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A little lower than the angels

todayJuly 2, 2015 34

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For us, it was a few weeks ago when Jon went away on retreat for almost a week. He did it last year, and it was so good for his spiritual and emotional health that we were determined to make it happen again. 

However, Jon leaving his wife and child alone at home gets a little tricky when you factor in one small bouncy boy combined with one mother with severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Jon and I discussed childcare options: we could have someone staying with us to look after us both, as we’ve done in the past. But it’s a long way for grandparents to travel, and it’s always exhausting for me to have visitors staying in the house, because of the extra socialising energy. When your energy is measured out in teaspoons, even the smallest things count.
My first thought was, “I can’t do this”, but we managed it, in the end, with the following combination: a small army of amazing friends who swooped in and took the boy to their home after school for play-dates and meals; another friend who walked him to school each day; Tesco deliveries of groceries; Jon’s pre-prepared three-times-a-day meals; a new, bigger upstairs fridge; temporary use of nighttime nappies (him, not me); and someone else to look in on me and do all the minor household chores and remaining food preparation.
That left approximately 2 hours in the day when I was looking after the boy: one hour in the morning before school, and one hour in the evening (bath and story time). I sighed with relief when we had the full rota covered. I cleared my diary and rested for the remainder of the time. I can do this, I thought. I can do this.
It was one of those times when you realise just how much chronic illness makes you depend on people. I found myself thinking, “I can’t do this parenting thing alone. I am totally dependent on Jon, and when he’s away, I am totally dependent on the goodwill of others.” (It’s a good job I have amazing friends).
The week was an odd mixture: I was hyper-aware of my limitations, but it was also really empowering.
For those two hours, I was the only one looking after him, and this was the first time it had ever been Team-Mummy-Plus-Boy, alone, for longer than a day. We made paper aeroplanes in the morning, and snuggled up in bed and read. We coloured in tractors together. We changed up our usual routine and listened to Chelsea Moon playing loudly at breakfast time while he ate his brioche. I got extra hugs and kisses.
I found myself saying, “I can totally do this! I am rocking this parenting thing!” and it felt good to be doing something that I usually can’t. However, my body still protested, and even as I was congratulating myself, the muscle pain was creeping up, day after day, because of the extra physical demands on walking between the bathroom, bedroom and day room. Even as I was congratulating myself for making it almost-a-week I knew it was completely unsustainable. But for those five-and-a-half days, for those 2 hours per day, I had done it.
I had gone from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I totally can do this!’, and I knew there was a tightrope’s distance between those two options. 

It is not just those with chronic illness who experience this paradox, however. There are many different times in our life when we think, ‘I can’t do this’ followed by ‘I can do this!’ – or, more miserably, vice versa. Sometimes the difference is others’ intervention. Other times it is our own inner resources or support around us that makes the difference.
It reminded me of Psalm 8, quoted in Hebrews 2. We are made “a little lower than the angels”, given the job of looking after the earth, and it is amazing and miraculous how much power God has given us over creation. On a global scale, from a certain perspective, the human race does a pretty good job of running the world (the Pyramids; Beethoven’s 9th symphony; the iPhone); from another perspective, we suck at it (the holocaust; mass poverty; global warming; most reality TV shows).
And on the micro-scale, some days we do a pretty good job of parenting, working, friend-ing, or creating – and some days it’s all a mess, and we don’t know where to turn to because we know we can’t go on in the same way, but we don’t know how to begin to change.
This is the human condition: “I can do this!” and, at the same time, “I can’t do this.” The Bible highlights both our power and our weakness, and is unafraid of both of those aspects.
We see glimpses of goodness in humanity, but the whole is not wholly good. We see glimpses of order, but mess and chaos as well. We see glimpses of positive change, but too much destruction and cruelty.
For the times when we despair of humanity and ourselves, and think, ‘we can’t do this’, it is a good reminder to do as the writer to the Hebrews instructed the first Christians: remember Jesus. At those times when we feel frustrated, we need to be reminded that we don’t see it yet. We don’t see the ending, when goodness and order will be restored and the earth will be as it should. But we do see Jesus.We see the one who embodied perfect goodness and perfect order. We see Him, who endured suffering and is now crowned with glory, foreshadowing our future in glory with him, reminding us of the ultimate future.
In the meantime, we call out to friends to help us feed our son, but we also make kick-ass paper aeroplanes that defy gravity and do a loop-the-loop. We dream grand dreams and want to change the world, but then we burn the dinner, and feel small again. We forget a friend’s birthday, but we also show up at her doorstep when we know she needs a shoulder to cry on. We can totally do it and we totally can’t do it. We don’t see it all yet, but we do see Jesus. 
We are a little lower than the angels, a state which is both humbling and glorious.
See Hebrews 2: 5-9
Over to you: 

  • When was the last time you faced a small challenge? How did you feel about it? Are you more a ‘I can do this!’ person or an ‘I can’t do this’ person?
  • How does the phrase ‘a little lower than the angels’ strike you today? humbling? glorious? both? Something else?
  • When does it help you to remember that we don’t see it all now, but we do see Jesus?

Written by: Miriam Emenike

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