That Helpless Feeling

A few weeks ago, we faced the unexpected: Our not-even-three-week-old baby spiked a fever that wouldn’t break. A trip to the emergency room was followed by being admitted into a children’s hospital for a three-day stay. Fortunately, the problem proved to be a virus that simply needed time to pass.

But in the midst of the wait, there was one feeling, for me at least, that was strong: helplessness.

Life is precious. Life is also vulnerable. You learn both as a new parent.

We like to think that we are strong and in control. We like to think that we can provide safe spaces for our children where no harm will befall them. But then things happen in life and our illusions of strength shatter.

I watched as they poked, prodded, and drew blood and spinal fluid from my baby boy. I listened as the doctors explained how they would aggressively treat his condition as they waited for test results, in case their worst fears were realized. I sat awkwardly in a chair and held my son with wires and tubes running from him to machines.

I was present but I was helpless. I couldn’t make his fever break. I couldn’t speed up the clock for answers. I couldn’t make my boy better.

I could hold him. I could sit with my wife as she held him. And I could pray.

One positive that came from that helpless feeling was the reminder that even though I’m not in control, God is. That reminder deepens the reality of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done.”

Not every moment in life resolves positively, at least in a way that we can see in the here-and-now. Thank God for those moments that do, but the fact they don’t is part of the reality of living in a broken world. Yet, in those moments of deep helplessness, however they resolve, God is there for his children and God will carry us through.

That is the essence of Psalm 23, after all. There’s quiet plains and still waters but there’s also the dark valleys of the shadow of death, yet, God is there.

baby child father fingers

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Impactful Reads: Death in the City

Death in the City by Francis Schaeffer is one of the most impactful books that I have read (in fact, I’ve read through it three times now). The title might sound a bit head-scratching. It is based on a series of lectures by Schaeffer in the late 1960s derived form the biblical books of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Romans. He draws the title from Lamentations 1:1 which speaks of Jerusalem after the inhabitants were either killed or exiled to Babylon and then sat empty, hence “death” in the city.

Ultimately, Schaeffer was writing a critique of western culture as it was shifting (and continues to shift) from an overarching Judeo-Christian worldview to one that is post-Christian. But his critique is not so much aimed at the culture at large but rather the Christian’s and church’s response.

I first read Death in the City as a college student in a time where my faith was being greatly shaped and coming into its own. Three main things stuck out then and still stick with me today.

First, building on the Westminster Catechism, Schaeffer considered what it means that humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Christianity is not a cold religion or a dispassionate intellectual exercise. Christianity is not about escape from life but pressing into true life with excitement. It’s about finding whole-person fulfillment “in relationship to the God who is there.” In other words, Christianity is about finding joy and satisfaction that never fades but finding its source in Christ and not in the offerings of the world and culture. (Pg. 25-27)

Second, Schaeffer warned that Christianity becomes ugly when it divorces itself from compassion. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to speak some difficult truths but he did so with tears. Yes, the Christian Gospel is a message of holiness, a sacredness devoted to the ways of God that often run contra the ways of humanity, yet at the same time it is a message about love. The two cannot be divorced nor set against each other. As followers of Jesus, witnessing to the world, we must speak of every person’s significance as an image-bearer of God, we must not shy away from the wrongfulness of sin and rebellion against God, but we must do so with compassion and a heart that loves others by seeking to meet their various needs. (Pg. 68-74, 118-23)

Third, Schaeffer encouraged to “go on” speaking about Jesus and Scripture, even if it seems those who listen, believe, and turn to Jesus are few and far between. It is the encouragement to be faithful and not worry about “the world’s concept of success.” At the end of one of his lectures, Schaeffer passionately said: “My last sentence is simply this: The world is lost, the God of the Bible does exist; the world is lost, but truth is truth, keep on! And for how long? I’ll tell you. Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on, and then keep on!”

The above pagination is from the third printing of Death in the City by Inter-Varsity Press, 1970.

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Pursue All Things Good

I have heard about Eugene Peterson for years, a longtime pastor and author who died recently. I’ve even used his The Message paraphrase of the Bible for personal devotions. But only more recently have I picked up some of his other works, including, the considered-classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Within its pages I have found words that cut to the heart. As he ponders the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134), he spends time reflecting on various topics they portray. He assigns repentance to Psalm 120, and in words that are also reminiscent of Philippians 2:14-15 as well, he writes:

Psalm 120 is the decision to take one way over against the other. It is the turning point marking the transition from a dreamy nostalgia for a better life to a rugged pilgrimage of discipleship in faith, from complaining about how bad things are to pursing all things good.**

I think of social media, Facebook and Twitter and the likes that we all seem quite addicted to. How much of it is complaining about others? And complaining about others complaining about stuff? (And, then, semi-ironically, could this be complaining about others complaining about others complaining about stuff.)

We turn on the news, and most stories are about how bad things are across the globe and in our neighborhoods. Our coffee table or water cooler gossip carries a lot of complaints.

Complaining about people and things seems woven into the fabric of life. Including my life.

But Christianity is inherently optimistic. Yes, we should not gloss over a world of hurt, war, and disease, all brought on by the corruption of sin. But if we’re well known for complaining about how bad stuff is, then we’ve essentially have missed the point. Jesus rescues us from sin and he one day will make all things new.

Thus, for the Christian, the future is ultimately always better.

This, I think, is the reminder that Peterson sought to share: Christianity is about looking forward and upward. Complaining about the world isn’t going to change a thing.

But pursing all things good–pursing Jesus and all he offers will.

I hope to remember that the next time I feel the urge to complain.

**Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 28.