Have you ever passed a field of spent sunflowers? Their burnt brown heads are all bowed in the same direction, like a class of naughty kindergarteners abashed by their scolding teacher.
They look as though they considered the dust from whence they came, and maybe we all should do that occasionally? I have passed that same field when the stately golden heads were lifted high and proud and petal-full.
But the spent sunflowers are beautiful in their bare humility, like surrendered souls having shed all pretense to self-sufficiency. I’ve held my own head high, too, on a stiff neck and I’ve withered down to brown humility and though painful, one is infinitely better. Because to be brought low is to know the security and stability of the Source rather than wavering on your own skinny stalk.
This is the one I esteem, declares the Lord. He who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my Word. Isaiah 66:2
Jesus told those heartsick disciples on the road to Emmaus, Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory? (Luke 24:26)
Suffering, it’s everywhere in Scripture, and everywhere around us, and sometimes we’d just rather have our best life now.
God doesn’t seem to view pain the same way we do. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that God seems to take His most precious saints through some of the roughest, driest valleys (I believe he uses the very British word “troughs” instead).
His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways.
So we bow our heads with the sunflowers, give humble thanks, receive the manna-grace for today. We look forward to the day when all our suffering blows away like dust in the wind.
Do you feel withered and barren today, humbled before others or maybe just before your Maker?
Benjamin turns four years old the day I drive to help my dad and brother admit my grandmother into a geriatric lock-down facility. I finish the last touches of sweet white icing in a spiderweb pattern on his chocolate cake before I leave. He loves Spiderman.
The clouds tower high like glowering gray giants as I drive to the facility. Nervously, I smooth my ponytail and wipe my mouth of the remnants of lunch I had eaten on the way. My hands smell of vanilla frosting. My stomach is queasy.
I walk timidly in the front doors. The facility is dimly lit and smells of urine, but quiet except the sound of hospital personnel at work. Grandma is lying on a bed, rolling from side to side in pain. I hold her hand and she clings tightly to mine. We answer queues of questions, trying to paint a picture of the woman on the bed, explain how we had journeyed to this point.
Thomas* nods and listens, makes notes. We can tell he’s seen his own share of troubles by his familiarity with the pain meds we’re discussing. He has braces on his ankles, mentions two hip surgeries, and diabetes, too. I check his hand for a wedding ring, but there is none. I’m sad. No one should have to go through all that alone.
Grandma writhes on the bed, pain meds ineffective. She becomes more agitated. I rub her legs, hold her hand, tell her it’s going to get better. That’s why we’re here. She pulls back her lips until you can see her fillings on the top front teeth. I find that I am tense, too. I purposely relax my face.
An hour passes. Nurses come and go and a doctor, too. Everyone seems as mystified as we’ve been as to the source of the pain.
During a lull in the questions and visits, I tell Dad his eighth grandchild is coming in December. His haggard face breaks into a smile and a tiny ray of sunshine brightens the gloomy room, even while Grandma writhes on the bed. The power of new life. Life’s relentless circle, and maybe the tiny ones ease the pain of the aging just a little. I remember how Tim’s grandmother held her new baby great granddaughter the night before she passed away.
Dad tells Grandma about the new baby coming. She replies that she already knew, which of course she didn’t. She tells me I’ll be such a great mother. Then he tells Thomas, who asks me if it’s my first baby. He seems to be feigning interest, but I think of the empty finger and wonder if it’s sad for him.
I tell him it’s my fourth.
It doesn’t seem fair, new life within me, birthday party waiting at home, and we leave grandma in a wheel chair with a dispassionate aid standing by taking her blood pressure. So much life, and I wish I knew how to spread it around a little more evenly, like I did with the chocolate icing on Benjamin’s cake. Scoop up more frosting, smooth it on, even out this low place with a little extra. Enough sweet for everyone.
I try. I come back the next day during visiting hours. I memorize her patient code and speak it into the phone outside the locked doors. They let me in, lead us to a room to be alone.
Grandma cries a little when she sees me and tears rise in me, too, and I think we’re going to be a big weepy mess, us two. But instead, she cheers up and so do I. She tells me about group therapy and the doctor who looks like a movie star, only she can’t remember which one, and how she talked and talked, telling them all about her family. She says she enjoyed it.
And tenderness rises up within me, for her, this weak woman with a tear still on her cheek, and I know, I know how God feels about her.
He loves her.
Despite all the weakness and failing and anxiety and fear, He loves her, so tenderly. I feel Him, pouring it into my own heart. I take her hand and tell her, It’s going to be all right.
Sometimes we just need to hear that. And it’s true, even in the darkest shadows of sad places, there is still hope.
I’m reminded again: It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.
The sick and weak and falling-down failures, he loves us.
Lord, make us willing to open our lives and spread the sweet around. Make Your will my will. Align my life with Your purposes. Let me not hoard sweetness, but share it with those who have little.