Our Undeniable Powerlessness

We all have bad days. Often they are made up of little inconveniences that add up to create in us the sense that we may have been better off if we’d just stayed in bed that morning.

Today, however, I’m not thinking of those, “It’s a rainy day, and my hair is frizzy, and my shoes don’t match my outfit, and I’m late to work” kind of a bad day. The kind of bad day I’m talking about involves a sudden southward turn of events that makes your heart lurch, at least a bit. I had one of those days earlier this week. It began with my child’s high fever and somewhere in there was some unanticipated vomit and plenty of tears…some of them mine. Rough day.

We all survive those kinds of rough days, and are typically able to shake them off and start over the next day. Sometimes, though, a string of days like that – or worse – can turn into bad weeks, and sometimes those weeks stretch into rough seasons of deeply painful trial.

My rough day earlier this week was really – compared to the last few weeks – not so bad at all. It was, rather, just another cloudy day in a deeply grievous few weeks for my family. Our close family friends know exactly what I’m talking about; at the beginning of this week, we buried a young family member. My niece, Meg, died on Thursday, September 20, after 12 days in a coma following a tragic vehicle accident. She was 21 years old.

So this week’s unplanned fever- and vomit-fest felt more like “adding insult to injury,” and yet even as I type this I only need to call to mind my brother- and sister-in-law’s pain-etched faces at their daughter’s funeral this past Monday to know for certain that I have no room to complain. None at all.

Inexplicable tragedy has a way of bringing the normal burdens of life into sharper focus. It seems to me that we all go through life thinking that defiant hairstyles and vomit-from-left-field somehow qualify as bad days, I suppose because these sorts of events are small-but-undeniable forms of evidence that we simply cannot control the story arc of our lives. If we cannot control how our own hair looks sometimes, how is it that we go through life thinking we can control anything at all?

And yet we all tend to live our days as if we do, indeed, have control, don’t we? We all tend to get up in the morning thinking we have ultimate control over how we manage our time, how much we will get done and when, and who we allow to be a part of our schedule for that day. And because our Lord is gracious and kind, we do in fact have many days when the decisions we make play out, the goals we set for ourselves get accomplished. We get to the end of our day, look back on it, and call it “good.” Another day gone by, more or less just as we had hoped it would. Compliant hair. No one spiked a fever. A blessed absence of puke.

And that’s okay, I suppose, except that the mistake I think we all too often make is that we think it was our doing, rather than God’s mercy in our lives, directing whether or not we even make it to the end of the day (James 4:13-17).

These last few weeks, I have been sharply reminded that I cannot claim absolute control over anything. Life is terribly fragile, and yet we walk around living as if we are “far more immortal” than we really are. It’s in moments like these last few weeks that I am – yet again – grateful beyond words that I know the Creator God who is in control (Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3), and that if I choose, He will provide the security and rest I long for, simply by leaning into His presence (Philippians 4:6-7).

A friend of mine sent me a particularly beautiful note shortly after my niece’s MRI, whereby we found out that Meg’s injuries were such that she would never come out of her coma. My friend wrote:

In situations we go through (like Meg’s accident) it just seems like the world should completely stop for a little while and let you catch your breath and composure, and figure things out and just respect the conflict and heartache. But it never does. It continues on, waiting for no one or no situation. That’s when clinging to Jesus seems only more real…not just something read or said, but done with hope and with a desperation that our faith is everything that the Bible says it is. That God is, in fact, very real and very tangible…I pray for you and your family to know and experience God’s (nearness). To have time in your days and minds, in spite of all that is going on, to really soak up what God has for you at this time.

When she wrote this, my friend had no idea how much she was speaking to the very thing that brings me such comfort. How right she is. Jesus is my Savior every single day, but it’s those days when my heart is broken and life’s circumstances are so far out of my control that His lordship and protection feel most real to me, His foundation most like solid rock, His love a protective fortress (Psalm 18:1-2; Psalm 62:1-2).

There are many incidents all around us that are reminders – if we are paying attention – that we are powerless. Financial hardship caused by the unexpected loss of a job or a broken air conditioner in the suffocating heat of July are small evidences that much of life is simply beyond our own ability to manage it. But even if these hints escape us, death – or the threat of it through illness or accident – brings us to an undeniable reality; we must acknowledge that we are completely powerless to sustain ourselves, to guarantee our own next breath.

We can choose to kick against the goads, angry at life that it’s not going the way we want it to, or we can instead choose to worship and adore the One who sovereignly brings all things to our doorstep…and then provides the strength and grace to get through it all.

Psalm 62
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
How long will all of you attack a man
    to batter him,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
    They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.
Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no trust in extortion;
    set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
    and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work.

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