In Vain

In Vain

In Vain 3024 4032 Aaron Housholder

I’m lying in the ditch, bleeding. My son has died. I can’t move, can’t climb. I will never be the same. I will never be the same.

I hear you above me on the high road. You stop. Oh bless you, you stop.

Oh my, you say. It looks like you’re having a rough time. I’m so sorry.

And you smile down at me, a composed smile. Your shirt is clean and pressed. Your hair is in place.

Just remember, you say, that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. Remember that God has a plan, that this present suffering is part of His plan, that He will make right all that is wrong, that one day all of this will be past. Take joy in the Lord and His provisions, His grace and mercy, His love. Take joy, you say.

Heaven must have needed another angel, someone else says, up there. God must have needed him more than you did. Now he watches over you from above. How blessed you are that your son intercedes for you at the throne of Jesus. What a ministry you have now. What a blessing. What joy.

Someone whispers behind them: Is he still down there? How long do you think he’ll stay down there? How long does it take? Tell him to take joy.

I’m bleeding.

I’ve said words like yours before. I’m haunted by words I said that night to the doctor as we stood together waiting for my wife to be brought back to the room. God, I hate even writing this. The doctor had just told me that Benjie did not survive the emergency C-section. He was stillborn. The doctor said through her tears something about how sorry she was, how little sense any of this made.

And I said: “I know that God is in control.” And I gave a tiny little shrug with my shoulders. “This must be part of His will.”

I can’t blame her the expression she gave me, the confusion, the searing pain. I had spoken good churchy truth, and it was wrong. In that moment, it was the worst witness I could have given our doctor. The worst testimony. I desecrated her fresh, gaping wound, and I dishonored my own, my loss, my son, the eternity into which the doctor and I stared. I wielded a name of Power and Peace in vain, made it easy as a blanket. And I shrugged. Damn it, I shrugged. I wish I had not spoken.

Jesus walked to Lazarus’s tomb surrounded by those in grief, those in need of peace and comfort. He carried in Himself words of Truth. He was there to raise the dead – He had already said as much to His disciples – and so He could have told the crowd to stop crying, that their grief was needless, that God was in control and that all would be made good. He knew those things were True. But He said none of them. He allowed Himself instead to be “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” by the pain of those who joined Him near the tomb. And thus He wept with those who mourned.

And in doing so He honored God’s name. And the dead man was raised, and the grievers were comforted. Power and peace.

I hurt my doctor when I used God’s name.

And you, up there on the high road. I want to believe your words come from a place of love and concern and faith and maybe reverence. You’re good Christians and you use the Name and say good Christian things to us. You give us good safe churchy hugs (be careful of the blood!) with good churchy concern on your faces.

And as good Christians it never occurs to you that when I hear your words my secret desire is to punch you. The way you invoke the Name brings me no balm, no peace. When I’m lying in the ditch, bleeding, knowing I’ll never be well again, and you’re upright on the high road, well-dressed, clean, with your lofty wisdom and cultured voice, you employ the Name in vain as I did in the hospital hallway. You toss the Name down at me, try to cover me in it. I want to punch you, way up there.

I want to punch you in the face repeatedly (I confess) until under my knuckles I feel your cheek bones break, until fragments of broken teeth leak forth from your broken mouth, until your broken jaws contort your swollen lips into the forced smile you’d like me to adopt, until I see in your upturned eyes not the pain and anger that come first, not the desire to fight back that comes next, not the terror of confronting a force you cannot stop – no, I don’t want those. But there, that look right there, the certainty that you will never recover from this, that you will live with this pain and these scars forever, that you will never be the same no matter how much you heal, that you will never be the same, you will never be the same. There. Now we’re on equal terms. Now you’re down here with me.

Picture that. And then picture me smiling, lifting you up, wiping your tears and snot, straightening your jacket for you, draping my arm around your shoulders and assuring you that this present suffering is part of God’s plan, that He in His mercy and grace will work this moment into something good because of His great love for you. Picture me congratulating you on the testimony you’ll have of healing and grace, of the inspiration you’ll be to others who suffer similarly, as I try to scrub away your blood from my clothes. Revel in my warmth as I suggest that you should rejoice because God is in control. Revel even more as I move in closer and recommend that you clean yourself up a bit, cover those wounds, so the rest of us can be comfortable. Feeling joyful? C’mon. Take joy.

Down here in the ditch, yes, God is in control, and yes, He works in all things for the good of those who love Him. But I’m not sure it’s holy in the very midst of those things to look toward the good God will do with them. Maybe I need to inhabit this thing first, be battered and cut by it, deeply moved in spirit and troubled, crushed. This is where His Name works, down here. The good that God makes from this will look like little more than my own organic composure if I’m not first destroyed. It is profane, don’t I know it, to bump up against the sacred eternal and to shrug.

My son died. I hate that. God has been faithful and has brought tremendous beauty and love and goodness from this. But my son died. And I’m bleeding. And you should let me bleed. Maybe bleed with me. I don’t need you to tell me it’s one of the things God will make good. I don’t need you to say His Name at all.

First published at Off the Page.

Header photograph © Matthew Yates.

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