The Land of the Living
Updated: Jul 28
“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”
- Psalm 27:13
I sat in the cold window seat. I was 9 floors above the Boston traffic shimmering in the summer heat. But I shivered.
It had been a long night on top of many long nights when the group of freshly-pinned residents waltzed in at 6 a.m., flinging quick diagnoses across the sterile room of the children's hospital. I had tried to string coherent thoughts together, but the lack of sleep and cumulation of worry seemed to disconnect my tongue from my brain. Within 5 minutes, the white coats had filed out, and I sank back on the thin cushion in frustration.
Hurry up and wait and see. Maybe he'll feel better soon.
I don't like to feel helpless. I absolutely hate the separation from the rest of my family back home while I sit on my hands and do nothing but wait.
Motherhood is the epitome of action. It's fixing broken toys and broken hearts. It's doing, constant and monotonous to the point of insanity. It's ad nauseam laundry and dishes and saying no. Motherhood is brimming over with life - bills and busyness and noise and smells and The Next Thing.
Motherhood is so full of thriving in the present and growing into the future. It's proactive, reactive - it's active. It's been my 24/7 job for over 17 years. It hums along at an often toddler-like frenetic, erratic pace.
Ben had 2 emergency brain surgeries this Spring.
It was scary. His brain swelled with fluid, requiring immediate intervention and a bad haircut. Twice in 6 weeks. And he didn't bounce back from the trauma well, leading us to 3 more emergency room visits in the next 6 weeks.
I can't blame him. Major surgery can mess with normal physical and mental processes even when you go into it fully functional, which he didn't. Life in March and April was a wash with the surgeries. All through May and June he had daily headaches and lethargy that nailed him to the sofa. We seemed to be having trouble finding the right setting for how quickly fluid should be flowing. We're talking millimeters - but they can make a big difference. So much busyness was stripped away during our season of basic survival. We've hovered closer to death than life several times in the last few months.
Kinda makes all the frivolous distractions look pretty, well - frivolous.
My soul writhed for a while within the confines of this broken jar of clay, staring at the younger broken jar of clay doing his time between couches and hospital beds. I wanted to move. I wanted to build, create, plan. I wanted to hurtle forward. But all I could do was sit. I had to face an uncomfortable void.
What was left when I couldn't do more than simply be?
I read Psalm 27 recently. The thought of seeing God in the land of the living hit home. At the moment, it seemed to me we were placeholders in the land of the dying rather vibrant forces in the land of the living. Spurgeon noted grimly in his commentary of the Psalm, “Indeed, here are more dead than living, more underground than above it; the earth is fuller of graves than houses; life lies trembling under the hand of death; and death hath power to tyrannize over life!" Ugh.
I feel it most in the medical world. The enforced quiet only makes the suffering louder. The beeps of machines are paced reminders of liquid time running through our fingers like water. Tubes and wires carry small measures of hope, doled out by drips and wavelengths. The white walls are bitter juxtaposition to the stifling darkness within.
It's enough to make the most stalwart warrior lose heart as they weep for their fading child.
Excuse me while I find a fresh box of tissues.
Here, in the sterile world, life sloughs off any pretense. There's little to distract us from the reality of finite time. Here, bodies look more like tents for a transient visitor than bunkers built to withstand war. Here, for all our bravado, we are fallible. And we know it.
We were made to live.
But we're not made to just function. Hearts can beat and lungs can fill. Minds can cogitate. Souls can enjoy comfort. But there's more.
We were made for more than what we think life is made of.
It's not just about having a full, interesting, even productive 80 years. Lots of people live busy lives. They make lots of money. Lots of friends. Lots of experiences. Lots of impact.
But is that life?
How could David claim in that Psalm that he saw God in the land of the living? He'd likely killed hundreds of men by the time he wrote that. He had seen death. He'd been hunted almost to extinction himself. His first wife had been taken from him. His home. Safety. Status. Gone. He'd lived more in hunger, cold, and fear than in even minimal comfort. His best friend was killed. Later several of his sons too. His friends had considered stoning him.
He lived in the land of the dying.
And yet, David claimed life. Full and free. From the valley of the shadow and from the top of the golden age of the focal nation of history, his grip on the land of the living remained constant.
David was on intimate terms with the One who imbues life on the deepest level. Spiritual life. David understood what both his predecessor Saul and his successor Solomon didn't. Your life worth isn't defined by status, health, accomplishments, or even wisdom. Comfort does not equal life. Growth does not equal life. It's not how much money you make or what you invent. It's not how many kids you have or the legacy you leave. It's not how much influence you have. Those are good things, but good things do not equal life.
Your identity with your Creator and Sustainer is the source of your life.
If you're with Him - that's life. In the darkest dungeon or the highest palace, if you are dwelling with God, then the state of your body, your busyness, and all your work are all immaterial.
"One thing have I desired of the Lord,
That will I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple."
- Psalm 27:4
A month ago, one of the young men in our rather small Spina Bifida community suffered a shunt malfunction, which is the same issue that landed Ben in surgery and multiple emergency room visits this Spring. Fluid flooded his ventricles.
His brain couldn't recover.
His family said goodbye as he slipped beyond the reach of medical intervention into the hands of his Maker.
He was 14.
My own brain hurt when I heard the news. I imagined the raw pain of his mother, forced, in another sterile hospital room, to stop sharing life with her son. No more teen boy laundry, algebra homework, legos underfoot, deodorant reminders, advocating for him, praying for him, second helpings of spaghetti, discussions about girls.
No more saying no.
How does she go on? How does she function when one of the most pivotal jobs of her existence, mind-body-time consuming roles of her life, and deepest loves of her heart cease to need her anymore? What's left when so much is suddenly gone?
My prayer for her daily now is the same one I have cried for myself in the darkness. I prayed, bleary and beyond exhausted, in that silent sterile waiting room at 2 am as my son lay in unnatural near-death sleep of his second brain surgery. "Oh that we would truly live with You - now!"
May my life always be so intimately connected with the One who is life that not even my physical end will disrupt it.
God is with me in the land of the living.
It is well with my soul.
No matter your circumstances, I pray the same for you my friend.
Dwell with your God.