My son, Jordan, loves to yell, "It's not fair!" in response to every minor infraction. If his remote control car stalls, "It's not fair!" If I tell him he can't eat a bowl of marshmallows for breakfast, "It's not fair!" Even when his favorite 30-minute cartoon ends right on time, "It's not fair!"
Not long ago, I felt bombarded by unfair circumstances. I strained to recall a fair and peaceful time in my life. The family I'd dreamt of and strived for was swallowed by tragedy.
I lost a baby through miscarriage and only 11 months later my precious daughter, Angelica, was stillborn. I was traumatized by Angelica's birth-death. I lived in a constant state of torment, a concoction of grief and postpartum depression. I was haunted by her delicate and beautiful features.
My world continued to crumble when after seven years I lost the battle to hold together my fragile marriage. When I held the framed wedding photo that had hung on our living room wall for all those years, I stared into the face of a woman I didn't know, the face of youthful naiveté. I had been a 22-year-old bride, confident that I could handle all of life's challenges. I married at a time when I was rebellious and unphased by the fact that my husband didn't share my faith. It was a turbulent union from the onset; my husband was unfaithful, abusive, and struggled with addiction. I reached out to God but kept him at a distance to avoid his truth penetrating my denial. I was desperate to remain a family, but in the rawness of my grief there was no more room for pretending—my home wasn't a safe place. My marriage collapsed and I watched the life I'd built with thoughtful precision topple like a thousand dominoes.
I would stare out my large living room window and imagine plunging myself through it. I was angry, frustrated with God, and consumed with pain and grief.
A child's tantrum
As tantrums stirred within my soul, Jordan was on an "It's not fair" rampage. Although I knew his outbursts were only the uninhibited rantings of a four-year-old, they struck a raw nerve. One afternoon during this fragile period, the unfair worlds of Jordan and Mommy collided.
At the mailbox I fumbled impatiently for my mail key, frustrated by the small nuisance. The only item in my mailbox was a telephone bill I couldn't afford to pay. I rounded the corner and noticed my garbage cans empty and overturned, one halfway to the middle of the street. For a fleeting moment I was annoyed that my husband hadn't retrieved them sooner. When reality struck, that I was the sole owner of the wayward garbage cans, I wanted to scream, "It's not fair!" The garbage cans were a little thing, but piled on top of everything else …
I felt suffocated by the family dwellings that surrounded me. I was one tiny spec of imperfection amongst rows of manicured yards, swing sets, minivans—suburban perfection.
I hurried inside my house before someone noticed my delicate state. Just as I closed the front door behind me I heard Jordan scream from his bedroom, "It's not fair!"
"Come here!" I yelled to him. He met me at the front door startled by my angry tone. "I don't ever want to hear you say that again, do you understand?" His hazel eyes grew big. "I don't want to hear you say it anymore because do you know what? Life isn't fair, Jordan. Nothing in life is fair!"
Jordan's eyes pierced me with their radiating innocence. "Yife's not fair?" he whispered.
"No, it isn't," I said harshly. "So remember that."
Immediately I felt embarrassed that I was teaching a lesson in hard knocks to a four-year-old. We walked away silent and in separate directions.
For the rest of the day any disappointment that would have previously been combated with, "It's not fair," was instead met with a defeated, "Yife's not fair."
The symptoms of an injured soul
I'd just made everything worse. The guilt of what I'd done settled over me. My bout with self-pity forced me to take a hard look at how my defeated attitude was self-destructive and influencing Jordan. For the first time since my losses, I considered that perhaps there was a purpose behind the pain. If my life was riddled with unfairness, then the lives of others must tell a thousand tales of injustices.
I wondered how I'd allowed myself to become so self-absorbed. Just one glance in the newspaper or one segment from the evening news would alert anyone that unfairness in tragic proportions can strike us all. I was tired of living angry and knew it was time to move forward.
I stared incessantly out my living room window, but this time I didn't want to plunge myself through it. Instead, I took a more insightful look at the homes that surrounded mine. Landscaped yards and custom-made swing sets don't paint the clearest portrait; there is no such thing as perfection. Ours is a hurting world. I wouldn't have to look too far to find someone who could benefit from the truths I'd learned from my darkest hours.
Jordan remained distant from me throughout the day. I realized that although what I'd told him was true, it was premature and not the tone in which I wanted to impart such wisdom. I hoped I hadn't caused him any lifelong scars. I remembered that he too shared my losses.
My outburst made me realize how deeply wounded I was. I was like a little girl screaming out to God, "You're not fair!" When my tormented soul finally erupted, it was my own son who heard my cry.
But God heard too. Just as I was attempting, as a frustrated parent, to teach Jordan a lesson about unfairness, God my Father was reminding me that he never promised a fair life, though he offers strength, love, and acceptance to help us through.
I didn't sleep well that night. In the early morning my covers rustled as Jordan crawled toward me.
"Can I have a popsicle for breakfast?" he whispered into my ear.
"No," I answered.
"It's not fair!" he protested. His words soothed my irritated psyche.
"What about, 'Life's not fair'?" I asked with reservation.
"That was yesterday," he answered, as matter of fact as any four-year-old can be.
The word yesterday resonated in my mind, and I reveled in his innocence. I lifted my head and captured the orange sunrise through my bedroom window—it was a new day. It had been a long and painful journey and it wasn't over yet, but from that morning on I decided not to personalize every injustice that greeted my life. I wanted to trust God again, to accept that I hadn't been "chosen" for a life of disaster. I wanted to retire the "poor me" cloak I'd been wearing. I was finally convinced that indeed my life has a purpose and good would come from all the pain I'd internalized.
I vowed to transform the difficult lessons that impacted my life into powerful positive change. The insignificant nuisances of life that suffocated my peace, I chose—as Jordan had—to leave them behind with yesterday.
Sandra Ring lives and writes in Ontario, Canada.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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