Saturday, April 29, 2006

[springlist] The Blessing of Helplessness

The clouds softly enclose the sky on this sleepy Saturday morning. For some
reason, I’ve always loved cloudy gray days. They seem a little like my
personality, relaxed and gently ambling along without a driving need to be
anywhere in particular—just happy to be. Today I’m happy to be reclining and
writing, and as I write, my blood enjoys a cleansing through the miracle of

Just above my right breast two small valves or ports connect to two tubes
running to and from the dialysis machine. My blood flows out one tube into
the machine through a series of twist and turns down through a filter and
into another tube that connects back to my chest. In the process,
potentially harmful chemical levels are readjusted and if I have too much
liquid in my system, it is removed.

If I had this same condition less than 100 years ago, I would probably be
dying as the toxins continued to build with no means of adjusting them. God
in His unfathomable goodness choose that I might live at this point in time
and thus enjoy the benefits of a machine.

There are a variety of people sitting in this room with me. Most are at
least 30 years older than me. One man holds his head and softly moans with a
grimace of pain clenching his face. He recently had surgery on both feet as
a result of bone problems associated with kidney disease.

According to one of the patients, this man made a fortune out West. I don’t
know what he did for living but apparently his hard work and ingenuity paid
great dividends, and he enjoyed great wealth. Here’s a man who once could
have anything he wanted, and now someone decides what he can do, where he
sits and even how much he can drink. He cannot even stand up by himself. Two
emergency workers must help him into a wheelchair. I feel sorry him and pray
for him some days because he always seems quite miserable.

As I look around the room, I notice one common thing about each person in
here. We’re all a bit helpless. All of us rely on machines to keep our
bodies working properly. All of us depend on nurses and doctors to take care
of us and in one sense keep us alive.

As the human body ages and when serious physical ailments require medical
assistance, the illusions of independence are stripped away. This state of
helplessness can be just as difficult and maybe more so than the actual
physical problem.

I grew up in a John Wayne world. As tough, self-reliant cowboy, he could
face any difficulty with guts and gusto. His character Rooster Cogburn was
crippled in one leg and had a patch over one eye, yet he was still tough as
nails. The world did not intimidate Rooster and he boldly confronted every
challenge with fierce resolve.

This independent, rough and ready cowboy fed the American myth of the
self-made individual who is unshakeable and can conquer the world through
vim and vigor.

And it is simply not true. All of us stand helpless before the world.
Regardless of wealth, education, and physical prowess, we’re not really that
different. Everyone one of us is completely helpless and every one of us
will die. Helplessness is just more obvious in some people than in others.

In a given day, every one of us relies on probably hundreds, if not
thousands, of other people for survival. When I awake to an alarm clock, I
rely on the engineers who designed that clock, the factory workers who built
that clock, the truck drivers who transported that clock, the sales person
who sold the clock and most likely the electric company who powers the
clock. In reality, this is just of few of the people who helped assure that
clock would wake me up on time for work.

As I take a shower, I rely on the persons who invented indoor plumbing, laid
the water lines, installed the plumbing, and work at the water company. By
the time I reach breakfast, I’ve already depended on a wide range of people
to get my morning started, and as the day progresses, I will rely on a host
more of unseen, unnamed people who will provide my essential needs and make
my life more comfortable.

But what about the hermit in the mountains or the person on the desert
island? They could actually live alone for years with relying on one other
human being, eating directly from the land. Aren’t they self-sufficient?
Think about it, they cannot possibly generate the food or water that will
sustain them. They get water from springs or wells and food from the land.
They are still totally dependent on the land, the sun, the air and the

Whether we acknowledge it or not, all of us are completely dependent. To
survive we depend on other people, on the earth and on God. This dependence,
this helplessness is not a curse at all—it’s a gift. This gift teaches us
that we are not alone and have never been alone.

If we were alone, we could not exist. We are created for relationship. The
varied web of relationships that sustain each of us is far larger than most
of us ever imagined. It circles the world. It extends back in time to
ancient ages. It is bigger and more mysterious than anything we could
observe or chart or fully grasp. And yet it is so easy to fall into the
arrogant illusion of self-sufficiency.

If we but grasped our helplessness, we might fall on our knees in gratitude:
to the sun above and earth below, to the countless people seen and unseen
that meet our continual needs, and most of all to God who sustains all
things and all people (saint and sinner alike) by a love beyond measure.

So as I sit here connected for four hours to a dialysis machine, I can only
respond in thanksgiving for those who’ve made this possible. I invite you
into my helplessness. Not into a sickness or physical malady but into a
realization of our total dependence upon one another. And with that mindset
into a continual stream of thanksgiving for the blessings that overtake us
each moment.

Instead of continually wondering why our lives are not better, we might
cultivate a mindset that wonders why our lives have been so good, so
blessed, and so overwhelmingly wonderful. In so doing, we might begin to
acknowledge the treasures that surround. Instead of complaining for slow
service at restaurant, we might thank the server for their time and effort
in meeting our need. We might thank the clerk in the store, we might thank
the boss who employs us, we might thank the officer who protects us, we
might thank the teachers who instruct us, we might look around with fresh
eyes at the innumerable blessings surrounding us each moment.

And most of all, we might thank God who owes us nothing and yet blesses us
continually whether we are good and evil.

Grace and Peace,

Doug Floyd

"You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find
rest in You."
St. Augustine

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