A mom asked me for help in what to do for her child, who was going to be out of class for the next two months due to some radical chemo treatments. Her young teenager has cancer. This wasn’t the first mom I’d met with a child in need of special treatment.
And in such cases I have to talk to mom and dad about adjusting their–and their child’s–expectations. There is no hard-and-fast rule out there for dealing with interrupted plans. The typical plan for a high school load each year wouldn’t work for this atypical situation. No rule says that at age 18 a child should graduate from high school and head off to university. Not every child fits that stereotype. This mom, and others like her, must adjust other circumstances in order to accommodate the family’s present needs.
Cases like this rise up often as I advise parents about educating their children. The whole child needs to be considered, I tell them, not just the amount and type of classes he is going to take each year. The family whose father just passed away: how does mom homeschool the children and find a job to support her family? The international move because of dad’s job: how can we consistently educate the children while we all adjust to a new living arrangement? And on and on the stories come.
Our great expectations continually need adjusting–the expectations of what my life will look like, of what my children will grow up to become, of good health all the way through my life, and more. What happens when the bottom drops out of my great expectations and I am left to reconsider everything?
What do I do when life hands me something other than what I had planned all along? What do I do with that disappointment?
A friend whose daughter began exhibiting signs of a mental illness wept. “This isn’t something her brothers and sisters should have to watch. They have the right to be normal teenagers, and not have to deal with their little sister unravelling in front of them.”
A family member who discovered her husband’s unfaithfulness after 35 years of marriage lamented that this shouldn’t happen to her after all they had been through together.
The mom–and many like her–with a daughter in chemotherapy wept as she and her family struggled to adjust to the heartache, the fear, the whirlwind that has been visited upon them.
As much as I weep with these friends and family members–and also in my own quest of adjusting to a life with chronic pain–I want to remind them that “normal” doesn’t exist.
And who can say that family members shouldn’t have to live with a sibling whose world has unraveled due to mental illness or life-altering illness? In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. He uses all things for good, for those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28-29). Living with someone’s illness can teach countless lessons in empathy, compassion, caregiving, unconditional love, and much, much more. The illness of a loved one is not a surprise to God; he will use it for his purposes and for his glory!
While it’s difficult, and maybe even feels insurmountable, I’ve found that I must adjust my thinking about expectations, looking more realistically about what “normal” means. In reality, we know that life is full of disappointment, tragedy, and challenge. Maybe that’s what’s “normal.”
Christian believers have been promised that life will be full of troubles. But–and here’s the most important BUT–we’ve also been promised that Christ will be with us nevertheless. Christ promises us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Being visited by tragedy, challenge, disaster, or just run-of-the-mill teenage rebellion doesn’t mean the end for your family. It means that this is another opportunity to place your faith, your trust, in a God who will never leave nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).