Christy Wilkens explains the valuable lessons a hospital stay offers about power, surrender, and trust.
Our young son has been struggling with a chronic illness that landed him in our local children's hospital… four times in a month.
However, several of those stays were truly beautiful. Weird, right?
There are sacred places in the world where communities come together for the express purpose of caring for — and lifting up — those who cannot care for themselves. Hospitals, especially children’s hospitals, are definitely among them.
Staying in a hospital is a valuable exercise in radical abandonment to the will of God. It's a reminder that
- Nothing in this life is permanent or guaranteed
- We have very little power to control... well, anything
- We belong to a community
- The spirit matters as much as the body
- God will never abandon us
Nothing in life is guaranteed
It's very easy, in modern American culture, to develop a dangerous sense of entitlement to a basic level of normalcy. Physical and mental health. Financial stability. We are conditioned from our earliest moments to believe that these things are a birthright.
All of these good gifts are just that, though: gifts. The children's hospital makes it possible to be grateful again for the everyday miracles of our well-functioning daily lives. A few hours of uninterrupted sleep. A bite of food that a weary stomach tolerates.
Did you know, did you forget that these are things not everyone can count on? That they are things you can't count on, tomorrow? Live this life for heaven, with a grateful heart and not an entitled one.
We have very little power
Any hospital stay is disempowering; this one even more so. My son was COVID-positive during the first few days, so I was at the mercy of our medical team for every single thing I needed.
It was great, actually.
It forced me to stop and think about what was really needed in any given moment, what was worth someone else's time. (Coffee is one of those things. Pain meds are another.)
Powerlessness strips us down to that which is most essential. It turns out, that's a short list: mostly presence and love.
My powerlessness was my poverty, and poverty brings us closer to God's heart. The end of your own power is always where you find the beginning of God’s.
We belong to a community
Subsequent to the above: Most of the time, I would strongly prefer to do things for and by myself.
Our moments of weakness and need are necessary, though. They are perpetual engines of mercy for the building of God's kingdom. Some moments in our lives are for serving, but others are for accepting service.
People want to help. Let them. If they ask how they can help, give them a job, even if it's just to pray for a specific intention. Say yes, say please, and say okay.
Be willing to be the face of Christ in need, so your community can be the hands and the feet. This is how life in Christian community works: through the rising tide of merciful love, lifting the giver and receiver alike.
The spirit matters as much as the body
Is my son getting meds, food, and vitals on time and regular visits from his medical team? Yes.
Is he also getting offers of art kits? Popsicles? Goody bags? Yes.
Is the nurse asking how I am doing every time she enters or leaves the room? Yes!
The special thing about a children's hospital is that all three are seen (rightly) as vitally important. The spirit and the family matter as much as the body.
It makes a bad situation more bearable: this holy recognition of my son as a creature of both spirit and body, this honoring of the bond between parent and child as a living entity that must be nurtured.
God will never abandon us
When I say a children's hospital stay is good for practicing radical abandonment, I mean radical.
The entire goal of the spiritual life is to align our will with God's and not the other way around. That's it. That is how we get to heaven.
By efficiently dismantling nearly every opportunity to exercise our own wills, the hospital experience leaves us standing before God empty-handed. But we must empty our hearts as well -- of everything but the desire to will what God wills.
In every moment: Whatever you want, Lord.
With every breath: Thank you for this breath, Lord.
At every encounter: Help me love this person as you do, Lord.
The only way through places of suffering is radical abandonment to our neediness, and deep surrender to the people God is using to love us in the messy middle of that need.
And if you manage it, it transforms not just your hospital stay, but your life.
About the Author
Christy Wilkens, wife and mother of six, is an armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX. She writes at FaithfulNotSuccessful.com about disability, faith, doubt, suffering, community, and good reads. Her first book, Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, a memoir about a pilgrimage with her husband and son, will be released by Ave Maria Press in 2021.