The "Routine" Procedure
My 12 year old son had to go through a “routine” medical procedure a few months ago. I did okay getting him to the hospital. I did okay in the waiting room as we each read our books and watched old time Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons. I was feeling unsettled, but I could block that out with the tales about Coach Wooden and his dad. Then, we were called in and Ethan was given one of those hospital gowns. We told him which side was the front and how the breezy side was the back. And, that unsettled feeling I had been trying to ignore was rushing to the forefront. I hated this.
I wanted to be anywhere in the world but here. But, I had a choice. I could be somewhere else. But, I wanted to be here, here with my son to bring him comfort and peace and hope and confidence. So, there I sat or stood or paced and prayed and trusted and prayed and doubted and prayed and hoped. And this was a “routine” procedure. I cannot imagine living in a world where this was routine.
The anesthesiologist asked him if he wanted gas to relax him before she put the IV in to help rehydrate him. He shook his pale smiling head and said that he just couldn’t watch the needle go in, after that he’d be fine. She kept talking to him about how brave he was. He was brave. I wasn’t feeling brave.
I walked alongside him into the procedure room, praying and holding his hand until they put the tube in his mouth and started the real IV that knocked him out.
He was in the room for less than an hour when the doctor told us that everything was fine, maybe a little area of concern, but we could treat that with medicine if need be. They would let us know when the results came back from the tests they took.
Then, we sat watching him as he slept. And, I couldn’t help but feel completely helpless. The only thing I wanted in that moment was for my son to be okay, to wake up and be okay. The machines were all hooked up and every indication that modern medicine could offer told me he was okay and was going to be okay. But, my whole life was upside down.
I hated seeing him like that. I hated that helpless feeling, knowing that there was nothing I could do to fix this and make everything okay again. I could not protect him from this, and I could not speed his recovery. I could only wait and hope.
Even with the full confidence of science and medicine, my heart ached and my body followed. I felt like throwing up.
I bet most parents have felt that way about their children at one point or another. Hopeless and helpless. Even most of those without children can relate to seeing a loved one suffer, a parent, a sibling, or a friend.
If you compare your situation to mine, you might think I was overreacting.
If you compare your situation to mine, you might think I was overreacting.
I recently met a couple who lost their young son to cancer after a prolonged battle. I am sure they experienced every emotion and fear and doubt that I experienced in those few hours, but with greater intensity and prolonged over years instead of minutes. There was even a time when they thought he had won the fight and was in remission.
A woman from our church found out about her son’s death after he crashed his car on the way to the prom. I’m sure she experienced the same feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Surely my situation doesn’t compare to theirs.
That is the thing. They don’t compare. My pain doesn’t compare with your pain. My life doesn’t compare to your life. My faith doesn’t compare to your faith. We are all gifted by God with different hopes, different dreams, different courage and different faith. Because we all face different suffering, different heartache, different pain, and different loss. There is no way to compare ourselves with one other. There is no objective standard, no measuring rod.
And, besides, if there was a measuring rod, we would all fall into the deception of thinking that our lives are worse than somebody else’s, that life is unfair, or that we are better than someone else because of how we have lived our lives compared to them. And, I think we all know how destructive that is. It leads to bigotry, hatred, condescension, insults, arrogance, and that awful feeling that we are all alone, isolated from everyone around us.
That leads to the death of compassion. We close our hearts to others because we feel that they have closed their hearts to us.
And, that is where our suffering and pain is meant to lead us. When we compare ourselves to one another it separates us, divides us into those that are like us and those that are not.
Us vs. Them.
But, compassion draws us toward one another. When we see someone else in pain and are drawn by God to feel, to have empathy, we experience oneness and unity. We feel compassion for them and love for them. We feel what God feels when he sees our suffering.
As Mother's Day came and went, I could not help but ache for those who have lost children.
It is obvious that our new friends have experienced peace and grace and hope throughout the torture of walking with their son through cancer and grieving his death. It is clear that the struggle for life and the defeat of death was not the whole story. They spoke about their son with smiles and love and hope. Together we laughed and played and spoke of Christ's love. They have a peace and confidence that doesn’t make sense.
They have a peace and confidence that medical and scientific progress couldn’t give me as I looked into the colorless face and lifeless expression of my son lying on that hospital bed.
Their peace brings me peace. Just like their struggle can’t be compared to my struggle. Their peace can’t be compared to my peace.
But, I can draw strength and hope from it. I can and I am.
They have gone through hell manifesting itself on earth. They have experienced the result of sin on this earth fulfilling its goal, leading to death.
They have also experienced heaven on earth. A oneness with God, a peace, a love that they attribute to Christ.
This reminds me of a verse from the Bible that I have memorized over the years.
Christ was using an illustration about branches needing to remain connected to the vine in order to have life when he said, “apart from me you can do nothing.”
When I live apart from Christ and apart from the people he gave me to love, I die. If you have ever felt so depressed that you didn’t think you could get up out of bed, you didn’t think you could take another step, you didn’t care whether you lived or died, you couldn’t eat and all you wanted to do was sleep, then you have experienced this verse to some extent. “Apart from [Christ] you can do nothing.”
If you have suffered through addiction and felt powerless to break from the chains that you feel, then you too have experienced the truth of this verse, "apart from [Christ] you can do nothing."
If you have ever faced a life controlled and confined by fear, anxiety and worry. If you have ever said, "No, I just can't do that," because you were afraid you might have a panic attack. If you have ever not done when you knew in your heart was the right, good and best thing to do because you were terrified what might happen. Then, you have experienced the reality of the verse, "apart from [Christ] you can do nothing."
The flip side of that verse is one that many of us teach even to our youngest children. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
If apart from Christ we can’t even go to work or stop from taking a smoke or walk into a crowded mall, it makes sense that whatever Christ gives us the strength to do, we can do.
Like I said, I wanted to be anywhere in the world except there with my wife watching my son go through that. But, Christ gave me the strength to do what I wanted to do even more, be there for him. As Rachel and I sat by his bed, Christ gave us strength and peace and hope and courage. Christ gave us love that overcame our fear. My heart said to run and hide and try to numb the pain I felt. But, Christ’s love gave me the courage to sit and wait and pray and hope.
I guess that is always our choice. Face the fear and the pain and the suffering of life with love or not. We can always choose to run and hide and numb the pain or stand and fight in our own strength of mind and will and body.
But, in the end, the only choice we have is whether or not to remain in Christ. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” OR “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Live in strength. Live in Christ.
Live in peace. Live in Christ.
Live in love. Live in Christ.
Choose life. Choose Christ.
Then, we will have compassion and empathy for those around us. Then, we will be a bright light offering hope and a way to those around us.
Thank you Jesus for being our light, our way, our hope, our peace and our strength.