There are times when we feel that we can do nothing. When a crisis hits we have an impulse to help. However, in many cases it would seem that there is nothing to be done… at least by us. There will be some, either through training or skill, who can immediately jump in, begin their work and be the people they are called to be at such a moment. Thanks be to God for such people. For the rest of us though, it will be difficult to stand by, watch, and feel helpless.
It occurs to me that our fear of helplessness comes from being a society of “doers.” Indeed, many of us believe that our value as a person is derived from “what we do” professionally. This is why the loss of a job, a forced change of job, or retirement can be such a traumatic occurrence for so many. Our usefulness and our apparent value is challenged by such a stripping of our presumed identity. When we cannot “do” we wonder if our life has any meaning.
For those of us in the so-called caring professions, or helping professions, the difficulty can be compounded because our “doing” is “helping.” What if we find that we cannot do what we so naturally do? What happens when we cannot answer that cry for help? And as helpful as others might be (again because of their skill and training), the very fact that they can help and we cannot may only underscore our own helplessness. What are we to do?
We can only pray.
Of course, I do not really mean “only”. Prayer is such a profound and great thing and yet how often do we qualify it with the word “only.” “Doctor, what can be done for him?” “Nothing, only prayer.” I am ashamed to say that even for us as Christian people, and yes, even for us as clergy, prayer is often the route of last recourse. I am certain that this is because we are “doers.” To be a “doer” is certainly a good thing if it means making use of our God-given gifts and talents, but we must always remember that all our efforts pale under the sovereignty of God, and if they are done without a recognition of God’s sovereignty then our efforts are for nought.
Prayer is often the last thing because it is the ultimate form of submission to our helplessness. In reality it is often the only thing that we can do. And of course, at its most authentic level, it is not we doing anything at all but it is the Holy Spirit of God who acts. When we cannot find the words or even the will, the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Perhaps the simplest of all prayers says it all, the prayer known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer reminds us that we are not the ones who can help or save another. Certainly, there will be times when we are called upon to exercise our gifts, but God is the helper and God is the saviour. Sin is really about us thinking that it is all in our hands, and of course, it is not. This prayer reminds us of this truth. It also directs us to the one who is our Saviour, our helper and our Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ, who is merciful.
Thus helplessness is not hopelessness, but the road to recognizing that we are not the ones in control. God is in control. Helplessness returns us to the one who sees beyond what we could not do, failed to do, wished we could have done, and things we have left undone. Standing in the presence of that one, simply as we are (not as who we would have ourselves be) we discover our true identity as beloved Children of God. Helplessness reminds us to pray, to open ourselves and the world to the love that God has to give, and no prayer is ever too late or “just” a prayer. Thus, even at in our most helpless moments, we are not without hope.
Let us pray.
Copyright 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves