After my oldest son, Justin, suffered severe brain damage, he had difficulty maintaining a normal sleep/wake cycle. One night he was particularly irritable. Even after rocking him for some time after everyone else had gone to bed, I still could not get him to relax and go to sleep. I had given him a mild sedative prescribed by his doctor just the night before and I was hesitant to give it to him two nights in a row. But it was already obvious he was not going to sleep any time soon.
I was tired and ready to join the rest of my sleeping family, so I decided to give him a half dose. Two hours later, I was still rocking him. The sedative did not appear to have any effect on him, so I gave him just a little more—what I guessed to be about a fourth of a dose. Still it had no effect. I sat and rocked him in a hold that contorted my limbs but held his knees bent and his arms relaxed at the elbows and prevented his muscles from tightening. As long as I kept his body relaxed, he was quiet and dozed, but the second my muscles relaxed from fatigue, he would stiffen and once more start to cry. My muscles were aching for relief and so, once more, I gave him what I guessed to be a fourth of a dose. Two more hours passed and Justin was still unable to relax and go to sleep, and I again gave him a little more of the medication. Still the medication continued to have no effect on Justin’s stiff muscles and irritated nervous system. I administered a little more. In my sleep-deprived state, I tried to add up the number of small doses and remember exactly how much medication I had given. Suddenly I began to panic and worry that perhaps I had overdosed him. I had never given him that much before and the thought terrified me.
As the wee hours of the morning began to pass, Justin’s tight muscles finally began to relax and give in to sleep, but fear overwhelmed me and I held him in my lap and monitored his steady breathing. I was afraid my weakness and selfish desire for sleep may have caused me to overdose my precious son . . . and I was scared. Overwhelmed with fear, I began to pray earnestly. I prayed for my son, for my own weakness, for forgiveness. And I prayed for wisdom.
Just as Jacob wrestled with God and held on tightly for a blessing, I wrestled with fear and frustration in those early morning hours of that long night, uncertain what to do. I prayed and wrestled for peace. I desperately wanted to know—not just hope—that God was really good and that he was there, ever-present in the circumstances of our lives. I needed to know that God was sovereign over our actions—good or bad, intentional or unintentional—and that he was directing the course of our lives. But I was uncertain. I couldn’t always feel God’s presence, so how could I know that he was even concerned about my actions or their consequences?
In my own reasoning, I could conclude I was undeserving of mercy and grace and that any blessing or joy in my life came from God’s goodness, but I wanted to know that every struggle also came from God’s goodness—not his inattention. The night faded and the hours passed. I prayed and cried and prayed some more while Justin slept in my arms. As the light of predawn began to brighten the sky, Justin’s sleep was deep and his breathing was steady and regular, but I was still afraid to put him in bed and afraid to sleep myself lest he lapse into a deeper sleep and stop breathing. I wanted to love Justin, but how could I love him through these moments? How could I care for him in these moments without losing my patience or overdosing him with a sedative in an effort to get him to sleep? And was God there—still present in our lives even when I stumbled and let selfish desires dictate my actions? Was God still sovereign and in control? Was God still good even when I wasn’t?
While I wrestled with my guilt and begged for some sort of peace and understanding, I did not suddenly gain a deep understanding of theology, nor could I comprehend how God’s sovereign will coincided with my sin. But somehow, I knew they overlapped and I was and had ever been in the hands of a sovereign God. I did not understand God’s goodness in the tragedy in my life, but somehow I realized I could not and did not have to justify or define God’s goodness in my life. God’s nature was his and beyond my comprehension. It occurred to me as I sat there holding my son and praying that while I could not understand how a good God would allow me to suffer and allow Justin to suffer, my belief or unbelief in God’s goodness did not change or alter God’s nature. If God’s nature did not change, and if God was good, he was good whether I believed it or not. And if God was sovereign, then he was sovereign even when I stumbled.
Just as I had once seen myself as handicapped in God’s eyes and in desperate need of God’s assistance to help me control my anger, I realized I could not understand, believe, or trust in his goodness without his help either. I once more saw myself as incapable of doing anything without his help—except sin. And although I was still responsible for my sin, I knew God was still sovereign and still good despite my sin. I knew I could not surrender my selfish desires by myself and I could not serve my son or anyone else without help. I also realized I would not have seen or recognized the depth of my selfishness were it not for desperate situations and miserable mistakes.
That night something in my heart grew a little more. Something changed a little more—what exactly, I still can’t say, but I knew in my heart that God was removing a little more of the dross from my character, refining me just a little more. And when the morning began to shoot rays of light over the horizon, I had an incredible peace knowing that God was good, sovereign, and in control despite my selfish and sinful actions. I knew that whatever happened, he was there, and I knew he asked nothing of me that he didn’t also supply. I may not have slept that night, but by morning my spirit was renewed.
This post is an excerpt from my new book My Journey With Justin now available on Amazon.
Sharing today with: