On February 6, 2009, at just after four o’clock in the morning, my wife and I welcomed into the world our first child, a baby boy named Silas. Naturally, this was one of the most joy-filled moments of our lives and one we will always remember. Just minutes after Silas’ birth, however, our joy was marred with a mixture of fear and sadness. Silas’ face turned blue and it became evident he was not breathing properly. The hospital staff rushed him to another room for emergency care as we were left to wonder what was happening. We soon learned that Silas was born with a condition called Pierre-Robin Sequence (PRS). Without getting into the specifics of the condition in too much detail, PRS is a combination of a recessed chin, a cleft palate, and a tongue that tends to fall backward over the affected child’s airway. This causes breathing and feeding problems, which often require various surgeries to allow the child to breathe and feed adequately.
My wife and I knew something about the condition before Silas’ birth because my nephew, now five years old, was also diagnosed with PRS at his birth. Naturally, being familiar with the condition didn’t take away all our anxiety because we knew all-too-well what my sister’s family experienced during those early days in caring for their son.
Just hours after Silas’ birth, both he and my wife were transferred from the hospital where he was born to another hospital in the area better equipped to handle his condition. There Silas remained in the NCCU (neonatal critical care unit) for nearly a month. In his last days in the hospital he was moved to a different floor. All-in-all, we were in the hospital for 33 days before being released. At 12-days-old Silas had a surgery on his jaw, called a “mandibular distraction,” to move his jaw forward and free his airway. In the days following, feeding specialists were brought in to help him learn to take milk with a special bottle. While a couple of additional surgeries are still in Silas’ future, we were released from the hospital back in March and have been enjoying our first days at home with our bright-eyed baby boy.
I have been reflecting of late about all the things the Lord has taught me through this experience with Silas. I remember one day in particular when I was sitting in the NCCU looking at my son. He was situated in a plastic crib and hooked up to numerous monitors. He was one of six babies in his pod. A blue curtain hung on either side of his crib partitioning off his spot in the pod from the babies on his left and right. This was life for Silas during his first month . . . life between the curtains.
As I sat there looking at him, I was reminded that every believer in Christ is also living, in a sense, between the curtains. In accepting Christ as Savior, we have passed through the first curtain into God’s presence. This first curtain was torn for us at Calvary. Because of the blood of Christ we have access in prayer to enter (with confidence) into the very throne room of God (Heb 10:19-20)! This is an unspeakable joy that I think we reflect on far too little. The saints of the OT period were not permitted into the Holy of Holies, which represented the special presence of the Lord God among His people, unless they happened to be one particular man, and even he could only go in on one particular day each year. Yet the NT says not only that we can enter the presence of God, but also that God dwells within us (1 Cor 3:16)! We cannot just go into the temple—we are the temple! The first curtain has indeed fallen, and what a joy this truth should be to us!
Yet for believers in this life, there is a second curtain which still remains. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says that we see now only in part, but then, in heaven, we will see God face-to-face. Now we know only in part, but then, in heaven, we will know more fully, even as we are known fully by our God. On this side of the second curtain we have questions. It comes with the territory. Among the questions that haunt us, perhaps the question “Why?” troubles us the most. We have a partial answer to the “why” question between the curtains, just like we have partial vision and a partial knowledge of God. We know, for example, that we experience evil in this world (both moral evil and natural disasters) because all of creation was marred by the fall and yearns for the coming redemption (e.g., Rom 8:19ff). We know that though we experience evil in this fallen world we have a God who is sovereign over all things, who is using everything, both the good and the bad, to conform us into the image of Christ (Rom 8:28-30). We know that trials are necessary to form patience within us (James 1:3-4). And we know many other things about trials and suffering from the pages of Scripture as well.
But in life ‘between the curtains’ we do not know everything do we? When a trial comes our way, we know basic truths and God’s basic objective in our life (i.e. to make us more like Christ) but we do not know exactly why God allowed that particular trial to enter our life or to affect someone we love. Sometimes God will choose to reveal his purposes to us, but often, we will not know . . . God did not intend for us to know . . . not on this side of the 2nd curtain. Sometimes God puts us in a place where all we can do is trust Him, even when we don’t understand what he is doing. Have you ever been in that place? Are you there now?
You see, life between the curtains is a good place to be, but as we all know, it can be a hard place as well. It is a good place because—if we are between the curtains, then we have passed beyond the first curtain into God’s presence. (Let us never forget how many in our world have not experienced the unspeakable riches we currently possess in Christ.) It is a good place because—God is with us between the curtains no matter what we go through (Heb 13:5). It is a good place because—we are confident God always has a purpose in our suffering, even when we don’t know exactly what that purpose is.
But life between the curtains is also a hard place, and there are times in our lives when this truth is brought before our eyes with particular clarity. The difficult period following Silas’ birth was one of those times for my wife and me and our extended family. It was a hard time—between the curtains. You see, we all instinctively think that things like what happened to Silas shouldn’t happen. And we are right to think so. Why should a little child have to undergo a surgery, or two, or three? Or worse, why should a baby die, like one of the baby girls we met while Silas was in the NCCU? These things shouldn’t happen, and in God’s original plan, they wouldn’t have happened. To borrow from the title of Plantinga’s book on the doctrine of sin, this world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” We realize that pain and suffering and death are a part of life here between the curtains; we know whose fault that is and we accept it. But there is a part of us that yearns for life beyond the 2nd curtain. And this is right too. After all, this is not our home. We were made for a better country, a heavenly one, where there are no neonatal critical care units, no morgues, no diseases, and no tears. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that God lets us experience trials between the curtains; it creates in us a sense of yearning for the time when God will set everything right, the way it should be. That is life beyond the 2nd curtain—life with a full vision of the risen Christ!
So as I watch my son endure at least two more surgeries in the coming year, I will trust the God who made him and has a plan for him. I know the Lord will see our family through this time and that He has us in the palm of His ever-caring hand. But every stitch, every tube, every monitor, and every night in the hospital will be one more reminder that life between the curtains is not life the way it was supposed to be. And my heart will yearn, as yours does, for the life that is to come—life beyond the curtains . . . life without curtains.