A year or so ago I wrote a post that referenced the Sleater-Kinney song “Sympathy”. I return to it here for a slightly different reason. Its poignant, profound lyrics are written from the perspective of a mother whose newborn son’s survival hangs in the balance. In her desperation and fear, she calls out to God.
I know I come to you only when in need
I’m not the best believer, not the most deserving
but all I have, all I am, all I can…for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him
As I contemplate the subject matter (and the band), I can’t help but think about my Feminist comrade Jessica Valenti. Having recently married, she and her husband then decided to have a child. What would have ordinarily been a joyous occasion became an absolute nightmare when child and mother both nearly perished due to the effects of HELLP Syndrome and pre-eclampsia.
In this regard, the terrified Mother is no different than us. How many times have we acknowledged our weaknesses, desperately seeking solace for ourselves in related situations? How many prayers have we begun in guilt, knowing we are not the believer we know we should be? When all is going well with life, I myself do not always think to give praise to God. Too often I act like a self-centered friend, one only present and connected when dealing with a personal crisis or when I need something for myself. In good or routine days I regularly forget to acknowledge just how indebted I am to a higher power.
Recall the disciple Thomas. His skepticism led him to question whether Christ had really risen from the dead, until requesting to feel for himself the marks of the nails that held Jesus to the cross and the wound at the Lord’s side, a place where a Roman soldier had pierced it with a spear. Thomas acknowledged the truth at long last, but only when granted irrefutable proof.
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
These words often pertain to each of us. God doesn’t judge us for doubting, but it should be noted that doubt ought to be a temporary state of being. If doubt leads to faithful belief, as was true with Thomas, then it has served its purpose well. It would be even better, Jesus notes, if our faith was so strong that we wouldn’t have to put it to the test in order to prove its strength and veracity. If doubt lingers and is never resolved, however, then it is detrimental to us. That is a different matter altogether.
I cite these passages, in part, because I have been suffering from ill health for the past six months. One illness has followed another, and I have not been able to stay healthy for very long. Three weeks ago, I visited my GP to have treated what I assumed was a severe sinus infection. Bloodwork performed during the appointment revealed that my testosterone level was very low, which is quite rare for someone as young as I am. Subsequent tests revealed that the pituitary gland, and possibly the hypothalamus was at fault for not signaling the testes to make an adequate amount of testosterone. So in addition to being placed on testosterone, an MRI has been scheduled on Friday to see if a pituitary tumor is the cause of the problem.
If the worst case scenario proves true, I am in no danger of losing my life. What is more likely is that I will need to undergo a lengthy period of treatment with lots of tests and frequent visits to a specialist, likely an endocrinologist. Months of discomfort may be ahead of me and I have to say that the prospect utterly terrifies me. I am frightened because I do not know. When I know for sure, my worries will decrease to a manageable level. I, too, have been the desperate mother myself recently, bargaining with God, praying frequently for a positive outcome. And as I have done so, I’ve acknowledged my limitations and my flaws. I suppose a dose of humility is a good thing now and again.
To return to the song with which I began this post,
when the moment strikes
it takes you by surprise and
leaves you naked in the face of death and life
there is no righteousness in your darkest moment
we’re all equal in the face of
what we’re most afraid of
When we are broken and tender, it is true that we can know God in ways not possible before. But as the lyrics insist, our behavior in our the worst moment of anxiety and panic may not always be justified or beyond reproach, either. Ironically, the song implies that we often only reach equality in a profound state of overwhelming crisis. Right now, we are all equal in the face of what we’re most afraid of, and most of the time, that is the unknown. Economic theories promise no concrete solutions. Politicians promise remedies no one knows for sure will work. Job growth is largely stagnant. The world is changing, but not in the way anyone would have ever guessed not all that long ago.
I would not deign to know a solution if I could, but I can provide what works for me. In my opinion, comfort and resolution depends then on how we listen for divine guidance even when feeling so raw and off-kilter. For example, it has been quite difficult for me to not let my emotions overtake my ability to manage my daily obligations, again, mainly because of that which I do not know. When I know more about the cause and the treatment of my condition, I will worry less, but in the meantime I have challenged myself to listen to God’s wisdom, even if it does not promise the specific answers I crave. The process of waiting is my greatest adversary right now. So I pray that I might be granted strength from now until however long this illness persists. Belief is good, after all, but I know I would be more blessed if I believed without seeing.