The other night I woke to a newborn baby crying. The cries startled me and wakened me from a deep sleep. I was disorientated, trying to figure out where I was and where was this baby who needed me in the middle of the night.
After what seemed like a long time, but was really just a few moments, I came to my senses and remembered that I was still at NYU in the pediatric ICU, sleeping next to my daughter. As my brain put the pieces together, I was reminded of the day I realized that my daughter Johanna no longer cried like a newborn.
We were in the same place, a pediatric ICU and Johanna was four months old and undergoing her third brain surgery. I heard that distinctive newborn cry which caused me to leak milk as my maternal instincts strove to comfort my baby, who was in the operating room. I looked up at my husband and our eyes met. I said, “Johanna doesn’t cry like a newborn anymore, does she?” Steve nodded with pain in his eyes as his eyes searched mine. I lost so much of the precious newborn phase because I knew there was something wrong in the delivery room. I spent her newborn days either trying to ignore my instincts or follow them and get the doctors to see that my baby needed help.
Now, 16 years later, this newborn cry served as reminder of the “longsuffering” we have endured. It reminded me that so much has changed and yet so many things remained the same. It also reminded me of all that has been lost and all that’s been gained in these years of intense suffering and profound blessings.
Longsuffering is considered to be a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When I signed on the dotted line and said yes to Jesus, longsuffering was not one of those fruits I desired — at all. I find the other fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5 — love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance — to be much more palatable fruit that I actually enjoy. I would much rather be a person who is identified as loving, joyful and peaceful than one who is well acquainted with longsuffering.
But when I looked up the word, one definition resounded with me. It said that longsuffering, as a fruit of the Spirit is characterized by ability to endure; it does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under pressure. “Well,”, I thought, “sometimes I do surrender to circumstances, and succumb under pressure. But that is never pretty.” I guess I would rather longsuffering or the ability to rise above the circumstances to find the proverbial silver lining on the dark cloud looming on the horizon.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit are the an oft-quoted list, the topic of many talks and artwork all as attempts to get us to be more like God in our attitudes and actions. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are really a testimony to our intimate life with God. Basically, they are attributes of God that hopefully become more and more evident in our lives as we immerse our minds and hearts in a deeper and more intimate relationship with Jesus.
As I thought more about this, I began to wonder, “Which quality of God does longsuffering reveal?” Then, as I looked up synonyms for longsuffering, the words endurance and patience emerged. When I think of qualities of God that I would like to be infused into my life, patience and endurance are at the top of my list. I suppose if patience and endurance come with longsuffering, then this fruit somehow tastes a little sweeter.
Longsuffering does for our spiritual lives what exercise does for our physical bodies. It shapes our character and strengthens our ability to endure. Like it or not, we all experience pain and struggle in our lives. Like physical exercise, we can build endurance and become more patient, revealing even greater qualities of God through our struggles. The rewards of physical exercise — health, vitality and strength — are sweet. How much more are the fruits of patience and endurance a sweet reward for our bitter struggles?
In the light of day, I peered beyond the curtain where I heard the newborn baby’s cry. I saw a very tired new mom, nursing her baby in this cold and sterile ICU. While she was striving to provide comfort and security, I could see in her face, the fear, the pain and confusion that brought her to the hospital to protect her newborn baby. I whispered to her and asked her if she needed some breakfast. The relief on her face told me the answer as headed to a nearby deli to get us some eggs and coffee. On my return, I handed her the breakfast and she thanked me profusely, again revealing her anxiety over her situation. I nodded in understanding and told her I was here to talk if she needed to do that later in the day.
Later came much sooner than expected and this first-time mother of a 10-day-old baby shared her story of her baby’s illness that brought them to the ICU. An experienced nursing mother myself and a peer leader for other nursing moms, I was able to offer her some practical advice for nursing newborns and for making the best of a very difficult situation.
But far beyond the eggs and coffee and the tips on nursing a sick baby, was the bond that developed between us that day. As I shared our struggle and introduced her to Johanna, who was busy entertaining the staff with her songs and her stories, this new mom found support and courage in the midst of this trial. She remembered her own strength to advocate for her and her baby’s needs. She reconnected with her instincts and recognized the blessings ahead in mothering her newborn baby.
That newborn cry in the night initially caused me to count the longsuffering in years lost. But it also awakened patience and endurance that helped me reach out to this new mother with compassion and wisdom. If this longsuffering was somehow shortened just by a day and the long-awaited miracle arrived, I would have missed this newborn’s cry. I would have missed the chance to inspire a new mom and introduce her to my daughter, a miracle in process.
Longsuffering is a bittersweet fruit. But patience and endurance taste sweeter and, in the end, are well worth the struggle. It is kind of like that old saying: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Adding the sugar of kindness and compassion, it all tastes sweet in the end.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.