“MOM, I think there’s something wrong with Coral!” I heard my daughter’s frantic cry from upstairs and knew in my heart what had happened. We had just arrived home from school and I was in the kitchen getting started on dinner when she called out to me from her room. By the time I made it upstairs, the tears had already begun to well up in her eyes. And, after a quick look at the tank confirmed our worst fears, those tears began rolling down her cheeks.
Her very first pet was gone. I wrapped my arms around her and just held on tightly as she cried and I couldn’t help shedding my own tears. Not because I was particularly attached to Coral the fish. But because a mama’s heart breaks when her child’s heart breaks.
I can honestly say that I have never seen a fish take to a human quite like Coral took to my daughter. Lauren actually trained Coral to come right up to her hand as she dropped in the fish food each day. And whenever Lauren was near her tank, Coral swam around excitedly. I promise I’m not making this up for the sake of storytelling. I witnessed all of this with my own eyes!
By contrast, her older brother’s fish, purchased at the same time, would’ve died long ago had it not been for the fact that the rest of the family took turns feeding it and occasionally offering some words of encouragement to help offset the neglect by it’s teenage owner.
It seemed as though if any fish should’ve died, it would have been Cheetah (Yes, we have a fish named Cheetah. Don’t ask.), not Coral. And yet, a few hours later we gathered around the cherry tree in our backyard as Coral was laid to rest with a custom made headstone.
After sharing a few words about what a wonderful pet Coral was and my attempt at singing a song appropriate for a fish funeral (which my daughter very quickly asked me to stop singing, apparently not appreciating my vocal prowess), we walked together back towards the house, reminiscing about our years with Coral the fish. That’s when she turned to me and said, “It just doesn’t seem fair. Cheetah is basically ignored and neglected and I took the best care of Coral and loved her so much and she is the one who died.” I sighed and said, “I know. It really isn’t fair, is it? But, the thing is, while your relationship with Coral was shorter, it was so much deeper and impacted your life so much more. And the way she responded to you proves it. You grew as a person because of how well you took care of and loved her. So, even though it’s not fair that your fish died first, you are the one who really wins in the end.”
It’s such a hard truth to grasp, isn’t it? That there can be people who put in very little time and energy and reap rewards while another person can invest everything only to find that their dedication seemingly didn’t pay off. ‘Fairness’ has been something I’ve always struggled with and so I thoroughly related to the feelings my daughter was having as she mourned her fish.
It reminded me of all of those times when I studied every night for a week to get an ‘A’ on a test in school only to hear that the person in the desk next to me didn’t even take their book out of their locker and still aced it.
Or the exact moment at age 14 when I realized that I would never have a solo or starring role in any of our little church productions because another girl was always going to be the chosen one.
And there are deeper wounds I’ve experienced from injustice and unfairness. The wounds may heal, but the scars will always remain. Even recently, I’ve struggled with a sense of unfairness as I’ve encountered a side of Christian publishing that has left me questioning my calling as a writer.
As my daughter wrestled with her own feelings of injustice, I couldn’t help but be grateful for a Psalmist who had his own issues to reconcile. In Psalm 73 we read the words of Asaph who had a real bone to pick with the Lord. I mean, he was REALLY not happy about all of the people who seemed to be prospering around him but who were also oppressive and full of malice. He knew that they didn’t deserve what they were getting here on this earth and he wanted God to correct it. Asaph was trying to hard to do everything right yet he watched as those around him seemed to succeed despite the fact that they didn’t love and honor God.
For several verses of this passage he is venting his anger and frustration and frankly, his envy. But, then, we get to this one little portion where it all changes.
“But when I thought to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73:15-16)
Asaph went around and around trying to find a way to make sense of the lack of fairness. And there was honestly no sense to be made of it. So, he went “into the sanctuary of God.” After the venting and the anger and the wrestling with the ‘why’, he finally ran towards the one place where He would find rest and security. He realized that, this side of eternity, he could not possibly grasp the mysteries of God’s ways. Because, they are not ours to understand. And, I’ll tell you what, I’m also incredibly weary and exhausted from trying to figure it out. From wallowing in the pit of “that’s not fair!” In recent years, I’ve had some incredibly frustrating, unfair situations which have threatened to pull me deeper and deeper into that pit.
Does this mean I can’t feel the prick of the injustice? Or that I shouldn’t feel frustrated by the lack of fairness? Or that my daughter shouldn’t feel like it’s just not right that her brother’s fish lived while the fish she so lovingly cared for died? Or course not! And Asaph certainly felt all of those things. But, it’s what he did with those feelings that we need to emulate. Because he took them to his Father.
“When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in have but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:21-26)
Did it change anything in Asaph’s world? No. But it changed something in his heart. He remembered that he had a place to take all of those feelings, a sanctuary. And that it was in that sanctuary where he would find all of the counsel and wisdom he needed to continue the journey here on earth and the comfort in knowing that, one day, all will be made right in God’s kingdom.
In life, Coral the fish provided so much joy and fun for my daughter. And, in death, Coral provided her with the opportunity to discover the comfort found in the sanctuary of God. And, as much as I want to protect my children from pain, I’ve realized that these moments are so completely necessary in their lives for them to build a foundation of trust in the sovereignty of the Lord which will carry them through all of the unfair and unjust moments to come. Moments which will seem like a drop in the tank (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) compared to the loss of a first pet.
And I pray that, in those moments, they remember that while we are never guaranteed fairness, we are promised something SO much better.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:117-19