Rushing the Surgeon

Trying to Help God Heal Our Infirmity

Joey Goodall / 10.22.21

We don’t always have easy access to our feelings, especially when they are complex or difficult. We feel things, but naming them, and understanding exactly what they are and where they came from doesn’t always come naturally. But then you hear a song or watch a movie and it’s instant tears. Something, perhaps ineffably so, connects deeply with our unspoken pain or struggles and the tears appear — and with them comes cathartic relief. We are a mystery to ourselves, and art has the equally mysterious power to communicate unknown or ignored truth. 

I often need God to give me a hard nudge with a piece of art to make things click. Through the stresses or disappointments (or the low-level anxieties of parenthood!), my inner dam slowly fills up and God has a way of releasing the waterworks before the levies are breached. But when I sense the waters are high and I’m a little on edge, I often try to engineer my own catharsis. I begin to rush the surgeon to speed up the healing process. 

One morning, while getting ready for work and getting my daughter ready for school, I noticed a new show with puppet characters on the PBS Kids TV app, called Donkey Hodie. My daughter insisted she was not interested. She is in third grade, and it looked like it was “for babies.” At eight and a half, she is already more interested in things that “seem weird and scary to me” than PBS, but when I saw that the titular character lived in a windmill, I couldn’t resist looking into it further.

Turns out, it’s based on a tertiary character from Mister Rogers Neighborhood that I didn’t remember, though it also features puppet recreations of two characters I do remember: Bob Dog and Purple Panda. Both were originally played by actors in full costumes.

Like many other Gen-Xers and Millennials, Fred Rogers was a constant presence in my life as a child. An early role model who showed me that contemporary American men didn’t have to be blustery and frustrated, in the way that many men I knew were, and that I had the option to continue to be curious and kind (with the help of the Holy Spirit), even as an adult.

My daughter was born just after Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood premiered, and when she was old enough, I excitedly introduced her to this new iteration of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Despite containing good parenting advice and helpful strategy songs for the preschool set, Daniel Tiger was missing the Gospel-imbued magic of the original Mister Rogers. So part of me knew I was going into Donkey Hodie with too high of hopes. I desperately wanted something in it to grab my hardened, rapidly-approaching-middle-aged-heart, and squeeze until I could access something buried deep inside that would otherwise remain beyond my reach.

At its best, the cleansing flood of tears is an almost sacramental, tangible experience of God’s grace. But once we make those experiences the substance of our faith, once we start looking to the experiences themselves rather than to the God who speaks to us through them, we are in trouble. We can grow restless with God, demanding even. 

The Christian life is one of patience. In her email newsletter last March, Lutheran writer, Gretchen Ronnevik, who has recently done a lot of great work on the Biblical concept of patience, wrote of the early Church:

The (Greco-Roman) culture around them couldn’t figure out these Christians who so willingly suffered for the sake of others. And when the Christians were asked why they willingly suffered?

It was because they served the God of patience. The God who was willing to suffer.

Their willingness to suffer, they claimed, came from being in Christ. They couldn’t help it. They couldn’t unsee the suffering of others. They couldn’t bow to an emperor once they met the true God. Knowing God–the Triune God. The Father who sent the Son to suffer, and the Spirit of Christ who came to be with them. This Spirit of God had the fruit of being willing to suffer. Patience is logically, a part of the fruit of the Spirit. […]

We don’t get patient by exercising it. We get patience by fixing our eyes on God–the God of patience. He gives it. It’s His fruit.

We all hate being patient, and we hate suffering. We want release, and we want it now! Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) that’s not how God works. We can do things to facilitate some level of emotional/spiritual release. We can watch Friday Night Lights again, or listen to certain songs that are designed to elicit emotions through their chord changes and quiet/loud dynamics, and that might get us somewhere, though likely nowhere near the same as when we’re completely blindsided by something. As is often the case when we try to “help” God do something, our part in it remains woefully inadequate. Blind Bartimaeus might have gotten the miracle he demanded of Jesus, but most of us are sitting alongside the road, waiting for the healer to come.

Of course, Donkey Hodie could do nothing but disappoint me. I was asking too much of it. On its own merits, it was perfectly fine. I’m sure it serves its intended purpose for its intended audience. But it was never going to break me out of complacency or give me a glimpse of God’s what-should-be. I have to be patient. God will breakthrough when I really need Him to, through whatever means it takes. It might only happen after a long, hard period of silence or suffering, and it won’t happen because of anything I do. It also probably won’t happen the way I want it to, or on my schedule, which is certainly for the best, because God’s ways are not my ways, and God’s time is not my time. A good surgeon can’t be rushed.

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