Survivor’s Guilt? Never Again

Exactly four weeks ago my wife coded after the birth of our daughter and was revived.  She had a harrowing few days in the ICU, but after a week in the hospital she was discharged.  She was weak, but she was well.  And I felt guilty about it.

So grateful for an empty hospital bed....

 

Survivor’s Guilt

I felt guilty because everything turned out okay for my family, but I know lots of people whose situations are not okay.

Why am I so blessed?

Folks would ask me how my wife was doing and I would truthfully answer, “I think she’s going to be fine.”  And I felt badly about that; I was embarrassed by our good fortune.

It’s embarrassing how blessed I am:

  • other pastors have congregations who hate them; our people dote on us;
  • other husbands struggle in their marriages; my wife is the kindest, sweetest woman I know;
  • other people’s kids have chronic illnesses; my kids are healthy;
  • I am a rich, white, American man born in the 2nd half of the 20th century.  I wasn’t born black in the 18th century or a Russian serf in the 19th century or a Samaritan woman in the 1st century;
  • My parents will have been married for 40 years this year and taught me to love Jesus;
  • I’m even a great whistler….
  • etc.

I could go on, but it’s embarrassing: I don’t deserve my good fortune.  As a pastor, I have the privilege of walking alongside people in every aspect of their lives, cradle to grave, and I know how much people suffer.  I’ve lived in Africa and I’ve traveled and read widely, and I know how difficult life is for so many people.  I know how often it seems prayers are not answered.

And so, after my wife got out of the hospital the first time, I felt guilty at our good fortune.

And then Wednesday night happened.

Never Again

My wife had to be rushed to the Emergency Room on Wednesday evening, and ultimately had to have emergency and life-saving surgery, surgery that lasted all night.  All night I sat in the empty waiting room, and I didn’t know if she was going to survive.  When I learned she would survive, I also learned that she was intubated and on a ventilator, and then I saw her.

Pray to God you never see a loved one on a ventilator, going in and out of consciousness, pulling at her tube with her bandaged hands.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in hospitals, but when it’s your wife there in the ICU, it’s almost unendurable.

The next night we had another scare and I was woken up on the pull-out couch with bright lights and saw a crowd of doctors in our room.  It was then that I decided that I will never, ever again feel survivor’s guilt.

Survivor’s guilt is a selfish indulgence–a luxury–that I want to forgo forever.

When you are at a point of desperation, when a leaden dread comes upon you, when that of which you are most afraid is threatening to happen, you become painfully aware how foolish and selfish is survivor’s guilt.    You think back to the times when you weren’t afraid and everything was well, and you’re ashamed that you were ever ashamed of your good fortune.  And in those moments, you would do anything to get back to the times when things were good.

I don’t know why God seems to answer some prayers and not others.  I don’t know why some of us receive the blessings we do.  But I also know that I don’t deserve my blessings and didn’t earn them–they just came on me, like the rain.  My blessings don’t mean anything about me: all they do is point to their Source and Giver.

Rather than feeling guilty, I want to be grateful.

I am grateful for God’s goodness toward me.  I am grateful that I did not have to come home in the dark on Thursday morning and wake up my little son and tell him his mother died.  I am grateful that my wife survived.  And I’m grateful that I brought her home not one hour ago.

I want gratitude to pour out of me.  I just went to CVS to pick up a prescription and when the cashier asked me how I was doing, I looked her in the eyes and said, “I am so blessed: my wife just got discharged from the hospital.”  And I gave her a big smile.

I don’t deserve my blessings–and I have SO MANY–but I can use them to bless others.

I want to be grateful, and because I’m grateful, I want to be a giver.

Survivor’s guilt?  Never again.

 

Click here to subscribe to irregular updates from me.  I have more to say about what I’ve been learning from my wife’s recent proximity to death and our time in the hospital.

 

This Is Why I Love My Job

On Sunday, I was reminded how grateful I am that I get to do what I do.  The congregation I serve in East Dallas celebrated our 5th birthday on Sunday, and I’ll be the first to tell you that the sermon wasn’t the best part of the service.  No, it was what happened afterwards that everyone is talking about.

Who Knew Cardboard Could Make You Cry?

We had asked some folks from our congregation to share their “cardboard testimonies” immediately following my sermon.  Nothing I could ever say could be as powerful as what those folks wrote on their cardboard signs:

I feel so grateful to get to be a part of a place like Munger and to see the saving power of God up close.

Amen.

 

 

P.S.  Subscribe

I generally post 3 times a week about faith and culture.  Click here to subscribe and get my posts delivered straight to your inbox.

Happy Birthday Munger!

Five years! The congregation I serve in East Dallas celebrated our 5th anniversary today, and my friend Lin Thomas–a great Mungarian!–blessed us with a birthday poem.  Check out the 90 second video, below.

Lin’s Birthday Poem

Lin, who is blind, is a faithful and generous member of our congregation.  (You might remember that he shared a Thanksgiving prayer with us last November.)  This morning, this is what he had to say to a packed house of Mungarians:

We are so blessed.

 

P.S. Have You Subscribed?

I generally post 3 times a week. Why not subscribe for updates from my blog?  Click here to sign up.

The Real Root of Our Dissatisfaction

“It’s no wonder we often find ourselves looking for satisfaction in all the wrong ways.  You and I are deluged from every side by advertising designed to foster dissatisfaction with our current lives.  From what I’ve seen on television, my life would be much more satisfying if I were to eat Special K for breakfast, buy my car insurance form GEICO, and wear a Breitling watch.  No one is impervious to advertising’s influence….

The real root of our dissatisfaction goes deeper than our response to the blitz of media advertising.  It resides somewhere deep in our souls and traces its origins all the way back to Eden.  The serpent’s question to Eve strikes home in all of our hearts: ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’

Before this, Eve had delighted in God’s provision, but now she wants more.  She decides that the only fruit that will satisfy her hangs from the branches of the one tree God forbade her to eat from.  But upon partaking of the fruit, she finds–as we all have–that living outside of God’s boundaries and provision leads to fatal dissatisfaction.  Once humanity crossed the threshold into a broken relationship with God, we’ve been dissatisfied ever since.”

from Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul, by Bill Hybels (pp. 256-257)

You Need to Know the Background to This Prayer

My friend Lin Thomas is blind.  He was diagnosed a few years ago with irreversible glaucoma; the doctor who evaluated him told him, “You’ll never work again.”

Lin can’t work, but he’s busy.  He rides up and down on the DART train in Dallas making connections with troubled young men who remind him of himself when he was younger.  His disability has given him the time to do that sort of thing.

Lin lives on a disability check.  Even in straitened financial circumstances, he tithes–gives 10%–to our church.

Last Sunday, Lin gave me a prayer he’d written, and I asked him to read it in church today.  Here’s his prayer (text below the video):

Lin Thomas’s Thanksgiving Prayer

(1 Thessalonians 5:18: Give Thanks Always)

Father, thank you for the life that we live;

Thank you for the love that you give;

Thank you for the food that we eat;

Thank you for a strong heartbeat;

Thank you for the water we drink;

Thank you for the thought we think;

Thank you for the pleasure and pain;

Thank you for the sunshine and rain;

Thank you for a place here on Earth;

Thank you for the grace of our birth.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.