I rushed into my patient’s room, knowing that I was already going to be behind for the rest of the day due to a terrible traffic accident on the highway leading to the hospital that morning that had delayed my patient by one hour for her appointment. When you take care of children, the boundaries for tardiness are far more lenient, for after all, children cannot drive and often times circumstances they are born into cannot be helped – and even if they can be helped by the parents, the children are innocent.
My patient was new to me. She had an underlying neurological disorder, much like many of my patients, that inhibited typical development and communication. Her parents explained to me, while I took the history, that they used an “If…Then” model to communicate with this little one. I then re-heard what my patient had been saying the whole visit…”If I see the doctor, then I walk up the stairs.” Right by the stairs, there is a kinetic sculpture that she had spotted upon entering the hospital that morning. This structure was so enticing to her, that it enabled her to participate in her clinic visit when promised a stop in front of the winding, dropping, sliding circular metal ball mind puzzle.
If…Then. These two words were able to open a whole new world to this family as they were finally able to communicate with their daughter. Simple words. Cause and effect. If this…then that. Seems simple enough…and it was for this family and this child. It made an unbelievable impact on their daily lives.
But, it got me thinking. When does one realize the pain that “If….Then” is not as simple or as easy as it seems, nor does it often happen as one would imagine it should.
If I am good, then I will be liked and rewarded. If I am obedient to my parents, then I will have a happy/healthy family life. If I am kind, then others will be kind to me. If I trust a friend, then that friend will be there for me. If I go to church, then I will be surrounded by people who are always kind and supportive. If I work hard, then I will get into a good school. If I stand up for myself, then others will respect me for that. If I study hard, then I will go to and graduate college. If I graduate college, then I will get a job. If I make good choices, then I will find a mate. If I find a mate I like, then I will marry that mate. If I get married, then we will be married for life and that mate will not leave me. If I get married, then I will have children. If I have children, then they will be healthy. If I exercise and eat healthily, then I will not get sick. If I wear my seat belt, then I will not be injured in a car accident. If I have a problem, then people will want to help me solve it. If I use good communication, then others will respect my words and thoughts and have good communication back. If I cry, then others will comfort me. Insert your “If…then” here…
There are many more “If…Then” statements we all believed in our earlier years were just matter of fact, just like my little patient. Then, the world changes us and we realize that things are not always quite that black and white. Things are not always harmonious, not always agreeable. Things just don’t always make sense. Any one of the above statements can be ripped up, shredded and thrown into the fire as unfortunately, we realize the heavy burden of being human.
Being human is hard. Living in this world with all of its challenges is a constant and relentless struggle. If you live in this world, then it will disappoint, things will not happen as they should, people will let you down time and time again. You. Will. Struggle. Loud and clear. Jesus promised this. He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). My paraphrase: “If you live in this world, then you will have trouble. If you believe in me, then take heart, I have overcome this world!”
That is an “If…then” I can grab a hold of…
Jesus was not afraid to call it like it was. He wasn’t afraid to go against the grain. He was not influenced by popularity or status quo. He was not a people pleaser. He dined with sinners, tax collectors and the like. He unashamedly acknowledged God as Father. He called out the rich and lifted up the poor. He, the King of all Kings, entered the world as a helpless baby. He was always forthcoming. He did what he said he was going to do. Every. Single. Time. He did not sugar coat the life struggles we would have on this earth. He didn’t even try.
Jesus loved us enough to tell us the truth from the beginning…even if we did not want to hear it.
I am reminded of this beautiful story of the butterfly…
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further. So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon.
(My words…The man thought, “If I help the butterfly…then the butterfly would be free from unnecessary struggles and would be free to fly.”)
The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.
Neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Oh how we beg God to take away our struggles!!!! Cut that cocoon, set me free!!! It’s dark in here, it’s sticky, it just simply cannot be right! It’s not what I expected! If I do everything I am supposed to do, you know, the right things, then…my life should be easy and should certainly make sense…I shouldn’t have to work so hard. Oh, please, whenever will you cut that cocoon!
One thing we can hold onto in this challenging time of our country and our world, is that when all else does not seem to make sense, does not seem fair…Jesus, still the rebel, still the “I’m-ok-being-the-odd-man-out,” still tells it to us straight…and has from the beginning. If we live in this world, then we will have trouble. If we live in this world, then we can expect pain and suffering, confusion and discord. Period. Promise. Black and White.
And this struggle will be for our good.
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
And Jesus has overcome this world.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33).
Let us align ourselves with Jesus, the true King, the trustworthy one and only. Let us hold onto him tightly as we gently let go of the old “If…then” false expectations of the world and trust His promises instead. He knows what He is doing. He has the big picture. Just look at the butterfly.