Strangely Persistent I

Recently, I spoke with another parent in the transitional care unit. In one week our kids had bonded. We knew of the reason the little girl was at the hospital: she had a brain tumor. Her mom took the time to explain to me more of her diagnosis and future outlook. I could hear her voice falter a little as she bravely told me of the aggressive nature of this “one of a kind” type of cancer.

There are these moments when the gravity of life breaks through the frivolity of our typical American lifestyle. The kids are running down the halls screaming of laughter. All the while two moms are leaning against the wall swapping stories of the moments their children almost died and quietly speak of an unknown future. The kids are oblivious. The weight, the pulling down, the heaviness of life falls on us. And it’s too heavy. 

In John 15, Jesus says that the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for his friends. I think we all can easily agree to the nobility of that type of sacrifice. Many of us may even envision ourselves in a fictional reality where we jump in front of a bullet to save someone important and by proxy become famous, important, heralded, or viral. I read the verse often like this:  “Possibly, if it comes down to it, let’s just pretend you walk into a dangerous situation, jump in front of the bullet to be a hero. Check.” And so the verse gets brushed aside as this heroic, just in case scenario.

In reality, the bullet you’re jumping in front of doesn’t kill you instantly. The wound isn’t physical either. You do what God commands His people to do, a.k.a. the right thing, and it demands sacrifice. That’s the heaviness of life. For all of us, the sacrifice will look differently. The wound will hurt and not quickly go away.  The reality of life is heavy and now you’re mad or frustrated or annoyed or whiny. Amy Carmichael calls this the “strangely persistent I”. The “strangely persistent I” wants to take over. “I didn’t want this.” “I hate this.” “I don’t understand this.” “I don’t know how I can do this.” “I have to figure this out.” 

We know we ought to abide in Christ like it says in John 15 but life is hard and we want our own solution.  Jeremiah 17 warns against a self-focus which turns into self-reliance. Verse 5 says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength.” God tells us that there is no benefit in trusting in ourselves or another human. I sometimes get overwhelmed at the situation before us. There is so much that has to be arranged for Charlie’s care and development that the what-if scenarios become a burden. The quote from Elisabeth Elliot comes to mind, “Fear arises when I believe it all depends on me.”

So, what is to be done? Thankfully, you don’t have to Google and wade through the myriad of Godless self help. Jeremiah 17:7 says “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” Clearly, the key is to trust in God. Just like our sacrifice will look different, the exact way trust is shown will be different. For me, trust means saying “yes” to caring for Charlie no matter what his diagnoses are. Trust means constantly praying “Lord please provide” when the calendar for nursing struggles to stay filled. Trust looks a lot like a deep breath and silent prayers all the day long. Jeremiah goes on in verse 9 to convince us that sometimes what we think and feel may not always point us in the right direction. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Trust means we acknowledge that we cannot find answers in ourselves.

This is no easy task and I find that I have to repeat this to myself daily. Probably more like weekly because the self-focus takes up about 6 days of the week and then I realize why I feel so burdened by day 7. And honestly, I hate not feeling in control. It’s pretty scary sometimes. But I have found that when I have opened my hand to God instead of keeping a clinched fist around “my plans for life”, there are wonderful moments that I feel completely at ease. The cycle goes like this:  surrender control of your life to Christ, something unexpected happens, freak out, try to fix it yourself, get weighed down, give control back to Christ, breathe in relief, new unexpected event, freak out…and repeat it all over again.

I don’t know what unexpected event is happening in your life right now but I’ll always give you the whole hearted, “It sucks. I’m sorry.” I don’t have any remedies but thankfully Christ does.

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