Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sacrifice & Such

The time when the atonement felt most real and moving and incredible and sacrificial all at the same time was when I had surgery to repair a hernia two summers ago.  I'd never been more vulnerable, in the hands of others than at that moment.  When they laid me on the cold metal table, naked save a thin hospital gown, strapped me in, told me to breathe their gas, all with the knowledge that they would soon use a scalpel inches from my manhood...well...it was the closest to Good Friday that I've ever felt.  

...and yet it wasn't even close.

Further, it wasn't even close to what so many I know go through on a regular basis.  C. S. Lewis quotes Walter Hilton, in his Preface to The Problem of Pain: "I feel myself so far from true feeling of that I speak, that I can naught else but cry mercy and desire after it as I may." 

Clive Staples continues with his own words, "I have never for one moment been in a state of mind to which even the imagination of serious pain was less than intolerable.  If any man is safe from the danger of under-estimating this adversary, I am that man."

That's how I feel sometimes when I'm speaking of people taking up their cross, challenging them to identify with Christ...that if we're really going to be Christ-like, we'll follow him in the hard and not just the easy.  And speaking of easy, it's just that for me to say it.  I mean, I know it's the gospel and everything, foolishness and all, but there's always been something about "you can't take someone where you haven't been" for me.

Regardless, I know that comparing one life to the next is quite often futile.  In fact, it's because of this practice that so many can't get life straight.  If we spend life compaining about other people's grass, we'll...well...we'll spend life complaining because we'll always be able to find some that is greener.  

Satisfaction and wholeness comes in self-actualization and self-realization.  That is, for myself, I must find my role within Christ and his cruciform example with that which I have been blessed...or cursed.  And I believe that God seeks our response to be of one that says, "Here's what I can do, and thus, what I will do."  This is why Niebuhr's prayer is a good one.

Anyway, I've been thinking about these things because our three-year-old son, Brayden, is headed for surgery tomorrow.  He's having his adenoids and tonsils removed and tubes put in his ears.  We are hoping that it will improve his hearing, behavior, and sleep patterns.  When it comes down to it, the surgery is pretty normal.  I had similar procedures done when I was real young (before my memory).  Apparently it was stressful for me, but only my parents remember.  But there has been a quarter of a century of medical practice since then.  Meghan and I have all confidence in the doctor.

Nonetheless, a sharp blade will be taken to my little boy tomorrow.   I've said many times now that I've come to understand the nature of God in deeper and more intimate ways since having children.  Usually I am referring to love, grace, and forgiveness.  

But with Brayden's impending surgery, John 3:16 takes a different light.  I know, I know...I'm sick of the verse too, at least, I'm sick of the abuse it's taken (not to mention that I think John 3:17 is the message the world needs to hear...or at least the Church does).  After reading it and hearing it a million times, seeing it displayed on posters between the uprights, on bridges and subway walls, how could John 3:16 have new meaning...

Well as humans are apt to do, we usually focus on ourselves and what something means for us. But having children has made me look at things from God's point of view more often.  And actually, what happens is that God's word for me becomes more powerful.

It's Advent season, leading up to Christmas, so that means it's time for me to whine again about how so few get it...both of Advent and of Christmas...and both Christians and non-Christians.  We continue to get wrapped up in the wrapping.  Or as the latest Advent Conspiracy video puts it, we give more presents than presence.

Perhaps one of the antidotes for this is to connect the manger with the cross.  If the cross is the central image for the Church (this is such an aside, but can someone remind me why we need a flag?  I had a Roman Catholic priest in our sanctuary on Sunday night and when he asked, "What's that other flag?" [other than the US], I laughed out loud.  How could he be a Christian and not know that?!?  In the case that someone who doesn't know me very well is reading this...that question is saturated with sarcasm.)

Anyway, as I was saying, if the cross is the central image for the Church, which I believe it is, most all things should be seen with the cross in mind, or at least in the conversation.  The Christmas story is nice and all, but if we end with warm fuzzies, we've missed the story of Christ.  I think we should "give things" at Christmas time, for sure.  But the giving of Christ goes so way beyond what we give it's hardly comparable.  We love when we give all that there is.  The image of the cross is an image of complete surrender, complete dedication.  Christ left nothing on the table when he went to the cross.  So giving some change to the SA (which you should do!) or even a $20 to some other holiday charity is great, but for Americans, it doesn't speak of the depth of the Christmas story.

Anyway, I got to more rambling in this post than I meant to, but as I "hand over" my son to the whim of a surgeon tomorrow, I can't help but think of the Incarnation, and God's complete giving of his Son to the world.  Jesus could have shown up as a grown man, right?  But he didn't.  God entered the world in the form of a baby.  Crazy.

Ultimately, it doesn't compare (the incarnation and my son's surgery).  This is obvious.  God likely knew that it would lead to Jesus' death (at least, God certainly knew that he would be rejected in some fashion).  I'm fairly certain that tomorrow's surgery will turn out okay.  So they don't compare.

...but I still think about it.  And it makes me love God even more.


  1. Thanks for sharing your feelings and thoughts. I actually remember bits and pieces of your time with ear infections, ear-tubes, and tonsils. I remember you getting to eat Popsicles because nothing else would slide down your throat comfortably. I remember you being in the hospital more than once. I remember how much mom and dad took care of you and how much they were worried. I also remember the picture of you playing with that toy typewriter in the hospital. You didn't seem to mind all that was going on. It seems likely that Brayden won't remember this either, and as you've said, the medical world has grown 25 years since your operations. He'll do fine.

    I'll be praying for you, Megan, Brayden, Brooklyn, and Brenna today. We love you very much.


  2. hey bro, great post! prayin for all of you today...

  3. good stuff jeremy. thanks for the reminder.

    i'll be praying for you guys and your boy today.

  4. Hi Jeremy D, long time fan, first time writer...

    "The Christmas story is nice and all, but if we end with warm fuzzies, we've missed the story of Christ."

    This is the theme that's been swirling around in my head this Advent, and the point I'm trying to drive home to my teens. Particularly for those of us raised in the church, I think it's easy to get visions of sugar plumbs dancing in our heads, along with a flannelgraph story of Jesus' birth. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with the "warm fuzzies", but if that's all it is, it's nothing but a holiday we leave in December, not the beginning of a world-changing event.

    I recently rented and watched The Nativity Story, and the director does take some artistic liberties, but overall the movie does a great job at portraying the humanity, the raw emotion of Mary, Joseph, and their families. In the movie at least, Mary was half a second away from being stoned to death for an unwed pregnancy! To see Mary and Joseph's obedience to God in spite of being outcast by everyone around them is nothing short of a miracle itself.

    Before I begin rambling, I'm praying for you, Meghan, and Brayden- for what it's worth, I had the same thing done when I was 6 or 7, and the only thing I remember as being the worst part was having to wear those stupid rubber earplugs when I went swimming...