When We Have No Answers, Only Presence

I run down the stairs to our living room after bedtime with hot, angry tears caught in the back of my throat, purposely stepping on all of the forbidden creaky spots—a personal act of defiance. I barge into the room where my husband Paddy is alone and planted in the middle of the floor.

We have just been hurt by a child who is hurting, and for the first time, maybe ever, I notice the weary bags under Paddy’s eyes. When we met as Theology undergrads, he was always the quietest in a group—but his eyes were the kindest. Now they look as bruised as my heart.

I flick on the lights and realize we went separate ways hours ago—one of us to sit with the hurting child and one to sit with the siblings who were caught in the crossfire. 

We know we need to be a safe place for our children when the world is not—especially a neurotypical world in which a child with brain-based differences will struggle tenfold. We know it’s our job to be their regulators in these scary moments. We know we need to put our fear and pain aside. We know this. But when all three of our sons finally feel safe, we are sore. We are so emotionally and physically sore that it feels like our hearts could bleed. 

The years of being a walking, breathing punching bag catch up to me, and I want to wreck and scream and hurl whatever I can lay my hands on. I see a stuffed Paddington Bear to my left, and to my right, an abandoned breakfast bowl from twelve hours earlier. 

Paddy gives me a look that says don’t. And I realize he is rooted, ready to save me from myself. I don’t know how he anticipated my outburst before I even did.

I settle for hurling words.

“Do you really believe God is good right now?!” 

His double take suggests he wasn’t expecting me to go down the ‘God’ route, but the wheels are off now.

“How is it fair that our children struggle every single day and our friends’ children don’t?! How is it fair that other kids have happy, normal childhoods and right now, ours don’t?” 

He knows I don’t want the Sunday School answer. He knows I don’t want the Theology undergrad answer (my Theology degree has clearly left my body). He knows I don’t want perspective or a reminder of every mother who is bearing much worse suffering. Right now, we are one—those mothers and I—and I am our spokesperson. 

Much to my frustration, Paddy doesn’t offer an answer at all. Because he knows I just need to get the questions up and out of my soul, to let them fly. To be free. 


At university, Paddy was already the guy everyone turned to: the designated dad of the friend group. Father Paddy, his flatmates called him. I was already a mum, through a very different set of circumstances, to a beloved little boy I had as a teenager. 

Many months went by before I worked up the courage to let Paddy love me. In the meantime, on a Sunday evening before church, he built Lego transformers with my son, and afterward he chased him around the musty halls to tire him out while I finished a hot cup of tea. Every week Paddy texted after church to ask, “How’s my guy? Did I tire him out for bedtime?” 

Cue: me crushing hard. 

He was steady and strong, mature and immovable, committed and gentle, thoughtful and silly. I often joked that he had the most stable serotonin levels of anyone I knew—exactly what you need in a husband and father. 

When Paddy eventually asked me to be his girlfriend, we were eating mango sorbet the same color as his light ginger hair. My spoon suspended in the air, I replied, “Are you sure?” 

What I meant was, are you sure you can love both of us? Are you sure you won’t leave? Are you sure I can trust you? 

I don’t remember when I stopped holding back my questions, maybe when there was a wedding band on my finger. Maybe when my son started calling him daddy. Maybe when I realized he could handle my questions. He wanted them, he wanted all of me. 

Because when we offer our questions, we offer our whole selves. 


The morning after my outburst, a friend texts to say she’s praying. 

I’m tempted to reply, pfft good luck with that. 

The part of my brain trying to make sense of my child’s suffering cannot reconcile what my heart believes. My heart yearns to be held by the tender God who knit each of my boys together in my womb. But the God who knit my child together with a DNA pattern that makes life so difficult for them? This, I cannot reconcile. 

Can I really trust you?


It’s Holy Thursday when Paddy attends his first counseling session—and I feel wholly responsible. The shy boy who brought chocolate and coffee to my desk in the university library knew the future wouldn’t be easy, but neither of us imagined how gnarly the road ahead would be. 

Consumed by guilt, I text my friend, “I feel like I may ask too much of him.” She immediately showers me in grace, replying, “You’re a partnership. A team. There’s no guilt in that. Marriage and parenting asks a lot of us all.” 

She’s right. But I can’t shake the feeling that this partnership, in particular, asks a lot of him. That our journey has crushed him.

I repeatedly glance at my phone, marking the minutes until I can hug him and scoop up every unraveled piece of him. I busy myself, scrubbing pots that are already glistening and bathing babies who are wondering why it’s their second dunk of the day. At this stage of Holy Week, we usually try to do some form of foot washing with the boys, followed by a communion service. 

But not this year. 

This year, I can’t help but think of how my husband has already washed the feet of our family, how he has tended to the most vulnerable, humiliating parts of us, how he has wiped away the dirt of life’s paths and dressed the wounds of life’s pains, how he has tenderly co-labored with me, giving all of himself. There is possibly nothing more intimate one human can do for another. His presence in itself is an answer to every question about trust. 


On his way home, Paddy grabs a drive-thru dinner and instead of breaking bread, we share a box of McDonald’s chicken nuggets.

“I know it doesn’t work like this, but I just wanted the counselor to give me the answers,” Paddy says. Join the club, I think. 

I will spend the rest of my life trying to make sense of God’s unknowable ways. But when his transcendence trips me up, I am clinging to a God who says to those of us feeling abandoned, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.” (Isaiah 42:14 NIV)

It seems too irreverent to think of God gasping and groaning like a birthing mother. It seems too fleshy to think of him climbing into the grit of real life and making himself close and washing our feet, laboring alongside us to give birth to hope. 

But this is the presence God offers. 

For a long time, my prayer life will consist of questions. But maybe questions cultivate intimacy, because when we offer our questions, we offer our whole selves. And maybe I need him more than I need his answers. I’ll have to re-learn this afresh tomorrow and the day after that, but he isn’t going anywhere. God waits open-armed to receive all of me.

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Rebecca Smyth is a Northern Irish storyteller, wife and unlikely mum of three sons. After becoming a mother at eighteen, and at a time of feeling totally lost, she found her words. She says writing is now her way of seeing God in her life and she hopes that maybe, through her stories, you might see him in yours too. In this season she is happiest on a slow Saturday morning with coffee, copious amounts of pastries and snuggles with her boys. Oh, and a book. Always a book.

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