Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Robbie's Journey"...?

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the title of this blog, "Jacob's Journey," is misleading. Granted that the things that I, my dad and mom have posted here are inextricably tied to Jacob's Journey, it still remains that Jacob, from the day he found consciousness again, has been going through his own emotions, thoughts, angers, fears, etc. And that is something that we could never fully articulate here. This summer, my family and I were quite transparent about our journey as we waited by Jacob's hospital bed, and it is a challenge to find where the boundaries of that transparency should now be given that Jacob is not the same as I am or as my dad is or my mom.

That said, it has been a while since I last posted! I have been very unsure as to what I should post - do I keep posting my own thoughts and leave Jacob completely out of it? Do I need to make sure I have an update about Jake in the midst of one of my posts? I am still considering starting another blog. Regardless, I felt a prompting this morning just to re-connect with our blog community; so consider this a re-introduction. My heart prompts me to continue posting - to continue to be connected with the network of love and support that is around my family and will continue to be.

I have been home from Biola for almost the whole month of January... I go back this next week. It has been a huge blessing to spend time with my brother... to just be two brother's together again (plus Jensen, of course). To make fun of my parents together (to an extent). To watch movies and talk and make jokes about Nicholas Cage and Dennis Quaid. But there is another part of me that is still so uncertain, so unsure, wrapped in despair. It can be put this way: On June 28th, I also received an injury, and it still hurts. Every now and then I hear a re-telling of the night of Jacob's accident... I hear the story from a different perspective, or hear a new added detail, or feel some reminder of the horrors of the summer, and I feel this pang of sorrow in my gut.

If you haven't yet, I encourage you to check out Connor Williamson had a severe accident over a year ago and has been paralyzed ever since. His dad, Eric, blogs (verb tense of the word "blog"). I commented on one of his blogs back on December 28th, and from that an interesting train of thought came up:


I really appreciate this post by you. Whenever I have expressed these feelings, I always receive feedback by people that are astounded that I would feel that way; after all, my brother Jacob is alive, God spared his life... don't I have a lot to be grateful for? Shouldn't I stop questioning, doubting, mourning, and find joy and peace and worship God? I have come to find that joy is much much different than happiness, worship is so much more than singing happy songs, and that it all comes down to making a choice. What people do not seem to get is that the burden and grief is no longer from the potential loss of my brother, but from the continuing present hardship. This hardship takes the form of watching Jacob struggle internally, watching myself struggle internally, and not feeling God anywhere. A big question for me is: "OK, what's next?" Am I really going to live with more crap like this happening all around me, every day? That is depressing. That is aching. People talk a lot about trusting in God when life is tough. It seems easy enough, because it is usually defined by just changing your attitude. I agree with you, that this does not seem to be the extent of it. Faith is not just a mental decision; it is somehow acted out every moment of every day, in the little ways and the big ways that you act. But, people don't often talk about how you trust God when you don't trust him. How do I hold on when I have no faith? How is God there for me when I am spiritually destitute? When I feel emptied of any Spirit? People tend to define “The Holy Spirit" in terms of how they think God makes them feel. Again, I think it is so much more than that.

Ok, this is pretty thick, I know. I was going to go into another thought too, but I think I'll save it.

Basically, it all comes down to a choice. Because how are we supposed to trust God when we don't feel like trusting him? We can't just sit around and wait until we feel better about it. The Scriptures never determine which emotions a trusting human is supposed to feel, but we sadly begin to define "spirituality" as how we feel inside, typically our emotions. I think this is horribly wrong. Every person on the face of the earth (I'm generalizing here) has gone through the entire range of emotions whether or not they believe in God. We are promised joy from the hope that we have, but this does not mean that sorrow ceases to exist. Our "spirit" engages the whole of who we are. It is not some vague plane of higher existence where we can transcend the normal experience and feel better. Being a spiritual being means fully engaging with reality for what it really is. God came into this world as the Messiah, as a man, to prove this - that he cares about this world, he cares about our world, and he is willing to die in order to bring physical reality back into proper relation with his Spirit. After all, the ultimate Christian hope is not a post-mortem spiritual existence (going to heaven when you die). It is being ressurected in the new creation. God is going to redeem our world. We have a hope for perfection of our bodies, not ditching them for ethereal bliss (Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, is an excellent source for this topic. I am guessing I will be posting more things about this book in the future, because it has been dominating my thoughts for quite some time).

Anyway... where was I... trusting God/loving God/following Christ is not a matter of "spiritual growth" in the sense that it is normally defined. It is not a matter of gradually feeling better about your personalized relationship with God. Rather, it is a holistic engagement with God's reality - his Kingdom - as heralded by Christ, as it is here among us, and as it will be perfectly in the future. Most of our metaphors in Christianity today define our connection to God as a "personal relationship." This can be important, but it is not the point. The point is that we acknowledge Christ's Lordship and become good stewards of the things he has entrusted to us, yes, personally, but most importantly in our communities - because you would not be who you are without the people around you. Individual choices that are manifested in communal activity.

Therefore, trusting God is not strictly an enterprise of the soul, defined in the "mental" sense. It has physical reality, manifestations of the Spirit of God with you. This is where discernment is used to see what is of the Spirit - in 1 John, it is said that the primary indicator of the Spirit is "love." Are we loving each other? Sure we can claim to love God... but how do we exhibit that in any way other than showing real, practical love to those around us?

This sounds incredibly vague and idealistic, which is the point - the lofty theological/philosophical assertions that we make will necessarily affect how we live every minute of our lives (if we take them seriously). Every action you perform throughout the day - every step taken, every word spoken, every interaction with someone - is spiritual. The way you act will show what you believe. So what do you believe?

-Rob (Jake's bro)


Eric Williamson said...


Thanks for the mention of Connor's story. I almost said "Connor's blog" there, but like you, it's really more of slow revelation of what's going on inside Eric's head than strictly what's happening to Connor. Like Connor, I imagine Jacob sometimes feels that the level of interest in him is overwhelming - he feels a bit awkward being the center of attention - and so I understand your ginger handling of what should be said and what shouldn't.

I think that you're discovering something that I'm also realizing - that God uses grief, agony, suffering, sorrow, pain, and despair to grant us a - I don't know if "deeper understanding" is the right word; perhaps "deeper pondering" is more appropriate - through these struggles He grants us a level of examination of Him that only comes to those who have suffered. I find it so refreshing to communicate with folks such as yourself who have walked, or are walking, in shoes similar to the ones I'm in - because it's so apparent that they "get it".

I don't mean that in a sort of "we're more spiritual" sense, either, but rather that the fact that we are suffering through a devastating crisis forces us to a level of contemplation of God where many folks never go. I think that's a bit of what Paul refers to when he admonishes us to count it all joy.

FInally, I affirm that you have been and continue to suffer from a severe injury that occurred when your brother was hurt. Yours just isn't physical. You, like I, were given a cross to carry that day. You, like I, realize that while we don't like it, don't want it, and don't enjoy it, it IS for God's greater glory, so we press on. And you, like I, seem just a little bit surprised by how many believers don't seem to understand that! But that's OK - God gave that burden to me to show me how much I really need Him. If I think about it for a second, I pray that my brothers and sisters never need to be taught that lesson as severely as I needed it.

I want to remind you of something A. W. Tozer wrote in "The Root of the Righteous" - "The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary for God to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in His holy work of preparing a saint for true sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply." God is doing a work in you, in your family, in your brother. Your agonizing search for God's face when He cannot be found is building in you a glorious work that sings His praise. Other people catch glimpses of this even when you cannot. But rest assured, that He works this for His glory, and one day all will be revealed. And you and I will see every one of the magnificent things He's wrought out of the suffering of your brother, my son, your family, my family, and you and I. On that day, we'll both acknowledge His incredible Lordship over all of us, and worship.

Cool, huh?


Adam Nigh said...

You've got some great stuff in here, Robbie. I really like the integration of the spiritual and physical and the distinction between spirituality and mere emotion. Your expression of the present burden of hardship that you bear along with Jacob is both moving and just exactly right. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Rob....What insight you have...The things that you wrestle with, I AT 83YRS still try at times seek to know...We will someday see God face to face, and then and only then will we understand..God bless you dear one, and continue share your thoughts and findings...They are such a blessing , as you give food for thought and prayer....God bless, Rosemary Fordice

Kit Tosello said...

Hi Robbie,
I love what you said at the end, that the extent of our trust in God is manifested externally, physically in the way we live & love!

I believe that your own heartache from this tragedy will gradually heal, mostly, but the sobering reality of the potential for personal loss & pain, this side of heaven, becomes more acute with age and life experience.

That sounds tragic--and it is--but I am finding that it can translate into deeper soul-joy as opposed to temporal human happiness, and that has its own reward. And I think by the time we reach the "number of our days" we should long for heaven's hope.

That said, knowing the extent that God loves you and knows the desires of your heart, you have a lot of human happiness yet ahead of you :)

Suzanne Mallery said...

Personally I really appreciate your posting your own experiences and inner musings. The reality is that you are part of a family and part of a community, and it seems perfectly natural to me that traumatic injury to one person could never just end at that person. You and your family and your community have all suffered, and your own injury is very much a part of this journey. So I guess my response is that I, for one, don't think there's any need to drop in an update on Jacob to lend validity to posts like this, that are very much at the heart of this journey.

I am very sympathetic to your experience with people around you exhorting you to give up your own internal struggle and be grateful, find joy and peace, etc, etc. It took me a long time to find ways to stop taking this type of reaction as a condemnation and realize how threatening it was to other people to think that someone who was supposed to be "a rock" and a pillar of the college Christian community now couldn't feel or sense God at all. Not that this was particularly reassuring to me, but it at least helped me recognize that the reaction wasn't about me; it was about their own fear.

I appreciate your insight that trusting God and having faith isn't about feeling trust, but about what we do and how we manage all the daily opportunities to love others and show compassion DESPITE having the feeling of completely mistrusting God and being unable to sense God. Sometimes perhaps having faith is just deciding to keep walking and stay engaged, rather than lying down to die or giving up or disengaging from God or those around us.

In the model of "spiritual development" (I use the term loosely) laid out by St. John of the Cross, there is described the experience of a Dark Night of Senses, in which the soul loses all feeling or sense of God's presence and loses all consolation from being with God. I don't know your entire experience - it may be similar to this or not. The thing I find curious, though, is the way that John of the Cross describes the purpose of this Night as a form of deepening in the soul's relationship with God, even when the person feels like the opposite is happening. He sees this as a form of purification, to help free us from reliance on the feelings and experiences we so often interpret as joy and peace.

I have no idea how closely this mirrors your own experience. It was tremendously helpful to me in recognizing and reframing my own experiences at a time when I was despairing of finding God's presence. You can take or leave whatever fits.

Regardless of how you describe the experiences you are going through, know that there are a great many people who love you and care about your experiences as well as Jake's. Most importantly, whether you feel it or can sense it or not, God's love covers and surrounds you.

Erika Wilkins said...

Love all you're saying, Rob! I'm not going to go into it now because I have to go to sleep (falling asleep at the computer) but perhaps I will address it later... Been thinking about you/praying for you randomly these past two or three days. Hope Biola is being good to you!