Resting in Uselessness

November 15, 2013

Two days of radiation, before chemo gets started on Monday, have me thinking about what is required of me in the radiology oncology department. My sole job is to lie down on the table in the middle of a large room, put my arms up over my head into a custom-made cradle, allow the technicians to position me exactly in line with the lasers seeking out minute tattoos on my body, and then remain still for fifteen minutes. That’s it. No reading, no iPod, no talking . . . just be still and take regular shallow breaths so my tumor doesn’t move around beyond the tolerances built into the program.

Meanwhile, what is happening around me is some of the most astounding, healing technology one can imagine: out of the wall behind my head comes three arms carrying imaging devices and the high-energy x-ray emitter [I have no idea what it is really called]. These arms are almost noiseless—it is inaudible when they are actually engaged in their work—operated by remote control. They rotate above, below, and around me and send the radiation to its target. Behind the wall is a linear accelerator that powers their concentrated beam into the Beast within my chest.

This morning as I underwent my first radiation treatment, I was blessed and entertained by two realizations:

1. The awareness of my utter uselessness in the present moment and the all-surpassing power of God. Last week, I was describing to my friends that my Inner CEO was coming out as I got ready for battle engagement.  Everybody has his or her way of coping with stress: Sue goes shopping, Mike tells jokes, Dennis retreats, Lynn gets a pedicure, and Mary gets organized. Yep, that’s me.

And now, in that room, my job is to be still and rest. I can’t even “breathe deeply” in order to relax. Something far greater has to put me in that place of relinquishing all striving. That one, of course, is our almighty and merciful God.

Ps 46:10       “Be still, and know that I am God!
                        I am exalted among the nations,
                        I am exalted in the earth.”

2. I took immense comfort in the idea that the energy helping me this morning was available because God, who holds all things together, had created it in the first place. The Healer created tools that righteous people can use for good.

My imagination meandered backwards from the x-rays to their source. I really don’t know the science, but at some point we have to acknowledge the power of atoms that is unleashed for healing good. Those atoms were endowed with energy, pent-up, disciplined power. Their “life” was created by God, who from the very beginning as pure spirit, was the only source of energy. For the good of all creation, God harnessed that power into light, atomic energy, and an orderly world. Since the Fall, one can use that energy for bombs or for healing; I for one am glad for the healing.

For those trying to get in touch with God in the midst of a busy or contentious life, resting in God is a bit of a stretch. How often are we secluded in a room, alone, silent, and useless? We actually try to avoid this circumstance! What I have learned is that when God is present, there is a boisterous, joyful activity working behind the scenes to heal and make whole. I can stand down and accept that, or I can wrestle the great arms of Jehovah and impede his work. Seems to me Jacob tried that (Genesis 32) and ended up with a limp. So I have chosen to use this “useless” quiet time to remember Scripture verses I have memorized, to enjoy the humor of my supine helplessness, and receive the healing that God is effecting in the whole process.

Jesus knows the burdens we carry, and invites us to find rest in him:

[Jesus says,] Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Yes, we have a yoke and a burden, but the load is somehow lifted and shared by the One who lugged the Cross to Golgotha, who bore our sins, and carried our sorrows. I am counting on that, and urge my readers to do the same in whatever labor or burden they are carrying along. Pastoring a church? Operating a business? Reconciling a marriage? Raising children? Renewing a denomination? We are so accustomed, in 21st century American culture, to making things happen, to being “useful” and even “powerful.” Might today be a day to be still and acknowledge God’s power that surpasses our imagination? The One and Only who contends, with precision, with the Beasts we all face?

John Fisher, in his (now ancient) album Still Life, sings a lovely simple song, “Rest in Him.” [MP3 here] This has been running through my head all day, and I offer it as an invitation to you:

Rest, rest in him,
Your work is through.
Lean back on his great power.
He’ll work through you.



11 Responses to “Resting in Uselessness”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    This post, dear Mary, is a profound reminder of who we are and Whose we are. As you so eloquently put it, God’s Providence is not coincidence and Blessed is not lucky. Thanks be to God who speaks mightily through you.

  2. Derek Simmons Says:

    In this ordeal of yours you are Emanuel’s amanuensis, making it possible for His work in you to be shared with others facing cancer, sharing your hope in Him with them. Thank you.

  3. Sarah Says:

    Thank you for the way you express your insights as you walk this unplanned path. Blessings to you also this weekend and on Monday when you have your first chemo. Rest in His Peace.

  4. houstonhodges Says:

    I had always heard “Be still…” as “Shut up!” and now I’m hearing, “And don’t wiggle!… and what’s more, don’t even breathe deeply!” What a challenge! I picture you managing that oh-so-well, in your white novitiate’s surplice, putting new meaning on “The Tattooed Lady.” You’re putting down some right memorable trail markers, pal.

  5. Bruce Pope Says:

    Praying for you…just finished latest portrait of a friend, Don Bollinger..see my website @ P.S. Inspired by your writing (you started early). You also seem to be getting a glimpse of “the holy carelessness of the eternal now”. Bruce

  6. Randy McGrady-Beach Says:

    Dearest Mary, I have been listening to the word Selah recently. From what I understand a musical term, but connotes a pause, a time to stop and consider what has been said and what is to be said next.
    I am thinking about our church at the crossroads of 580 and 680 is a great place for people to pause and realign, reconnect, and redirect their agenda with the agenda of God.
    The resting in God seems necessary in our journeys to recover that relationship which is primary for our well being. Thank you for your words which reminds me and us of the primordial relationship we have with the creator, who is also the redeemer and the sustainer.


  7. Gale Watkins Says:

    Thanks for the song. It’s been a long time since I have heard it, which makes me ancient too. May the Lord continue to work in and through you.

  8. Pam Byers Says:

    Beautiful, Mary – thanks for these thoughts!

  9. cnlongacre Says:

    There is something about spending time in God’s presence when we have no agenda but His. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for sharing the song as well.

  10. Craig Pynn Says:

    Beautifully put, Mary. Until you’ve laid on your back on that very narrow table, completely alone in the lead-lined room (yeah, they don’t show you that part) I don’t think we have any idea of what “Be still, and know that I am God!” really means. At least I didn’t. And it was only in the stillness of that room that I really came to sense–and palpably feel– God’s comforting presence and to begin to actually “know.”

  11. Jim Skidmore Says:

    Rev. Mary,

    Thanks for sharing. When I awoke this morning my thoughts turned to what Jesus said, “I am the light of the world he who follows me will not walk in darkness”.

    We are so thankful that Jesus, who was given all power in heaven and earth said He would be with us always.


    Jim Skidmore

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