Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The Agony of Teething

Well, Cecilia is in the depths of teething. Sunday afternoon and most of yesterday, especially yesterday morning, she was in misery. She sat on the living room carpet crying while I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying anything and everything I could think of to make her feel better. I had given her Tylenol, refridgerated teething rings, frozen washclothes, ice water in a sippy cup, diluted apple juice in a bottle, my fingers, teething toys, nursing, music, etc. It was only after about 2 hours of this that she calmed down sitting in my lap gumming on my keys. Poor thing fell fast asleep after three hours awake. Last night she woke almost constantly. At least once every hour my poor little angel was fussing at her face and whimpering. I even gave her Tylenol before bed and again at 3am.

Needless to say I am quite tired. She is as well. She was yawning this morning on the way to Mass even though she usually doesn't take a nap until we are heading home from Mass. My daughter's agony has left the theologian in me wondering WHY. Why would God permit such agony to the most innocent? No one is harming her. It is no one's fault. And yet there seems to be so little I can do. Granted not all babies agonize so much over their teeth. But here my little sweetheart, only 6 months old, is often in misery though she has done nothing wrong. It cannot be so she will learn the unfairness of life for she will not remember this. It cannot be so she can offer her pain in atonement for sins for she is too young to understand anything of any purpose to suffering or any value in it and hence is unable to offer it up. It seems to me that the pain and discomfort of teething in an infant is of no value whatsoever to the infant.

This leads me to believe that God permits such misery in teething not for the sake of the infant, but that of the parents. Perhaps, as her mother and the one who made promises for her at her Baptism, I can offer up her sufferings for her. But perhaps the greater reason is that it is indeed a hard lesson as a new parent that there will be pain and discomfort and harshness in life from which no parent can protect their child. It introduces me to the agony of seeing my little girl suffering from a fallen world when I can do so little to help her. I've reflected a few times lately of what the Father must have felt watching His Son agonize in misery at the hands of those who hated him by the betrayal of His own friends and then die the shameful and painful death of a slave on a cross and not do anything to aid his Son. Even though His Son understood why everything had to happen as it did, as a parent, it has become an intimate reflection on the reality of parenting and the pain a mother or father feels being greater seeing their own child suffer than if they had to suffer themselves.

Perhaps it should also be a reflection of how the Father feels seeing any of us hurt, especially in sin. And while He is never powerless to help us, we often refuse to let Him and so his hands become tied just as much as if he were powerless. A Father who surrenders his power for the love of His children and yet still agonizies in their misery, never severing his heart from theirs.

While I have begun offering each daily Eucharist for my little baby and her teeth and pray for her in this regard daily, I cannot say that her misery has been completely for nothing. When I would do anything for her and yet can do so little to ease her pain, I have to feel sympathy and shame for the times I and others have put our Heavenly Father in the same position, not by involuntary teething, but by our own free choice.

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