Is there a link between having a significant Christian faith and infant surgery?
That’s a question I’ve often asked myself. My parents have helped me to share their deep commitment to the Christian walk and world-and-life view.
What difference did their Christian faith make during the gruelling time when their firstborn needed surgery for pyloric stenosis at only 10 days? Did it enable them to help their sensitive child in later years? And, how has it helped me, the baby who caused them this traumatic time?
In some ways (and I believe it is quite clear), faith issues made little or no difference. History, psychology, and being honest with oneself all make it quite quickly clear that to an uncomfortably large extent we are children of our time, we act according to our genes and training, and we realise it is difficult to change who we are – even when we’d like to! Think of how the ruling elite typically acted 200 years ago compared with today. Think of how Christians and non-Christians of different shades of belief have changed in their thinking about issues like slavery, women’s emancipation, and democracy over the past few centuries.
My parents were born in the 19-teens, and were no doubt taught and conditioned to accept a high infant mortality rate, the near-infallibility of doctors, and the inescapable “will of God” when it came to the terrible shock that I was for them. Is it any wonder they resolved to “grin and bear it”, not to talk about it, to pray submissively that God would do what was ultimately “best” in their trouble and to use it to give them some long-term benefit? Isn’t the 3rd of these resolutions still a very Christian and generally a sensible attitude?
As for the passivity and silence, reading survivors’ infant surgery (and particularly pyloric stenosis) stories on the web reminds me that personal stoicism and a code of silence are still very common and have nothing much to do with one’s faith.
Because my parents would never talk about their story and experience of my early surgery, there are some gaps in what I can reflect on here. Several things stand out, however.
1 Like many parents who write about their much more recent experience when their baby had PS and needed surgery, my parents would have found great comfort and peace in their deeply held and felt trust in God. It is very meaningful for me and most Christians to know that nothing separates us from the love of God that we can see expressed in the gift of God’s Son Jesus Christ. If God is for us, who or what can be against us? This belief does not deny pain but does help us to keep it in some perspective. No matter how tough a time or life issue might be, the life we have is usually still worth living. Like most people, Christians see life as a gift that puts many and most hardships into its shadow. If it does not, that raises some quite different issues and needs.
2 Like the Christian parents who open themselves on the web today, my parents back in 1945 felt they were not alone. Prayer is an expression not only of trust in God but also of community, and that sense of togetherness often gives rise to all sorts of wonderfully kind, helpful and reassuring things happening when a person or people are in a deep, dark and lonely valley. I have seen and experienced this so often.
3 Like today’s Christians, my parents would have been helped by the Christian sacraments. This means Baptism for almost all Christians, and additionally, the anointing of the sick for Roman Catholics and some others.
Knowing something of my parents’ thinking at the time, I am sure they would have had me baptised before my surgery. For them this would not have been a “dedication” or a “christening” (making me a Christian believer) – or somehow a picture of their baby’s choice to follow Jesus, which is what adult-baptising Christians regard as the only valid meaning of Baptism. For Reformed (Calvinist) Christians, Baptism is basically a bloodless and painless form of circumcision, whatever other symbolism and significance it might have. For my parents and me, my baptism meant God was giving us something which showed that God (like a Good Shepherd) was enfolding this infant with the people of God. It meant that well before I knew it, regardless of the length of my life, and regardless of how I would conduct my future ways, God wanted to do all that could be done to show me this very special quality of Christlike kindness and grace.
Now, what has my Christian faith meant for me in the light of the fact that I was marked so early not only by an invisible Baptism but also by an obvious, physical and indelible sign of my imperfection? See the next blog!