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"Arrival" and Choosing Suffering

Hello! I am TJ, Karly's husband, and she asked me to write a guest post this week. Staying in line with my true self , I wrote about a movie and how it relates with parenting my kids.

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

Amy Adams character, Louise Banks, poses this question in Arrival, an incredible movie that is superficially about alien contact, but in reality is about time, loss, and the value of life. It’s a question I am unable to stop thinking about because I have been spending so much time worrying about the future.

I believe that worrying about your child’s future is standard fare for parents, but for us parents of kids who have experienced trauma, parents of a teen and pre-teen who have experienced trauma, parents who are trying to back pay years of trust and attachment, the stakes feel higher. Knowing what I know about the statistics for children impacted by the foster care system, and knowing what I don’t know about how to be a parent, frankly, I’m scared. I am afraid I’ll do something that pushes my kids away; I’m afraid they won’t heal, won’t attach, and won’t be able to form healthy relationships; I’m afraid they’ll run away, or move out as soon as they turn 18. I’m afraid it will be harder than I can imagine.

(Spoilers here, if you care about that sort of thing.) In Arrival, the alien’s language is timeless, circular, non-linear. The way they communicate is the way they think: seeing the whole story start to finish. As Dr. Banks begins to understand their language, her thinking assimilates and she can see her whole story, start to finish. She can see that she would have a little girl, a girl who would grow up to die young of a rare, incurable disease. She can see, perhaps feel, the incredible pain of losing a child. Instead of fighting it, she chooses it.

God is like that. He sees the whole story. He has seen it since before the first flower bloomed, the first ray of light fell across a mountain range, the first human breath, since before your child or mine was born. People always ask, “If God knew humanity was going to sin, why create them in the first place?” I think what they mean is, why not another way? Why wouldn’t God do a few test simulations, work out the kinks, and find a way that has no suffering? I’m not sure I have a good answer for that question, and in fact, I don’t find it all that interesting. This is the world we have. A better question, I think: what was God’s motivation in creating a world that he knew would lead to so much of his own suffering?

God knew his children would reject and abandon him.

God knew his children would make destructive choices.

God knew he was going to have to chase after them.

God knew that, after calling and calling and finally leaving his heavenly home to travel into space and time to come get his children and bring them back to him, they would desert him, mock him, kill him.

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, is about God’s arrival. God arrived knowing the story, start to finish, knowing every tear that would fall from his face, every nerve ending overloaded with pain, every ache in his soul caused by his children, and he chose it anyway.

God chose pain and suffering because he loved his children. Even though he didn’t have to, God chose to make it about us. He chose to give up his comfort and status to endure heartache and loss because he loves us with an everlasting love, because we needed him.

Becoming a foster, and now adoptive, parent is without question the hardest thing I have ever done. I sleep less, worry more, and question every decision I make. But here’s what I have to relearn every day: it’s not about me. For all the pain my children have caused me, they’ve endured far more. I cannot save my kids, but I can show up in their pain, even when I end up collateral. And I will. I am not God, nor an alien with a prophetic language, and I do not know the whole story. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring with my kids — if it will be a good day or a hard day or bring a new challenge or the same frustration I’ve been battling for months. But I do know for certain that choosing to be a parent — bio, foster, adoptive, whatever — will include being hurt. It will mean enduring anger and rejection. It may mean suffering by watching our children suffer and not being able to fix it. It will be hard. It may be harder than I can even imagine. But I choose it anyway, I choose it, I embrace it, because I love my children ferociously and suffering with them is far better than comfort without them.

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:4–5)

“Though he was God,

he did not think of equality with God

as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

he took the humble position of a slave

and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God

and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6–8)

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every minute of it.” (Louise Banks, Arrival)

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