Bruised Reeds, Faint Wicks, & Sick Days

As much as I’ve professed to be a theologian of the cross, I still fall into the pit of the theology of glory.

Will Ryan / 1.11.23

But here is my servant, the one I uphold;
my chosen, who brings me delight.

He won’t break a bruised reed;
he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
but he will surely bring justice. (Isa 42:1,3)

There are times in my life when circumstances have almost forced me to throw my hands up in despondency, give up and admit that I need help. There was that time when my wife’s and my taxes were messed up by the service we used, so we ended up owing thousands more than we had budgeted (on a minister’s salary). There was that time when we moved for my wife’s new job which then caused me to be passed over for jobs again, and again, and again. There was that time when my infant daughter’s acid reflux forced my wife and me into an insomnia-induced coffee rage.

I said “almost” because when I’ve seemingly gotten to the end of my rope, I’ve somehow been able, or been given the resources, to hang on. Either that, or I’ve simply blocked out the last time I had to throw in the towel because I like having the image of myself in control, in power, in charge.

But living in this world means something will come up again that will tear that image down. You’ll realize you aren’t in control, you aren’t in power, you aren’t in charge, and no amount of will-power will be able to change a damn thing. This past Christmas season was one such time for me.

COVID hit our family in the week leading up to Christmas. I was the first domino to fall. Sent packing to the basement, I was relegated to wrapping myself up with 2 blankets while the TV droned on regardless of whether I watched it or not. My wife would come down with meals, donned with a mask, for a quick drop-off. She’d scamper back up, hoping against hope she wouldn’t succumb.

Those few times I did emerge from my hide-out, I was questioned with a chorus from my toddler: “WHY ARE YOU UP HERE!?! STAY AWAY FROM ME! I DON’T WANT YOUR SICKNESS.” Talk about a gut punch. I’d go back downstairs with my tail between my legs.

Now, I wasn’t left down there to my devices for too long. Soon after I started to recover my wife went down. The manager came out to the mound and called for the beleaguered reliever to come in and see things through. We muddled through, donning masks, sleeping on couches, eating meals separately, etc. My daughter never caught it.

But before that happened, I was useless. I won’t go into the details of my symptoms, because who cares, but I couldn’t do a thing. I relied on the care of others. I could only be a passive recipient. I contributed nothing to the equation.

I normally cook the food in our house, something I really love to do, but all I could do was sit and wait for meals to be brought down to me. My daughter and I usually play and roughhouse together, something I really love to do, but I could only listen wistfully to the bumps and shouts that made their way to me. My church was forced to cancel its special Blue Christmas service, a highlight of church celebrations and something I really love to do, because I wouldn’t be there to lead.

My mood and disposition sunk down deep into the muck and mire as each subsequent domino of my self-sufficiency and self-importance fell.

I was, if you want to get biblical about it, a “bruised reed” or a “faint wick.”

For as much as I talk about God’s grace being a gift, or that we are saved not by our actions or works but by Jesus’ work on the Cross, or that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, the rubber met the road when I couldn’t do anything. “Our value isn’t found in what we’ve done or accomplished but in what God has done for us” sounds nice until you can no longer do a single thing but watch third-tier college football bowl games and wallow.

As much as I’ve professed to be a Theologian of the Cross, all I need is a little bit of failure, of plans going awry, of personal uselessness to expose the fact that I’m still a Theologian of Glory. I still want to contribute at least a “little” something. I still think I have to take care of others (including myself). I still don’t want to let go of the image of myself as in charge, in control, in power. I still don’t want to see myself as a bruised reed or a faint wick.

However, there is freedom in admitting the truth. Whether it be a bruised reed, faint wick, or an anti-hero (I also listened to a fair bit of T-Swift), the reality is that life in this world East of Eden leaves us battered and bruised. COVID or not, we try and muck our way through, but most of the time we only make things worse — more battered and further bruised, we lash out at others and continue the cycle.

But there is one who won’t break a bruised reed or extinguish a faint wick. Instead, this Suffering Servant allows himself to be bruised. He allows himself to be extinguished. In doing so, he frees us from the burdens of being in control, taking care of everything, and contributing a “little” something. The only thing we need to contribute is our need of him, or as Capon would put it, the only thing he needs is our death, COVID notwithstanding.

COVID put a serious damper on my family’s Christmas celebrations. This much is true. But it also gave me a deeper appreciation for Jesus, God’s Suffering Servant, who instead of kicking a horse when it’s down, takes our place so that we might be with him.

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2 responses to “Bruised Reeds, Faint Wicks, & Sick Days”

  1. Jane says:

    Will! This happened to us last Christmas. I love how you connected it to the bruised reed. Thank you!

  2. Christine says:

    Well you hit the truth clear and hard. This is especially difficult when the illness is longer term. Reading this helped give me peace, thank you.

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