The Surprising Spiritual Truth About Life In A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
We are so bent on our own strength and competence amidst the pressures of life that we often miss how God shows up most profoundly. In our weakness. For the last three years, the month of May always reminds me that God meets human beings in brokenness, not strength.
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”2 Corinthians 12:10
May 13th marked our second child's third year of life. We were a day late, but just yesterday we partied down accordingly. Friends and family celebrated with us by eating junk food, and toasting the birthday girl with Disney themed paper cups.
There’s nothing special about this snapshot of life, really. All parents celebrate their children. But this birthday is always different. Things had not gone so swimmingly in the womb for our baby girl, and her first eighteen months were rough.
THE SENTENCE: BED REST
I’ll spare you all the medical details but after an unusually uncomfortable week halfway through her pregnancy, my wife was ordered to go on strict bed rest, for the sake of staving off a dangerously premature birth. Practically, this meant that she was able to get up from the couch to use the bathroom and she could do one of two activities that day. She could either 1) take a shower or 2) she could make dinner. If she tried to do both in one day, painful contractions started in which was a danger sign. Keep in mind, we also had a very active three-year-old daughter (who's now 6) who has the energy level of a spider monkey hopped up on a pot of coffee. Bed rest? Yeah, right.
For my wife, showing weakness and expressing our need to others was not a cushy dream, but a nightmare.
Have you ever had to depend on someone to wait on you hand and foot? Someone to cook for you and clean the house? Sounds like a dream, right? Wrong. You don’t know my wife. She’s quite capable—thank you very much. For her, showing weakness and expressing our need to others was not a cushy dream, but a nightmare. (Note: I have gotten permission from her to write this.)
WAS GOD TELLING US TO TOUGHEN UP?
There was many a late night conversation in those days. And what we discovered in those long talks and time of prayer is that my wife has always had a nagging sense that God has demanded that she be strong in the face of adversity. For her, God’s constant declaration in the Bible to “fear not” sounded more like a cranky deity barking orders to toughen up, rather than a graceful invitation to rest in his strength.
This brought up a lot of questions we had to struggle with. Did my family’s vulnerability show a lack of faith? Was God expecting us to toughen up? Worse still, was God irritated that we couldn’t seem to muster enough faith to fend for ourselves? We prayed about it, and in the end, we felt it was important to obey doctor’s orders, have my wife adhere to the prison sentence of bed rest, and be humbled by allowing friends and family members scrub our toilet for us.
THE SWEETNESS OF DEPENDENCE
Of course there’s much more to the story that involves hospital stays, a false labor, my wife’s adverse medication reactions, and another 11 days in the hospital after the baby was born.
God’s presence wasn’t a reward for our strength and resolve.
But a few years later, as we celebrate the life of our beautiful baby girl with all those who lovingly supported us in that time, we both agree we’ve never known the kind of dependence her first year and a half brought.
You see, God’s presence wasn’t a reward for our strength and resolve. God wasn’t administering a stiff-upper-lip test to our family. Instead of receiving sternness, disapproval, or impatience as we struggled, we were met with God’s kindness and grace upon grace, day in and day out. As he permitted our weakness, we recognized the sweetness of dependence on him.
God graciously allowed for our circumstances to reveal our desperate need for him.
There was so much about those difficult experiences that I wish had never happened. But through it all, God was exceedingly gracious to us amid the pain and uncertainty. God confirmed over and over that any bit of misery was worth it for the sake of protecting, and serving our pre-born baby. It is a hard truth to contend with but God graciously allowed for our circumstances to reveal our desperate need for him, and in a sense, we were able to say with the Apostle Paul, that when I am weak, then I am strong.
ARE YOU WEARY?
If you are in need, and without resources to help yourself, I’m sorry. The feeling of helplessness is painful. If you are strong, confident, able-bodied and competent, you can't keep it up forever. Whatever your stage of life, whatever your experience, know that God is not disappointed or annoyed by your brokenness. Rather, he is your help when you are helpless, he is your strength in your weakness, he gives pardon to the sinner, he gives grace to the broken, he bestows love on the unlovable, and he gives rest to the weary.
Thank you, God, for the great gift of our beautiful, healthy baby girl. And thank you for being our strength in weakness.