimates correctly—and this is his third surgery this year. His one and only year. Today if someone tells me people are only tested according to their capacity I will explode. Today I feel abandoned by any and all versions of God.
I look around the crowded waiting room. Quiet couples, mothers, fathers, siblings, huddled together in hushed circles. Drinking coffee, staring out the window, glazed eyes. I know I am not alone in my thoughts, not in this room and not in the world.
People talk about moments in life when we doubt. When we ask why, when we don’t understand, when our pain or the pain we witness in the world makes us cry out in frustration, anger, even rage. This is one of my moments. It is not a passive doubting or hypothetical thought process. It is real and it is personal and it is hard. This word “faith” is no joke.
I look at a mother sitting in an armchair a few feet away from me next to an empty stroller. Her head is bowed, hair hanging down, I think maybe she is defeated, but then she lifts her face and I see her eyes are closed, her hands are clasped, and her lips are moving silently. She is praying.
What makes this lonely mother call for help from God? What makes her raise her face in silent expectation? Where has she found faith?
Has her faith increased her capacity to deal with sorrows, or have patience during severe trials? Does it allow her to sit alone next to her empty stroller with inner calm?
Her prayers although silent, wash over me like personal grief. Inside of me I want my faith to be strong too, to trust in God to guide the surgeons, to make my child safe, to make his suffering minimal, to make his recovery quick. I want faith to carry me through, to carry my child through this and all his trials.
And now I give you a commandment that shall be for a covenant between you and me – that ye have faith; that your faith be steadfast as a rock that no earthly storms can move, that nothing can disturb, and that it endure through all things even to the end … As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Readings, p. 313.
I do understand. The silent prayers of this mother are silent prayers to keep her faith, and in doing so bring strength, and power, and blessings.
I think about the person I was a year ago today. Blissfully unaware of the obscure genetic disorder that has my child hijacked. How has it changed me? I look at the strangers in the waiting room that I feel inexplicably connected to, the silent praying mother who in a glance I am bonded with, the unknown world of which I am now a complicit but fiercely loyal inhabitant. These feel like blessings. Strange and terrible, but beautiful blessings. Would I have these things had my faith not been tested? Would my eyes have ever been opened in this way? Capable of feeling oceans of tenderness and ferocious compassion?
… the human spirit, unless it be assisted by the spirit of faith, cannot become acquainted with the divine mysteries and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, bright, and polished, is still in need of light. Not until a sunbeam falls upon it can it discover the divine mysteries. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 242.
So if the “first sign of faith is love,” and the sign of love is “patience under my trials” I will start there.
I look at my watch. My heart still hurts. Maybe it will always hurt on these days. Maybe it is supposed to hurt. The hurting acquaints me with the “divine mysteries” and “heavenly realities”—with the reality that it is easy to think you have faith when it has never been challenged.