My mom tells a story about me as a two-year-old. She had taught our toddler Sunday school class a song (I believe it was Away in a Manger) which we were to perform for the congregation at the church where we were attending at the time. According to her recollection (and apparently a home video), as she attempted to herd us up onto the stage in something resembling a straight line, I suddenly rushed ahead of the pack, took the microphone into my possession, and began to belt out the chorus with all the fervor my tiny lungs could muster. I crushed it. It was adorable. You should have been there.
Since then, and for a list of reasons too lengthy for this particular post, I haven’t much liked being the center of attention. I’m a die-hard introvert who has, with much work and divine intervention, become somewhat outgoing on a semi-regular basis. Being with and in front of people is physically and emotionally draining for me. Ask my wife. She’ll tell you.
So, here I sit, after spending almost an entire day with people (by virtue of my full-time job as a minister), typing words to hundreds more people about the journey that our family is taking following the birth of our fourth child (who has Down syndrome). The irony is staggering, really.
I feel it’s at this point that I need to confess something: I really don’t mind being the center of attention.
I mean, I avoid sustained social interaction like the plague, but the validation that comes with having all eyes on me or something I’ve written is actually kind of intoxicating. I crave affirmation and approval, so much so that I am often tempted to gloss over the rougher parts of myself in order to make it seem like I’ve got it all together.
Another confession: I don’t have it all together. That’s what this post is all about.
Over the past month, since Harrison was born, Brandi and I have had some incredible opportunities to share our story with people. Our families, our church, our friends in “real life” and on social media, and even complete strangers have shared with us how our handling of this very difficult situation has encouraged, inspired, or challenged them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some version of, “You two are just so great. I can’t believe how faithful you have been through all of this. I can’t imagine what I would do in your situation.”
Let me tell you what you would do. Are you ready?
You would fail. No, really. You would collapse into a sobbing, miserable heap with no stomach for the fight. You would retreat into the darkness like a real-life Sméagol, clutching onto the thing that enslaves you because the light is too painful to bear. There is a 0% chance that you would come out of a situation like the one we are in with your head held high, grinning from ear to ear and smelling like roses.
You might say to yourself at this point, “Who does this jerk think he is? He doesn’t know me. He has no idea how I would react to this situation!” Oh, but I do.
Don’t get me wrong, you would have your good days when things seem to be moving in the right direction, and it looks like there is a light at the end of this tunnel. It’s easy to smile and laugh and be around people and to want to do life on these sunny days. But, inevitably, there will also be days when the end of the tunnel seems to slam shut, leaving you in the darkness of fear and doubt and bitterness. You might be able to tough it out for a little while, stumbling around in the gloom, trying to put on a happy face like your world isn’t falling apart. You might even be able to keep this up in public for an extended amount of time. However, at some point, whether in front of people or by yourself, the façade will crumble, and you will be exposed for what you really are: human.
Yes, we are all different. Yes, we have various strengths and weaknesses and tolerances to physical or emotional pain. Yes, some of us are stronger than others whether by nature, nurture, or the hardening that comes with a life full of hard times. But, at the end of the day, we are all human, and we are all fractured. We can hide these fractures really well a lot of the time, but under the mounting weight of pain, loss, and hopelessness that comes with these dark times, we will all ultimately shatter into a million tiny little pieces.
Our brokenness (mine and Brandi’s in particular) has been revealed in a variety of ways over the past month. We have wept uncontrollably. We have lost hope. We have raged against God for allowing this to happen. We have taken out our frustrations on people who do not deserve it, namely our three oldest children. We have run headlong into sinful habits and attitudes that numb the pain for a while, but ultimately leave us more broken and shamed than when we started. We have failed at this, over and over and over.
And yet, it’s here, at the end of ourselves and what we are capable of, that we find hope.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3: 11-14, ESV, emphasis mine)
There have been many, many times over the past few weeks that we have felt just like Moses: like God is asking us to do something that we are completely unqualified to do. We have felt weak, ineffective, and foolish more times than we can count. We, like Moses, have asked God why in the world he chose us to take on this seemingly impossible task, hoping that God would remind us of how special and able and awesome we are.
But, he didn’t do that for Moses and he hasn’t done it for us. What he has done is tell us the same thing he said from the burning bush thousands of years ago: I AM WHO I AM, and I AM with you.” When we ask him to end Harrison’s stay in the NICU, he says, “I AM there in the room with you.” When we ask him to take away the pain of our family being in two different places, he says, “I AM enough to get you through this.” When we tell him we are exhausted and can’t take this anymore, he says, “I AM working in your weariness.” He has revealed himself in a deeply personal way without changing our circumstances, and he has emboldened us to keep fighting without stroking our egos.
He has also said one other incredibly comforting thing: I understand because I’ve been there.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4: 14-16, ESV)
We don’t have to be perfect because Jesus is. He lived the sinless life we are incapable of, died to pay a debt we couldn’t pay, and lives as our advocate when we continually screw this thing up. He bears our burdens and heals our hurts in ways we find it difficult to put into words. He understands our pain because he has walked through it and come out the other side victorious. Will we still stumble and fall? Absolutely, on repeat. And yet, every failure will be an opportunity for Him to display his power in us and make us more like Him. I like to call this “falling forward.”
I want to end with a quote from Matt Chandler that perfectly sums up the freedom that we have found in acknowledging our weakness and leaning on Jesus during this season:
“We have to acknowledge our limitations. You have to grow comfortable in the sovereign brilliant size of God as opposed to our tininess…to be small and in the hands of an infinite God is so much better than being big and strong and bold and able and having all things under control. No, just be small and in his hands. It’s awesome. Just embrace the fact that you can’t, and he can, so we should probably let him. It’s just such a better way to do life.”
Brandi and I don’t have it all together.
But we know the One who does, and for right now, that is enough.