6/05/2012

Fear and Gratitude

Today's post is lengthy, but bear with me. I'm making up for not blogging last week while Jason was out of town (in Atlanta for work). I'm not sure how much time I'll have for blogging the rest of this week so feel free to digest this post, long enough for three parts(!), in manageable portions :)

I've been thinking a lot lately about what a gift health is. If we're honest, most of us expect it, feel entitled to it, as though going through each day with minimal to no interruption from our bodies is how it should be. To an extent, I suppose that is true. God did create us in his image and there was no sickness or death before sin came into the world through Adam and Eve. It wasn't supposed to be this way, bodies that break and break down and age and get attacked by disease regardless of age, yet we aren't promised that we get to be immune to the effects of sin.

As you may recall, recently the death of a sweet, three week old baby named Esther really ripped my heart to shreds. Something so simple as a Tim Tebow tweet of condolence to families he ministered to who recently lost their children to cancer made me weep. Seeing children suffering and dying just feels so wrong.

Often when I wrestle with these emotions I cry out to God, asking him why he allows this. I know he can stop it, and he can heal. I won't attempt a deep theological treatise on sickness here, merely state that God is not the one who causes evil and sickness; however, he does allow it. No illness or evil that affects us happened outside of God's will, or else he wouldn't be sovereign.

Regarding sickness, it is true that abnormalities in cells that lead to the plethora of diseases in our world are a result of the effects of sin on our bodies. It is true that God can heal whomever he wants to heal when he chooses to allow sickness to touch children and adults alike. It is true that it is grace from God when he doesn't allow leukemia or CDH or brain cancer to take the children who grow to adulthood without experiencing these maladies.

Recently I saw a twitter campaign for prayer for another family touched by devastating illness, watching their sweet young toddler suffer and I wept before God, telling him my heart just couldn't handle another round of praying for a child and watching them die. I asked him why he allows this, because to me it's all just bad. And so gently, Jesus spoke to me. He told me that while illness is a result of sin it's not entirely bad; he brings life and joy and gives a sweet gift of himself in the midst of the pain. Jesus redeems what is evil to something that is better than good, because he himself is in the midst of it.

In the story of sweet Esther and her family, he has been brought much glory and worked in people's lives through Esther's illness and death in a way that simply never would have happened had she been born wonderfully healthy. Truthfully, in a way she was wonderfully unhealthy because of the way Jesus brought so much redemption through her short life. And, as her parents graciously attest to, their baby girl is dancing with Jesus and free from a life of any more pain and suffering that those of us still here experience. While her being apart from them is painful, the fact that she's free eternally is a source of joy.

One of the happiest little dudes you'll ever meet.
I have struggled with fear; I see my gorgeous son and he's so healthy and happy and vibrant; even at this moment he woke up (it's currently midnight as I write) in his crib and is singing to himself. At times I wonder what it would be like to see him limply clinging to life as a disease ravages his tiny body, to watch him endure needles and tests and watch deadly poisons pumped into his veins in an effort to kill the more deadly enemy already trumping his immune system.

I feel my wonderfully wigglesome daughter kick literally hundreds of times per day, and so far she's absolutely the picture of a perfect pregnancy and baby, just as her brother was (there have been side effects, to be clear, but nothing serious or scary; any issues have been the way pregnancy has affected me but she's wonderfully healthy as far as we can tell). I wonder if there's something wrong we can't see yet? Or will there be complications during her birth? Or maybe everything will look great and then something will come of out nowhere, either a long suffering disease that slowly takes her; or maybe one night it's as quickly as SIDS taking her to Jesus terribly too early for my taste.

Fear.

Recently in a sermon our preaching pastor said something profound; he told us that fear makes us false prophets. I've thought a lot about this and though I've never heard it said that way before, he's absolutely right. Fear causes us to imagine the worst case scenario and then we live bound to that future as though it were approaching and were to arrive at any given moment. We think harboring the fear guards our hearts, making us better prepared for when the worst arrives.

Our easily mesmerized, life loving little man.
The truth is, if the worst arrives we can never fully be prepared for it. Living in fear doesn't make us ready or protect us; rather, it robs us of the life and joy we are meant to be living in this moment before the face of God with all he has given us. Often those worst things never come, and when the good we had has passed us by we are stuck with regret for the living we missed. How dare I rob myself the joy of experiencing this vibrant life with my son? Of this wonderful pregnancy with Juliet that I will never have again, as she can never again be inside my body once she is out of it? It would be foolish to forfeit these joys, and God is good to tell me to not have fear.

If the worst did come, I am confident that only by the grace of God in that moment would I take each breath and step...just as I do now. Some might say the antidote to fear is gratitude, but to be honest I'm not about finding problems and then sticking "here's what you can do" band-aids on them, as though I can just tell myself to be more grateful and then I'm all better.

In fact, mini-rant: if you've been on Pinterest for 5 minutes then you have likely seen the "What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?" pin. The sentiment isn't inherently evil, but I don't want to be guilted into thanking God out of fear that he'll take what I have away (and also guilted for wanting more than what I have). I want contentment and gratitude to flow not from guilt but out of intimacy with Jesus, out of a relationship with him that is because he by grace abides with me even when I am not thankful and greedy and whiny, as I so often am. Sometimes his will is to say no to a perfectly good request, and other times he gives us wonderfully good gifts in the midst of our refusal to be grateful for what we already have. None of it is dependent on us shaking the voodoo stick of carefully thanking God for what we have so he won't take it away.

End rant.

He's pretty much the dictionary definition of a healthy,
active, curious and growing toddler (here, loving the
sand and seconds away from trying to "get to know"
 the ocean behind him).
The point is, I cannot conjure up enough gratitude for what I have in this moment--a jubilant boy with whom I laugh countless times every day and a daughter in my womb whose mere existence causes tears to spring to my eyes at least daily--to chase away the fear that things might go horribly wrong at some point. Only by the grace of God, abiding in him as he abides in me because he abides in me, can I truly enjoy what he's blessed me with and not be enslaved to fear that he'll take it away. I don't want to be a false prophet, and only grace releases me from the chains of being one. Gratitude will root out fear, but it's not something we can do out of guilt; it's a gift he gives as we abide in Christ and spend time in his word, knowing him.

Lastly, I'm not saying that cancer or a disfiguring accident or something along those lines is desirable or wanted, but I do know this: it's not worst case scenario. Worst case scenario is my children not knowing Jesus and spending eternity apart from him. Quite honestly, worst case scenario is more likely to be a life filled with financial security and good friends and a wonderful church and we think it's all about us and take for granted God's grace, and teach our kids to be good little Pharisees who follow rules and are successful as adults and we just look like the best family ever...and then we stand before Jesus and he tells us to depart from him because he never knew us. Our "Christian" life was one lived void of Christ himself.

While it wouldn't be my chosen route, if God's will included something I don't desire to bring glory to himself and be made great in and through our lives, such as burying a beloved child in a tiny casket, I pray I would lift my hands in worshipful surrender, singing "Thy will be done." So often my idea of the worst is part of God's plan for his best.

One of our countless silly mama moments; never mind
the frumped up shirt; pregnancy does that!
I don't encourage anyone to ask for illness or loss. I continue to pray for long healthy lives for my children. I ask for good gifts of babies that are born healthy and with minimal complications; that I'll be able to exclusively nurse this time around; that my darling Roger and Juliet will be soulmates and best friends who grow old together, along with how many other siblings Jesus blesses our family to have. I ask that our family be blessed financially and with wisdom in stewardship of our time, talents, and treasures (as often it's not the cancer of the body that brings heartache on a family but the cancer of greed and foolishness that brings death). But ultimately, I ask Jesus that he bring glory to himself in the way he best sees fit and that my heart would find rest in his presence along the way.

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