Struggling into Life

We have a floppy baby.

Our 11-month old daughter, Daisy, struggles with generalized low muscle tone or “hypotonia.” This means that her muscles are uncoordinated and her muscles tire out rather quickly. Everything is affected—from coordination of muscle groups to small muscles that help with various movements. Someone somewhere online described hypotonia as “a perpetual war against gravity.” That’s about what it looks like. Our little girl waging guerrilla warfare against one of the fundamental forces of the universe. And day after day, she advances more and more.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Daisy is a bit behind. Various specialists—from neurologists and pulmonologists to ENTs and physical therapists—have partnered with us to (perhaps) diagnose the cause of the hypotonia and (without question) help her development. This includes homework. We work with Daisy with a variety of stretches, exercises, movements, and techniques. Her muscles learn through considerable effort and attention, what most of our muscles learned easily.

Recently we’ve been working on holding her head up while she lies her stomach. We modify “tummy time” for her with a thin chair cushion to give her a better angle for her neck muscles. She enjoys it. We set up her up to succeed. She’ll laugh and play and generally enjoy life and being with us.

And then comes something Daisy doesn’t enjoy. As she enjoy playing on her stomach, I will gently force her head down to the cushion. She was succeeding at holding her head up. But holding her head in a position isn’t enough. Where she struggles is raising her head. Her muscles are good at “down” and good at “up.” Where they struggle is the movement of the middle. And so, out of my immeasurable love for her, I wreck her moment of comfort. I push her head down so that she can practice raising it again. 

“Ok, lift your head.Keep going! You can do it.”

Fresh, cool air evades her. Fabric obscures her vision. Her small head totters awkwardly against the cushion as she searches for the fun we were just enjoying. I can see her muscles working, unfamiliar with the movement in the middle… the raising of the head.

She’s not alone in any of this. My hands, filled with dexterity and strength that she cannot fathom, are ever present, guiding her. My mere fingertips bear the weight she cannot, making the impossible possible. She can exercise her muscles. The movement is possible. She can raise her head. But it’s hard, hard work. She must do it. She must learn how to move.

I heard empathy and love choke my voice as I said: “I know it’s hard, baby girl, but it’s so good.”

And I think I heard God the Father whisper, “It’s kind of like this.” 

Perhaps George MacDonald got it right when he said:

All things are possible with God,
but all things are not easy.

When he says this, MacDonald is talking God’s creation of us—about the life that God ever intends to draw us into:

All things are possible with God,
but all things are not easy.

It is easy for him to be,
for there he has to do with his own perfect will:
it is not easy for him to create—
that is, after the grand fashion
which alone will satisfy his glorious heart and will,
the fashion in which he is now creating us.

In the very nature of being—that is, God—it must be hard—
and divine history shows how hard—
to create that which shall be not himself,
yet like himself. 

(Unspoken Sermons, “Life”)

There is a difficultly in God creating “that which shall be not himself, yet like himself.” That difficulty is me. I must participate. More than that, by his grace, I must learn to be like Father, Son, and Spirit. I must learn the movement of love. By his grace, this is possible. But it’s not easy.

God is not content with our existence being one of effortless, passive spectatorship. Divine Love wants more than us simply staying infants. We must learn to be fully alive to the fiery heights and depths of love, the Fundamental behind the fundamental forces of the universe. And this is going to require not a little discomfort and struggle and practice.

And so, out of his immeasurable love for us, our Father wrecks our comfort. Or he allows our comfort to be wrecked by countless things. I don’t begin to understand how the puzzle pieces of providence all fit together. Especially in seasons of struggle. All I know is how uncomfortable I am, how blocked my vision has become, how difficult it is to breathe.

But however we get there—be it the schemes of heaven or hell—God is with us, encouraging us, working good out of it. There’s a whisper:

I know it’s hard, my child, but it’s so good. You’re learning to move. My fingers are helping, but you’re doing it! You’re learning the movement! You’re practicing love! I know it’s terrible that practice means this kind of struggle, but—look, look!—you’re coming alive!”

Maybe struggle is central
to our growing up
into the image of God. 

I wonder if Paul was thinking something along these lines when he wrote:

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 

(Romans 5.3-5)

I’m trying to remember Paul’s words. I’m trying to realize that the struggle means strengthening. That the pain is a place to practice love. That there are truer things—deeper things, better things—in life than comfort. I’m trying to trust his heart even when I can’t feel his hands helping much.

“I know it’s hard, my child, but it’s so good. You’re learning to do it.”

Your Father is close. His heart is kind. His fingers are there—steadying, strengthening, guiding, gracing. And the movement is yours. Keep at it. He will make you alive. All things are possible. They just aren’t easy.