One morning while sitting at the kitchen counter I heard these words, “I want you to enter into Josh’s world. I want you to be present in his helplessness. I want you to enter into his frustration, his fear and in his pain. I want you to be present in his suffering and to hang out with him there”.
My initial response was, “I can’t, I don’t know how, I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE!” Then very gently I heard, “Neither does Josh”.
About that time Josh woke up and came into the kitchen. Josh is our grown son who was born with MELAS, a mitochondria disease. It effects pretty much every system in the body and there is no cure.
He recently had countless stroke-like episodes that decreased his function in several areas and left his pain out of control.
Dad, “I hurt all over, my whole body is hard and stiff and I could barely get out of bed. I had a terrible night, the pain was unbearable… I hurt everywhere right now”!
As he spoke it felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. I was overwhelmed with emotion and stretched beyond my ability to recover.
I told him how sorry I was and how I hated that he was in such pain and then I asked if he wanted me to call the doctor… he just stared at the floor and finally said, “I don’t know” and walked out.
It was then that I realized he didn’t need me to do anything, he just needed me to be with him.
These words leapt from my heart, “God this sucks, this is too uncomfortable. I DON’T WANT TO FEEL THIS!” And once again I was gently reminded, “Neither does Josh!”
What I heard next was very clear, “Steve, this is presence, this is fellowship, this is me, this is where I live and where I abide. I am present with the broken hearted, the crushed and the lonely. YOU CAN ALWAYS FIND ME HERE!”
“But God I can’t do this, how can I live, how can I breath, have mercy on me!”
In that moment what I heard sounded like a sweet old grandma’s voice,
“Ah, there you are, I’m so glad you’re here with us”.
I was confused, “Us, who is us, you and Josh?”
“ALL OF US, we’re ALL here”!
I don’t pretend I understood the dialogue at the time but it did something to me.
When Josh walked back in I said, “I don’t really know what you’re feeling or what you’re going through but this is what I feel…
I feel like my heart is being ripped out… I feel helpless because I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help you and I’m crushed”.
I don’t even know what his response was… but it really doesn’t matter.
What matters is what I experienced. I found that to be with Josh, to be present with him, I have to meet him where he is, and where he is, is helpless. Josh is helpless.
As I shared in a previous post we have exhausted every option, treatment and prayer to help cure Josh. As I’ve come to the end of my rope, the end of my ability and the end of myself… I find myself helpless… and this seems to be where the magic happens, where the mystery begins!
When I am helpless, I am with him. I feel present and connected. Communication flows both ways and it is as much nonverbal as it is verbal.
When I am helpless, we are one and he no longer feels alone. There’s a sense of comfort, relief and peace even though the circumstance remains out of our control and beyond our understanding.
What do I mean by helpless? I’m not talking about being tired for a moment and then spinning my wheels in another direction on yet another diet, treatment or procedure.
This is a helplessness I would compare to being ‘dead dead’ in the movie, The Princess Bride. If the hero had been ‘dead dead’ there would have been no hope, but since he was only dead, he could be revived.
Taking an evening or a week off to catch your breath won’t revive you from the helpless state I’m describing.
So when I am truly helpless, I am with him, we are one and he doesn’t feel alone.
After sharing this with a group last week a dear woman approached me with tears in her eyes and said, “We love you and Josh so much but we feel so helpless to do anything”.
When I responded I was speaking as much to myself as to her, “When you feel helpless, at that moment, you are present with Josh. You are right here with him and right here with us”.
You may think that’s crazy, and maybe it is, but what if our helplessness reveals presence? What if it reveals a connection that’s already there, that’s always there?
As I am helpless, with no answers, I’m present and connected with Josh and he no longer feels he’s carrying this weight alone.
This is good news, actually this is WONDERFUL NEWS! But why doesn’t it feel like it? Why do I still spend so much time trying to avoid feeling helpless?
Don’t I want to be present with Josh? If I do, then why do I keep trying to avoid helplessness? Why do I keep finding things to think about, worry about or do? Why do I keep escaping into TV shows, books, work or chores?
Could it be I just don’t want to go there? I simply don’t want to feel pain.
Instead, I want to stuff it, hide it or act like it’s not there. I want to be strong for Josh, but more importantly, I want to be strong for myself, even if that means lying and hiding from the truth and from Josh. Have you ever felt that way?
Am I willing to justify any excuse to keep me from the uncomfortable feeling that comes when I’m face to face with my lack of control concerning Josh’s suffering?
Most of the time the answer is yes, I wish it weren’t true, but it is.
I believe I’m more present now than I’ve ever been, but not nearly as present as I desire to be. Presence seems to mysteriously manifest in this place called helplessness.
What if helplessness is like a secret decoder ring that reveals to us the connection, comfort and peace that’s already ours?
If that were true… would you still work so hard to avoid it?