A couple years ago, my wife and I had to walk with our daughter through a very difficult situation regarding her health. Over a period of two months her health deteriorated further and further. We had doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment, but nobody had any answers. She kept getting sicker, and we couldn’t do anything about it. Eventually, she ended up being hospitalized for two weeks. To make things more difficult, the hospital was an hour and a half from our home. My wife decided to stay with her at the hospital to provide support and encouragement. That left me to keep things going at home, juggling the needs of our other three daughters, the needs of my wife and daughter, along with the needs of my congregation AND my final semester of seminary. Needless to say, this was one of the most difficult moments of our life.
Yet, the juggling of responsibilities was not the most difficult part. The most difficult part was watching my daughter suffer and being completely helpless in doing anything to ease her suffering. The difficult part was watching the rest of my daughters miss their mom and sister, realizing that I could do nothing to bring them home. Everyone in my family was suffering and I felt completely helpless.
In the midst of this, I was reminded of a quote from a book on prayer by a man named Ole Hallesby.
In that book he says, “Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. Only those who are helpless can truly pray…Listen, my friend! Your helplessness is your best prayer. It calls from your heart to the heart of God with greater effect than all your uttered pleas. He hears it from the very moment that you are seized with helplessness, and He becomes actively engaged at once in hearing and answering the prayer of your helplessness.”
This stirred my heart and firmed up my soul. I realized that the simple acknowledgment of my own helplessness had already reached the throne of God.
God heard my prayer and was answering my helplessness. Not only was he answering my own helplessness, but he was answering the helplessness of my entire family. Each member of my family felt helpless in this situation. Yet, God was not idly watching us suffer. Our prayer of helplessness was in his ear, already stirring action on our behalf. This brought a tremendous amount of hope and strength to our weary souls. God was with us and working on our behalf.
Each day I drove down to visit my wife and daughter in the hospital. As I drove I prayed. The more I prayed, the more I found my prayers changing. My cries of helplessness moved into cries of thanksgiving and praise: “Thank you Father for your presence in my life and my family. Thank you for being a Father who hears our prayers and acts on our behalf. Thank you Father for giving us strength and perseverance in the midst of this. Hold us through to the end. Keep our eyes on you. We trust You!” I prayed during my drive down and during my drive home.
One passage of scripture was on my heart throughout this difficult season: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6–7, ESV). It is humbling to admit our own helplessness. We like to think of ourselves as strong and self-sufficient. Yet, we are not. The reality is that we are helpless all the time. Hundreds of things happen every day in which we have no control. Our helplessness causes anxiety within us because we begin to understand that we are not in control. That why Peter tells us to humble ourselves and cast our anxieties on the Father who cares for us. We may be helpless but He is not.
When walking with our children through suffering, there is a temptation to pretend that we are strong and have it all together. We don’t want our children to see our weakness—we don’t want to admit our own weakness. Yet, this temptation will only lay further burdens upon our shoulders. We will find ourselves collapsing under the weight of trying to “keep it together.” This is not actually what our children need. Our children don’t need parents who pretend like they are in control. They need parents who are with them in the journey through the valley. Our children need parents who recognize they are helpless, casting their anxieties on our Heavenly Father, who is not helpless.
Our children need to see what it looks like to live out our faith in the midst of suffering. As they watch you, they will learn to do the same. It was a blessing to find out that my daughter had been praying her way through the entire situation as well. She had been keeping a prayer journal, filling page after page. At one point, a nurse said to her, “I know that you are a Christian and I know that these types of difficulties can shake your faith. How are you doing?” To my delight, I overheard my daughter respond, “Actually, my faith has never been stronger than it is right now.” That’s the power of recognizing our helplessness and casing our cares on the Father.
We never received any answers to what caused the health issues. After two weeks in the hospital, my daughter was healthy enough to go home. She progressively got healthier and healthier and finally was back to one-hundred percent. It’s been two years and nothing like that has happened again. We are thankful for her restored, and continued, health. We are also thankful for the powerful lesson the Father taught us about helplessness and prayer.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra