Back in September when I was in the hospital I posted briefly about the need I felt for an advocate and promised to get back to the subject. Just a few reflections to share…
As wonderful as the outcome of the surgery has been, and as great as my medical team was, going through the actual experience involved emotional trauma – enough to require a few weeks of counseling to ‘debrief’ and normalize. This is in no way a criticism of the doctors, nurses, and staff – I couldn’t have asked for better. But having no realistic idea of what was going to happen (they tell you, but till you’re there you really don’t know), what to expect, what to hope for, what to watch out for – and the experience of being completely and utterly helpless – was terrifying.
Another blogger who had similar surgery wrote, “for the first 24 hours post-surgery I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.” I know now what she meant. Without going into graphic detail, for the first 24 hours post-surgery I was unable to sit up, roll over, eat, drink, or speak more than two or three whispered words at a time. My greatest accomplishment during those hours was to communicate that I was thirsty, and to learn how to get a sponge-tipped straw to my lips without spilling the cup it was soaking in. Drugged to the hilt with pain killers, everything around me seemed a bit surreal (including God). I hated being alone in this state but hated it even more when people came in to fuss with all the tubes and medical devices attached to my body. I found gallows humor in the thought that my most prized posession in the world had become a sponge-tipped straw (I haven’t clung to an object that way since I was a little girl with my beloved stuffed tiger).
“And how are we feeling this morning?” asks the chipper aide at around 4:30AM.
“I’ve felt better,” I whisper wryly, holding back the temptation to try to ask which way the Mack truck went.
He looks at me disappointed, as if I’m trying to be difficult.
Ten minutes later my ear surgeon looks in.
“And how are we feeling this morning?” he asks.
I try the same answer again.
He smiles and says, “I bet you’d love to fast forward through the next twelve hours, wouldn’t you?” His kindness and understanding brings tears to my eyes and helps me feel human again.
I will never forget those hours. Difficult as they were (I was going to say ‘painful’ but I wasn’t actually hurting all that much – the pain killers were effective) I learned something I never want to lose: a very real, literal understanding of how completely helpless human beings are. All of us.
As we go through our daily lives we tend to forget this. We think we’re in control of our lives – where we go, what we do, who we’re with, how we live. And in a sense we are: we have decisions to make and people to talk with and things to do. But if we’re honest with ourselves we know the wisdom of tagging the old saying “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” onto the end of all our plans.
Someday every one of us is going to be in a position that I was: unable to so much as lift a finger to change the course of our future, whether to life or to death.
And at times like these, more than anything, we need an advocate.
I was blessed to have many advocates: hundreds of people lifting me in prayer, angels standing guard, and no doubt more happening on the spiritual plane than I know.
I needed not only those prayers but also the physical presence of friends and relatives who could speak for me when I couldn’t. My ability to speak beyond a few whispered words remained shaky for days. The Deacons of Carnegie Presbyterian were my lifeline, may God reward them richly.
On a spiritual level, I came away from the experience with a profound awareness of just how utterly dependent on God we are. My experience of helplessness during those first 24 hours is a picture of how spiritually helpless we all are – unable to make ourselves the kind of people we want to be, let alone the kind of people God wants us to be. Without God we can do nothing, literally… though our helplessness does not lessen our value in God’s eyes one bit. Knowing this takes a huge weight off my shoulders: either God is merciful or He is not; He will either guide my life or He will not; and I know His answer is “yes”.
Here’s what Scripture says about the advocate God provides:
- “my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high” – Job, speaking in Job 16:19
- “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever “- Jesus, speaking in John 14:15
- “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” – Jesus, speaking in John 14:26
- “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” – Jesus, speaking in John 15:26
- “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” – the apostle John, in I John 2:1-2
God Himself – in all three persons of the Trinity – advocates for us, speaks for us, defends us when we are powerless. God does. We don’t need to defend ourselves (we can’t anyway). We don’t need to make ourselves perfect (we can’t anyway). We don’t need to save our own lives (we can’t anyway).
(BTW I can just hear all my Reformed friends jumping up and down and cheering and saying “she finally got it!!” #NotQuiteSoFast. I still maintain (along with my artist friend) a ‘one-point Calvinism’. One thing I learned the true meaning of in hospital was that the patient has the right to refuse treatment. However, unlike the medical community, God never does anything that is unnecessary, unkind, or redundant, and therefore ‘refusing treatement’ with God is unwise in the extreme.)
God’s Advocate both advocates for us with God AND advocates for Him with us: teaching us, reminding us, helping us… all those things I so desperately longed for when I was in hospital. Teach me: what is happening and why, why am I responding to these treatments the way I am, how far have we come, what more still needs to be done, teach me… remind me: how the concepts taught in initial consultations are now coming true, how they’re playing out, how it’s coming together, remind me… help me: to talk, to find nourishment, to sit up, to walk, to understand, to live again, help me. All these things and more, God promises and delivers through His Advocate.
We all need an advocate. If you haven’t already done so, invite God to be yours.