One of the most profound times of worship I have ever encountered took place 20 years ago in what Eugene Peterson would refer to as a “sacred-ordinary” venue: my young son’s nursery. A year earlier, at 18 months, he had contracted an illness that threatened to rob him of the ability to communicate. It was an intense time for our family, and I can’t do justice to the story here, but the same child who once registered in the 2nd and 3rd percentile for speech and language is now doing Dean’s List work at a private Christian university while studying broadcast journalism.
Back then, however, we had no assurance of his healing and nothing but an uncertain future. I was home with him that afternoon, my task to put him down for a nap. One of the manifestations of his illness was hypersensitivity to just about all external stimuli, including the shift in equilibrium that takes place when a father slowly removes from his chest his sleeping son, gently turns him over on his backside, and cautiously attempts to lay him in his crib. Time after time over a two-hour period I followed the familiar routine, and each time my son became startled and burst into tears when his head touched the pillow.
And eventually I burst into tears. All my fears of the unknown, all the visits to the doctors’ offices where definitive answers were elusive, all the well-intended but unsolicited and unhelpful advice from friends, all the pain of watching those friends’ kids hitting all their developmental markers . . . all of it came flooding over me. And then, in the midst of it all, in my spirit I heard the voice of God as loudly and clearly as I ever have: “It’s OK. Don’t be afraid. I’m going to walk this journey with you.” It took a few more efforts, but I eventually was able to put my son in his crib, and then both of us took a nice long nap.
In Peterson’s introduction to the book of Job in The Message, he makes this observation:
Perhaps the greatest mystery in suffering is how it can bring a person into the presence of God in a state of worship, full of wonder, love, and praise. Suffering does not inevitably do that, but it does it far more often than we would expect.
Mike Yaconelli’s account in Dangerous Wonder of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ walking on the water illustrates the point:
The disciples . . . had seen miracles, healings, and people brought back from the dead, and still they were terrified. . . . But in the midst of their terror they heard Jesus whisper, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” . . . and then He climbed into the boat with them. What did the disciples do then? Matthew tells us they worshiped Him.”
Like the disciples, I came to know Jesus better in the midst of that turbulent season, and not because of personal piety. Like the disciples, I frequently manifested (then as now) the Fall’s residue—pettiness, jealousy, ingratitude. Suffering, in and of itself, doesn’t qualify one for sainthood. (In hindsight, it’s humbling to admit the reverse snobbery I often felt—a “been-through-more-pain-than-thou” pride that reared its ugly head when I encountered believers who seemingly waltzed through life blissfully unaware of goals that weren’t met, pregnancies that weren’t planned, vocational dreams that weren’t realized. In my brokenness, I pitied their shallowness one minute and envied their perceived greener grass the next.)
And yet, like the disciples, I found myself (then as now) in a spirit of worship more often than the outward circumstances of life would have seemed to warrant. I, too, acknowledged the presence of the swirling winds and the struggle to keep rowing. But when Jesus stepped into the midst of my chaos—though I was usually too busy, fatigued, worried, or self-absorbed to extend the invitation—I routinely became awestruck in the presence of the Savior of the World.
O Lord of Grace, the world is before me this day, and I am weak and fearful, but I look to thee for strength; if I venture forth alone I stumble and fall, but on the Beloved’s arms I am firm as the eternal hills. (From “God All-Sufficient,” The Valley of Vision)
– Dr. Warren Anderson