“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” – Psalm 50:12
We all face the day of trouble in this life. It’s not a question of good and bad or right and wrong – it is just the nature of this life. We all face times of difficulty, times of trouble. Over my lifetime I can point to more than a few periods of serious emotional distress. I don’t claim them to be more or less stressful that what others have dealt with, but they are my own so I can speak more knowledgeably about them.
About eight years ago my wife and I lost our first son, Adam. He was a full-term still birth. It was one of those emotionally distressing times. I remember at the time talking to my pastor who informed me that the grieving process generally takes about two years, usually not less and hopefully not more. That was about exactly right. By the time two years had come and gone we were dealing with emotional scars, not wounds.
We’ve had children since then (three boys) and are expecting again. Going through pregnancy (and about one month after) has been generally challenging. First, there is the memory of Adam. No matter how long it’s been, there is a niggling concern in the back of your mind, “I just want to make it through delivery.” On top of that, there are always push-backs from the doctors regarding induction. (Adam was 37 weeks and 5 days – and we typically want to induce labor prior to then, which gives doctors heartburn in our over litigious society. Of course, it hasn’t really been a problem, my wife now starts threatening labor in 32-34 week range and doesn’t hold on to our 36 week induction date.)
It turns out, delivery day isn’t the end of the drama for us. My oldest ended up back in the hospital with Jaundice (odd that it would be that serious). My middle child was born on Monday morning and went straight into the NICU with lung trouble. Monday came and went without too much trouble, and then came Black Tuesday. First he collapsed a lung, then went into atrial fibrillation and had to be zapped with the paddles to get his heart to settle down. That was a day. The youngest one had it worse though. He was born in the 3′ blizzard that hit Columbia in February of 2010 – they had to send a plow truck and ambulance after us. He was born on Sunday and went to the NICU with lung trouble, eventually developing pulmonary hypertension. Then was the second Black Tuesday. With another foot-and-a-half of snow falling in the “echo blizzard” his condition turned worse and they told us that if he didn’t turn the corner in the next couple of hours they would have to evacuate him to Hopkins … in a blizzard. The pastor says it is the first and only time that somebody with a sick family member has had to come pick him up to get him to the hospital to visit/pray. And pray he did, and turn the corner the baby did; and 23 days later he came home from the NICU.
Yes, it seems that delivery day plus one month is about when things get “normal” again. Sure, they all have their scrapes and bruises and fibril seizures and whatever else kids throw at you. But it’s all very run-of-the-mill type concerns after we finally get month one behind us.
The Day of Trouble …
I honestly give you the above as backstory. Yes, there were days of trouble, and yes, we did call on the Lord, and yes, He did deliver us. But today I’m more interested in talking about the most recent day of trouble.
While the pregnancy and birth of my oldest boy occurred in the two-year grieving window of the death of my first son, the others didn’t. Sure, they had their own challenges, but I was largely in a more stable place to deal with them. It turns out that such has not been true with this pregnancy. In June and July of 2012 I lost my sister to a plane crash and then my father to cancer. Burying your sister and father is not the same as burying your son – perhaps no two losses are the same (and comparing them is fruitless) – but it is certainly emotionally dissipative … and less than two years old.
When my wife told me she was pregnant I was happy, but it also sort of came and went in my thinking. I was fighting other battles. About a month ago we went for the first sonogram. It was later than usual for a first sono and you could actually see a baby (not just a blob) with arms and legs bopping around. At this point, and I honestly can’t tell you why (other than I suspect it is related to my current mode of grieving and prior history with pregnancies/child birth) the world came crashing down on me.
The Day of Irrational Fears …
They’re called irrational fears for a reason. But I’m a mathematician – and I don’t do completely irrational. What I can do, it turns out, is apply higher-than-reasonable probabilities to highly improbable events. And I did. I spent weeks gripped with fear that the child had some form if chromosomal disorder. Was there a reason for this? Well, it wasn’t completely irrational – my wife is … strike that, let’s just say that the older you get the more likely there are to be problems, and she’s older now than with any other pregnancy.
So, here I was, the emotionally raw and fretful father, attempting to plug along my days of grieving, and somehow unable to do so because I couldn’t get past improbable fears.
As you can imagine, I prayed a lot. One of the scriptures I kept coming back to as I prayed was Psalm 50, noted above. It’s a rather clean deal. (1) God doesn’t need bulls and goats; (2) be thankful; (3) do what you said you would do; (4) call on Him when you’re in trouble; (5) He’ll deliver you and (6) you will glorify Him. And that’s why we’re here – God has a job do do in all of this, and so do I.
The Accused …
Most readers will know that I am fond of quoting Proverbs 27:17 – iron sharpens iron. That the process of dealing with challenging responses from those arguing the contrary point is what knocks away the rough patches of your own argumentation/thinking and makes it all much better.
I’m also fond of the “trial by fire” allegory (see Proverbs 17:3 or Malachi 3:3). When things get difficult in your life is when the bad stuff (the “dross”) starts to come out. Don’t miss that opportunity. It may not be fun or pleasant, but don’t miss a chance to see the ugly stuff inside of you and work to remove it, even if nothing more than “Lord, I see all this ugly stuff that I didn’t see before, and I don’t know what to do with it.”
So there I was, praying in my car, expressing my fears to the One I trust – when He showed me something ugly about myself. What was coming out of me was an accusation – I didn’t trust God. I wasn’t angry at Him mind you, this was much worse, I didn’t trust Him. I didn’t trust that He is a good Father, that He gives good things to His children (see Matthew 7:11). This is a big deal for a Christian of 20+ years. I can tell you that I would much rather my three sons be angry at me (perhaps for punishing them when they misbehave) than to know that they don’t trust me. That would hurt.
This is an ugly thing that was simmering somewhere deep inside me that I couldn’t possibly see until the day of fire. What do you do with something that ugly? Well, honesty is the only thing we can do, and trust that God, the author and finisher of our faith, the Potter, will do the rest.
The Encourager …
As you might imagine the day after dealing with something ugly you’ll be looking for the next ugly thing. But the Lord wouldn’t let me. The next morning I prayed and searched the scripture for something new that was broken inside of me – and was turned away. No, that morning the message was clear regarding scripture reading: read the ones that encourage you. And so I did. Psalm 50, of course, and Psalm 34, and Psalm 23 – very encouraging stuff.
I’m reminded of Matthew 12:20, which is a retelling of Isaiah 42:3 – “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.” When you’re hurting, when you don’t have much left, when you are a bruised reed ready to break or a smoldering wick ready ready to die out – He will not break you or snuff you out. No, on the day the ugly comes out, He is there to pull you out of the pit.
The Conditional Probabilities …
It’s one thing for the omniscient to simply say “things are OK” – but if the problem is the fretful and untrusting child (me) something more might be needed. So, one night during my days of trouble, the Lord did math with me. It was really cool. Yes, it was simple math (conditional probabilities and false positives and the like), but the message of the math was really cool. Here were the best tests that the medical profession had regarding my current concern (chromosomal disorder) – and none of them had been done yet, and even if they had all come back positive the chances that there was a problem were very small. “Why then, if these tests with high false-positives haven’t even been done yet, are you fretting over some random thought that popped into your head, or some passing unrelated comment?”
The whole episode was intriguing to me. It was directed at me, to calm down my irrational fears. It was all very merciful.
The Day of Tears and Joy …
So the day of tests came soon enough and all is well. As you can imagine, I cried. It’s good to have your irrational fears alleviated.
The Lost Days …
It seems the hardest thing sometimes, to put one foot in front of the other. It seems the hardest thing to not worry about tomorrow and deal with the day at hand (Matt 6:34). I won’t say that I did this part well – because I don’t want to add lying to the list – but I knew that it needed to be done.
It’s not just work or family either. There is work to do to grieve the loss of sister and father, work that went completely undone in the midst of this irrational prison. I’m behind. But the One who tells us to deal with today also restores the lost days (Joel 2:25).
In Testimony …
So here I am, in some small way, needing to fulfill my end of the Psalm 50 bargain. It’s a simple deal. I called out in the day of trouble and was delivered, and I owe it to the Lord who delivered me that I should glorify Him.
I was the bruised reed, the smoldering wick, the hurting and fretful child – but I called out in the day of trouble, and I was delivered.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.