I think I have a pretty high tolerance of pain. I played collegiate rugby. Not a game went by without getting punched, kicked, or raked. (Raked is something unique to rugby. In rugby, if anyone is laying on the pitch, that’s what they call the field, they are considered a part of the field. What that means is that if you are lying down on the ground impeding play in any way, they other players can rake their cleats across any part of your body that happens to be in the way. It is a very effective method for getting people out of the way.)
My brothers also helped my in my pain tolerance development as a young child. As the youngest of three, my older brothers were always finding creative ways of tormenting training me. They would make me run down hill, chasing me with various items of torture training. As I was speeding down the hill, they would perfect their soccer passes. They would time it just right so that when my feet were in full stride I would hit the soccer ball, tumbling forward down the hill like that little girl on the opening credits of “The Little House on the Prairie”. Or then there was the broom stick. Same scenario, Little Todd runs down hill, excited that his older brothers were “playing” with him, all of a sudden an old broom stick would come hurdling out of the sky as if it were a lighting bolt thrown by the Greek god Zeus. My legs would trip up on the broom stick and tumbling down would go Little Todd. All the gods would have a laugh and then on they would move to the next part of my rite of passage.
Their other favorite form of training would be to get me dizzy as I could and shove me in the bathroom. Ultimately I would trip over the toilet, bathtub, or doorstop. If the bathroom was not vacant at the time, the narrow hallway would do. In all honesty, it was probably pretty funny to watch a 7 year old trip over things trying to run down the hallway.
There are also enumerable forms of emotional pain management older brothers can put a younger brother thorough as well. My brothers also excelled at all forms of these as well. Whether it was the threats upon my life that would follow when mom wasn’t looking, after all she would be gone all day, and leave these older brothers to babysit. Or the blackmail I would endure. Several times I would hear, “I will be your best friend, if you__________.” You can fill in the blank; mow the lawn, do the dishes, fold my laundry. Little did I know that in the hierarchy of family, little brother is never replaced by best friend. I also didn’t know the age appropriate chores given to me like, feed the cat, dust the coffee table, and make your bed, were being replaced with my brother’s chores like, mow the lawn, cut and stack firewood, and wash the car. There was some “chore-rigging” going on in the Van Dyke home and I was the one left standing out in the yard guilt ridden that I couldn’t start the lawn mower, complete my chores, and wondering why my parent’s were punishing me with these Sisyphean tasks while my brothers sat inside watching from the windows.
I made it. I survived and am a better person for it. So thanks brothers.
There is one thing that has tested my physical, emotional, and spiritual tolerance for pain. This thing is a little eight pound adorable baby. Its not so much the baby. It is the crying. I think this is harder for men. Men by nature are problem solvers. Just ask any women who comes home to complain about a problem at work. Men usually begin to think to themselves, or most often out loud, “How am I supposed to be able to fix this?” Women will usually respond that they are just “venting”. Men become confused by this foreign act of venting. Venting is something HVAC units do, basement crawl spaces need, or something you need to make sure is working when you install plumbing. So “just venting” is something guys don’t quite get. We want to solve problems.
That’s where a crying baby comes in. They vent all the time. Not only that, they can’t tell you why. Are they hungry? Feed them. Still crying. Dirty diaper? Change it. Gassy? Burp it. That is about the extent of the troubleshooting. At 3am, when the baby is fed, burped, changed, and STILL crying. What do you do? What do you do? I don’t know. You pray. You look at this amazing miracle that God has given you and you do something you know is theologically incorrect. You play, let’s make a deal with God.
“Dear God in Heaven, I know you are up. You don’t need sleep. I do. That’s the way you made me. I would like to honor you through the act of spiritual discipline known as sleep. We do however have a baby that is not listening to us. She will listen to you. You created her in the womb. So you must have an intimate knowledge of what is going on here. If you will make her sleep, I will be a better person. I promise that I will read my bible more tomorrow. The extra sleep will allow me to do that. I know that the Christian life is a lesson in suffering, but let’s talk tomorrow about what type of Christian suffering I am up for. I will be more apt to listen to you with more sleep. Your son was a baby once, so I know you can relate. In Christ’s Holy, Precious, Awesome, Glorious, Majestic, Cross-Carrying Name (you add more adjectives on the end to try to get in better with him) Amen!”
And through heretical, theologically uninformed prayers God always answers. Sometimes the baby still cries, but God grants the grace. He sends your mother to stay and help out. He gives you friends to help out. He created coffee. He gives you an amazingly strong wife that doesn’t always need to solve the problem. She knows that sometimes just listening to the cries and being there is all the baby needs. So there are some problems I can’t solve, some limits to my pain tolerance, but there is also a blessing hidden in all this crying.
Through the cries I am reminded of something I recently read. It was in a book called “Adopted for Life”. In it the author, Russell Moore, relates the theological truth of our adoption with his families’ experience of adopting from Russia. The part that has teared me up every time I read it was his description of the orphanage the day they had to leave. They had to travel over once before they could bring their sons home and on leaving the orphanage the first time he was struck by the….silence. Here were hundreds of babies, lying in cribs stacked upon each other, completely silent. They were silent because, even as little babies, they had already learned that no one would answer their cries. No one was coming to comfort them. The silence was bone chilling. It stirs me up even now just thinking about it.
So tonight when I get ready for bed, set Esther down in her cradle, lay down in bed, put my head on the pillow, only to hear what I know is the beginning of my daughter’s cry for something, anything. I will walk over to the cradle a proud father knowing that my daughter knows that she can cry. Someone is coming to her. Help is close by.