How to react if your child is sick?

(From several sermons of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh)

Nowadays, for instance, it seems to be a commonplace to consider suffering as an evil and to think that suffering must be avoided, or alleviated, or pushed back as completely and as far as possible. The result of this is, I think, the growth of cowardice: people are afraid, and this fear of suffering at times is more disastrous than the suffering itself.

What usually happens is that people are told, 'There is no reason why you should suffer — life should be smooth, things should be good, suffering is an evil.' And then when suffering comes our way, most of the people who surround us take it as an injustice on the part of Fate, as an event that should not take place.
It is completely evil and wrong, and yet God does not do anything about it.

In this way people are deprived both of a manly approach to suffering as such, and of the real help they could derive from God if they did not define him in the first place as the very person who is responsible for all evils.

When grown-ups suffer, one can, more easily than with children, see the good it can do to them. It is against odds that character is built. It is in the face of suffering that we learn patience, endurance, courage. It is by facing other people's suffering that we can reach a depth of faith, a depth of surrender to which otherwise we could not attain. Not to rebel, not to protest, but to grow into harmony with the ways of God is something which we cannot achieve without challenge.

What about even smaller children, who cannot reason things out in this particular way?

So if a child is ill at a time when we cannot expect that he will consciously be aware of what is going on, or that he will be able to learn those things which require will, intellect, maturity of emotion, an active faith, an active surrender, it does not mean that what is happening to him will not do something, will not be a positive event or a positive contribution to his eternal life.

God is not the God of the dead; he is the God of the living. If we live in God we live close to each other, and when a child has departed this life so often the parents have a double sense of distress. On the one hand, the child has died. This would apply also to a grown-up. There is no physical presence, there is no direct, physical relatedness. But also, in a strange way, we imagine that the child that dies, the baby that dies, remains, as it were, a baby for ever, remains out of reach, because on earth it did not evolve that intellect which allows communication and those emotions which bind us together. And yet, if this is a living soul, alive in and by the power of the living God, then if we could only reach out to the depth which is our own soul, our own spirit, we could without fear be certain that nothing can separate us. When the time comes when all things are fulfilled, we will not meet on the level of our psychological richness or poverty, we will meet spirit to spirit and soul to soul. And on this earth we need to be aware of it.

                                                                      St Pantheleimon

Our relationship with those who have departed this life does not lie in the past; it is not in the future; it is in the present — that split second which the present is, and which is the meeting-point with eternity, that is with God. It is now that we are related to those who have departed this life, and it is in the category of eternity — and not of time — that this takes place. Yes, it is true that there is no physical sight, no physical touch; but this is not the level on which we communicate anyhow. Even as we are now, when there is between us a real relationship, it is not simply conditioned by our mutual understanding of words, of language, of symbols. We have understanding and relationship to the extent to which, soul in soul, we meet in silence, in depth. In a way, real communication begins where all the ordinary means of communication have been left aside. Real understanding is beyond words. When children suffer, we must make an act of faith concerning their ability, because they are living souls, to grow into an ever deeper intimacy with God, and we must be certain that what is happening to them is not lost for them. When they depart this life, we must also remember that God is the God of the living.

One thing which I wanted to say and which I forgot to mention is the importance of touch. Touch in relationships. Physical contact. In practically every religious rite things are conveyed by contact. The laying-on of hands, a blessing — so many things are done physically. We should be aware of the spiritual quality of our bodies. Without our bodies we could not commune in the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. We could not commune with him. It is through our bodies and because of what they represent, because of what they are, that we can have this communion with Christ and God. In human relationships touch plays an immense role. 

How much one can convey of compassion, of love, of tenderness by putting one's hand on another hand or on a shoulder, which will never be conveyed by words. And with sick children perhaps more than with anyone — or perhaps not, because when a person is ill, gravely, grievously ill, everyone becomes a child again — so much can be conveyed by human touch: sacramental, sacred or simply human (which is also sacred and sacramental). This is something which we must teach the parents of sick children: where words fail, when means of communication are not there, there is a mysterious way of conveying what cannot be conveyed, of expressing with certainty what one is incapable of expressing — love, tenderness, compassion, but also faith and life — by the way in which we treat a body.

Well, these are perhaps disjointed thoughts, but I would like you to think about what I have said because we have to deal not only with the child who is ill, but also with those who around him are distressed. And they must learn, through faith — instead of being overcome by grief, instead of being conquered and destroyed — that they are sharing in a mystery, in a situation in which human power fails and divine Power is abroad, acting sovereignly, building a kingdom in which each child — and we are all someone's children — in which each child participates, one way or another, in the mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born into a world of time, out of eternity, in order to die, and through death to open to us unconquerable, eternal life.

Source: http://masarchive.org/Sites/texts/1971-11-00-1-E-E-T-EM00-008Suffering&DeathOfChildren.html

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