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Friday, April 17, 2015

On Futility and the Spirit

Tuesday I ended up covering ICU for the day and night.  My colleague signed out the sickest babies in the hospital to me.  One, little F, was a 9 month old with Down Syndrome, congenital heart disease, a serious bacterial infection, and a marginal prognosis.  But when she had seemed to be imminently dying the day before, she inexplicably revived.  Her dedicated family held prayer vigils in the chapel; her mother sat by her bed and alerted us to any subtle change in her vital signs.  As so often happens, the more one pours into a patient the more attached one becomes.  As I spent most of the next day and evening struggling to keep F alive, I began to hope too.  But just before midnight, her heart stopped again, and nothing I did brought her back.  That innocent limp body gave up the soul, and I had to wake up her mother with the tragic news. 

And this might not sound very glorious, but I hated the futility of it all.  The hours and hours of careful titration of drips and oxygen, the begging for surgical help to secure a central line, the pouring through the file to understand a complicated patient and the writing of pages of notes.  The daring to hope, and then the fact that none of it mattered.  She was dead.

Then over the next two days, I had similarly tragic news from two young women who are friends, both of whom miscarried in the first trimester of longed-for pregnancies, both of whom had been trying to have a baby for a year or more, both of whom had known struggle and loss, both of whom are laying down their lives in generous ways for the Kingdom.  Both of whom I had prayed for quite a bit.  Both of whom I would long desperately to see as mothers of live, tangible babies and not as mourners holding hidden wounds.  The sheer futility of their months and months of dashed dreams was another punch in the gut.

So when I read this today from Miroslav Volf (Free of Charge), it struck a chord:

But in fact, our gifts and others’ benefits are not related as causes and effects.  They are related as the cross and the resurrection.  Christ gave his life on the cross—and it seemed as though he died in vain.  His disciples quickly deserted him, his cause was as dead as he was, and even his God seemed to have abandoned him.  But then he was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Spirit.  He was seated at the right hand of God and raised in the community of believers, his social body alive and growing on earth.  Did Christ’s “gift of death” cause his own resurrection and its benefits for the world?  It didn’t.  The spirit did. So it is with every true gift of our own, however small or large. 

Like Christ’s healings or feedings of multitudes, often our gifts offer immediate help.  We give, and the hungry are fed, the sorrowful comforted, and loved ones delighted.  We are like a tree, laden with fruit that only waits to be picked.  At other times, we give, and the gift seems less like a ripe fruit than like a seed planted in the ground.  For a while, nothing happens.  Dark earth covered with cold winter holds the seed captive.  Then spring comes, and we see new life sprouting, maybe even growing beyond our wildest imagination.

Sometimes it seems as if a fate worse than lying in the dark earth befalls our gifts.  It is almost as if some evil bird takes away the seed we planted before it can sprout and bear fruit.  We labor in vain.  We give—and it seems that no one benefits.  Yet we can still hope.  The Spirit who makes a tree heavy with fruit and who gives life to the seed that has died will ultimately claim every good gift that the evil one has snatched away.  Just as the Spirit resurrected the crucified one and made his sacrifice bear abundant fruit, so the Spirit will reaise us in the spring of everlasting life to see the harvest of our own giving.  Our giving is borne by the wings of the Spirit’s hope.

Tonight I pray that my friends will cling to this hope.  That the Spirit has seen the darkly covered seed, and will not ignore the evil one who snatches away their fruit.  That the good will be claimed back for eternity.  That their giving will not be futile.  That the hours and days and months we seem to sacrifice, the waste and ache, will not return void, but will be redeemed.  That all will one day be well, even if tonight it is so very very hard.

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