Monday, May 11, 2009

When you saw only one set of footprints--I was off helping someone else

One Small Step recently wrote on How Far do you Trust God? This brings to mind something itching on my brain.

Last November, I was having some pain in my chest, so I scheduled an appointment with a doctor. (Which, for me, means I’m fairly concerned. I hate doctor visits.) They did an EKG, the doctor rushed in and said, “Take this aspirin. Chew it so it gets into your system faster. And here’s nitroglycerin, let it dissolve under your tongue.”

“Uh…sure. Doc, what’s up?”
“There was an irregularity on the EKG, and we recommend you go to the Emergency Room immediately.”
“O.K. It’s just an ‘irregularity’—right? Not like it’s an inverted T or anything.”
“Actually, it IS an inverted-T.”

This raised my concern level, of course. But only mildly.

“Fine. I’ll drive right over.”
“Frankly, we recommend an ambulance.”
“Well…I CAN drive, right?”
“Sure, but if you leave now, I want you to sign a form saying I recommended an ambulance, and you went against my orders.”

As lawyers, we do the same thing when we think clients are doing something pretty stupid and we want it in writing so when they come back and complain we can point out it was against our advice. A CYA letter, as it is called.

I got the message and received a quick trip in a siren-screaming ambulance.

Once at the hospital, though, the ER staff didn’t seem very concerned. We started Emergency Room Time—where minutes stretch to hours and nothing seems to happen. Occasionally a white-suited individual (could be a janitor for all I knew) would look at my EKG and grunt. I asked about the inverted-T, and they didn’t seem very concerned.

I felt like just another guy who ate a bad bean burrito and the nurses were secretly rolling their eyes at me. “Wimp…thinks he’s having a heart attack…” Started to plan my escape.

All of a sudden the room starting filling up with people.

Nurse One: We want him up to the Cath lab NOW!
Nurse Two: But we have to give him this medicine first—
Nurse One: No time, no time! We will give it on the way up.

Me: [a little meekly] Uh…what’s up?
Nurse One: The blood test came back. You had a heart attack. We are going to do a heart catheterization right now!

Now they were rushing me out of the room as quickly as possible. I liked the slow, “nothing happening” medical pace better than “Get out of the way, we need to get this guy somewhere RIGHT NOW” frenzy.

Once in the cath lab, the Doctor told me what he was going to do, and the staff was helpful. They looked like they knew what they were doing. I didn’t have time to google out “Catheterization” or look up my choices. I had to rely upon the medical personnel to be competent. They looked like they had done it before—it was reassuring.

I am informed of all the things that might happen—may have a stint put in, perhaps an angioplasty. Maybe even surgery if it is determined to be necessary. Yet I find myself curiously unconcerned. Detached, even. This was out of my hands, so I left it to the professionals to do what they felt was necessary.

As it turns out, while there is some blockage (due to age and genetics), nothing terrible was happening. The inverted-T was probably a bad read on the pad. The blood test was a false-positive. No big deal—discharged the next day.

The cardiologist started me on a course of medication (unnecessary, in my opinion) that I weaned off in a few months. Given a clean bill of health, and back on my way…

I can understand, going through that, how comforting the God-idea is. Life throws us some curve balls. Some unexpecteds. Some bad circumstances. Things out of our control. It is immensely encouraging to think, “No matter how bad this is, ‘someone, somewhere’ is in control, and is working to correct the situation. Make it better.” No one wants to see that puzzled look on their Doctors’ face. No one wants to hear, “WOW! That’s a new one on me!” We want, “Oh, I have seen that. Do this and that and your problem is solved.”

It is comforting to think, when you lose your job, “God” will help you find a new one. That “God” did this for some reason. Or when your child hurts, or when a loved one dies—that there is some Great Comforter who has YOUR interest at heart, and is doing everything in their power to improve the situation.

That’s nice. Makes funerals more pleasant.

But there is an undiscussed down-side. It becomes permeated in your being. “God loves you.” “God wants what is best for you.” “God has a purpose for your life.” “God has a will for you.” “God will give you direction.” And you hear story after story from other people how God found them the perfect job, the great opportunity, the wonderful mate, the career, the house, the pet, the cure, the friend, the…whatever it was the person was looking for.

You begin to believe the creator of the universe has you on his mind 24 hours a day. Good and bad. And what is a source of comfort in bad times becomes a lack of direction in good times.

I know a fellow who has not held a steady job for decades. Waiting for “God” to give him the “right job.” And why shouldn’t he? Doesn’t “God” look out for his needs? Doesn’t “God” have his best interests at heart? If there is a God who is concerned about your every thought, and your every deed, certainly He is equally concerned about your career. Right?

This being the graduation season, I am seeing notes from Christian graduates along the lines of “I don’t know what God wants me to do with me life.” “I am looking for God’s direction.” See, we were so immersed in God the Comforter, we believed in God the Life-Plan Director. And yet God becomes silent.

We end up doing…what? Think about it—we ended up doing what we felt was best. God didn’t come down with golden plates, telling us what college to go to! Just like every non-believer, we wrestled with some personal choices and eventually chose one. Or two. Or more. The difference being, afterwards if we felt good about our choice, as a Christian we said, “That must be what God wanted.” A non-believer doesn’t bother.

We picked our careers, our spouses, our locations on the same meter. If it failed—as a Christian we figured with 20-20 hindsight, it must not be what God wanted. We even became good at retro-inserting justification! “Oh, I knew at the time that was not what God wanted, but I did it anyway.”

As I read these statements from students, my heart breaks. Oh to be free of God-approval! To understand we make our own choices and savor our own responsibility. There is no “God-plan” for their life. No grandiose scheme the human can only hope to follow or sit around waiting to be revealed.

The concept of God the comforter comes at a terrible price—becoming God the Cruise Director.


  1. I cannot pass up the opportunity to plug one of my favorite articles from The Onion: Point/Counterpoint "It Was Then That I Carried You"/"Bullshit Jesus, Those Are Obviously My Footprints"

  2. Good post! I readily accept all the plaudits for my good decisions and the hisses and boos for my bad ones. The onus is on me and no one else.

  3. Vinny, thanks very much for sharing that, it totally made my day.

  4. Dagoods, yes.

    Personally, I am, in the course of any given hour, regularly moved between theism and atheism by spontaneous thoughts and arguments in my own head, never reaching either pole, and resting in the title "agnostic" for the time being. But whenever some idea focuses my attention upon Christianity for morbid lengths, I recall all my energy spent playing mental games, trying to discern some nebulous Holy Spirit movement (a tiresome and wholly unproductive activity) - at which point I ask myself, "And can you return to this?"

  5. If Earth is nothing more than a cruise ship, I want a refund.

    But I do find it curious that in those bad moments, we don't see people pointing to how God is helping them in that moment. Such as the footprints story -- the guy saw no evidence of during the trial. Is the faith during those times in the actual Person, since no Person can be detected? Or is it in the idea of the Person?

    I can't tell you how many times I've listened to Christian friends tell me of a bad time they're going through, and are reminding themselves that God gave them worth, God loves them ... but I don't hear them telling me how *God* is telling them this. Rather, they're telling themselves this, or someone else is telling them.