Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Thank God for Little Things


That wisest of men, Solomon, often spoke of the power and importance of little things. He encouraged the lazy man to consider the ant (Prov. 6:6). He admired the little conies (Prov. 20:26) for their tenacity. He warned about the moment that could ruin a life (Prov. 7:22).

A recent biking accident has left me with a lot of time to think. I’ve spent a good bit of that time thinking about three little things. One involved a tiny amount of time, another a rather insignificant amount of space, and a third that in comparison to so much more that was going on just doesn’t seem so big, but it was, and is:

#1: If I had only looked over my shoulder before making that left hand turn into the path of a pickup truck that was passing me, none of this would have happened. A split second of neglect has affected me for the rest of my life.

#2: If the pickup truck had been six inches the right, I would be dead.

#3: We’ll wait on that one for a while.

Too many of us assume that life is made up of a sequence of big events: birth, graduation, marriage, having children of one’s own, death. To be sure these, and other events like them, are seismic happenings that leave the landscape of our lives changed, but the bulk of our life is not lived there. If we picture our life as a container filled with various sized rocks, from quite large down to grains of sand, we would find that the most volume is taken up with sand and pebbles--little stuff. I’m not saying we ought to ignore the boulders, but I fear too many of us live life in an attempt to jump from one big rock to the next. In the process of only living our life looking back to the last great happening, or ahead to the next big event, we fail to appreciate the cumulative power and weight of the little things in our lives. Furthermore, as my experience demonstrates, one never knows which little thing will swell up to instantly life-altering dimensions.

On the lovely fall day when I smashed my hip and collarbone on the side of a pickup truck, my heart, with the rest of my country was heavy. A few days before terrorists had attacked New York, and Washington DC, killing thousands of men, women, and children. Others had died in Pennsylvania, apparently able, at the last moment, to prevent the hijackers from crashing this plane into yet another public building, but unable to save their own lives.

When a little girl at my church heard about my wreck, her response was, “Didn’t he look?” No, I didn’t. I’ve been biking for years. I always look. Such a little thing, yet on this occasion, as the sound of the approaching truck was masked by the noise of a departing car, that failure to look was a near-deadly, certainly costly oversight.

In the time since the accident, I’ve thought numerous times of the perversity of me being laid up by such a small matter, when all around me events that will fill the pages of history were transpiring. I even felt guilty that my little-thing-inspired calamity would sidetrack others from praying about, and showing concern over the big one that was going on all around us. I’m coming more and more to realize as I contemplate the whole matter, that I just have to leave that with the Lord. He was not busy in conference with President Bush, when I was distracted just at the moment I needed to be paying attention. He was not wringing His hands over the whereabouts of terrorist leaders, when flesh met steel on that country road. He was there. He is here. I think “little” and “big” are concoctions of my mind, not His. He keeps a running total of the sparrow population. He knows the number of hairs on my head. He can tell you how many times I get up and lie down (For a while now, that number has been zero.). He is intimately acquainted with all my ways, not just the “big” ones.

Perhaps there is another way of putting it. It humbles me to even type the words. Anything that has to do with one of His children is a big thing.

One of the first questions most of us learn to ask is, “Why?”

So why did this happen? I mean, I was out there trying to get some exercise. Numerous health-care workers have commented on my “good veins,” no doubt the result of years of aerobic activity. But look where it has gotten me now. Lots of folk with cholesterol laden blood, and waistlines that done-lapped a long time ago are up and about and doing their thing, while I huffed and pumped and dieted, and now am stuck in a space about the size of a baby’s playpen. Why?

I pastor a great church. We had just entered what I think is the greatest time of potential growth in our history. Plans were in motion. Things were beginning to happen. It’s fun to get up and go to church at Covington Bible. I didn’t even want to go on vacation, though I was planning to visit some missionaries in a couple of months. Day after tomorrow will be the third Sunday I haven’t even been able to be at church. I figure there will be at least that many more before I get to roll or hobble in. My participation in the mission trip is cancelled. The disappointment compounds—the ticket is nontransferable and for me to use it later will cost a considerable amount of money. Why?

I could go on about the incredible inconvenience it is for my wife to have an invalid husband, about how all the kindness being directed toward me could be funneled in much more profitable directions, if only I hadn’t . . .

I find many reasons to ask, “Why?”

So, Why did this happen?

It happened because, in the words of the little girl, I didn’t look. I’m not being flip when I say that. God has so constructed His universe that the choices we make, the actions we take or neglect to take, the words we say, or withhold, have real consequences. Yet, in the light of Romans 8:28, from another perspective, I have to say that this bed represents God’s will for me. I can be sure that God watches over and cares about the little things. Often those little things bear such incredible consequences. Could God have prevented this accident? Not only do I answer, “Yes,” but I am inclined to believe that on other occasions God has sovreignly, providentially, guided me away from disaster. Not only was God in control in relation to my failure to look at its critical timing, He likewise gave the six inches that saved my life.

God has so made His universe that my actions and yours are truly significant—they matter—yet He is not wringing hands in worry over how it will all come out. If there is one little thing in this world over which God’s sovereignty does not extend, then He is not truly Lord. To follow the logic of the old poem, if God is not sovereign over the horseshoe nail, then He cannot be in control of the battle, the nation, or the world.

I figure on that Saturday afternoon I was about six inches from dying. I was making a left hand turn off of the blacktop onto a dirt road. I slowed to allow the car that was behind me pass, then I quickly stuck out my arm for a signal and started to turn. The little pickup’s noise, must have been covered up by the sound of the car that had just passed. When I signaled a turn he was probably already in the left lane passing me. He almost succeeded in his attempt to miss me. If he had gotten the truck six inches further left, I would have been badly scared, upset at myself for not looking, not much more. If he had failed to get as far to the left as he did, by just six inches, I’d almost certainly be dead.

I love the Lord, and I’m looking forward to heaven, but I’m glad to say that I’m still here. Call me carnal if you wish, but I have a wife to love, work to do, sons to watch continue in their growth, grandkids to love and spoil. I’m very glad for that six inches that spared my life. I enjoy my food. I’m incredibly impressed at the kindness of my wife and others. I guess you could say I’ve gained a new appreciation for little things.

Really, though, that day is no different than any other. God is not like the airbag in the steering wheel of an automobile—the only time it comes out is in time of real danger. Rather it is just that God’s care for me was clearly evident that day. Paul told the Athenians that “in [God] we live, and move, and exist.” (Acts 17:28) Jesus taught that our life is not maintained by the food we consume, but by the word of God. (Matt. 4:4) David pointed out that his times are in the Lord’s hand. (Psalm 31:15) Amid the twin-tower like destruction of ancient Jerusalem, Jeremiah saw that it was God’s mercy, God’s mercy renewed each day, that kept us all from being consumed.. (Lamentations 3:22-23) Indeed, Paul points out that not just we, but all the creation is held together by the power of God. (Colossians 1:17) Not only in the sense of my creation, but moment by moment, I am because God in His providence makes it so. It was not only that day that he gave space to live. He does so everyday.

In a morphine fog I was talking to my physician. He had in his hand the paper that would give him permission to operate on my bashed-up hip. There were all kinds of really discouraging “could happen”s on that sheet: You could develop a rupture at the site of the incision. It might not work, we might have to do a total hip replacement, etc., etc. I thought about a man I know who recently came to this point concerning a surgical procedure, and just said, “No.” I understood perfectly.

More than anything else on my Doctor’s list of horrors, a statement about a little nerve grabbed my attention. Sometimes the nerve that allows one to pick up his foot (pull your toes up) is damaged, and one has a “drop foot.” I was told if that happened I’d have to wear a brace. Somehow that one really got to me. Visions of special shoes and walking sticks and me walking “funny,” filled my mind. “I’m not sure I can bear that.” I thought. But it was clear, even in my less than alert state, that this was what I ought to do, so I signed.

“Mr. Merrell, I’m going to give you the drug to put you to sleep now. The next thing you know you’ll be in the post-op.” I nodded and for all practical purposes died.

I blinked my eyelids closed and opened them to an intensity of awareness that I had never known. It was as if a pure white strobe light was firing at a million times a second. One flash was the ceiling of the post-op, the next some image from my memory, then to a dream scene, back to post-op, more rapidly than I can possible explain. “Where am I?” “Am I dead?” “Is this heaven?”

“Pastor Merrell,”

I looked at the foot of my bed and saw Laura. She’s a nurse, a friend of my son. I don’t know what else she said, but her presence pulled me back to reality. My focus lowered to my left foot. My brain sent the signal and I watched the toe wag up and down.

Thank God for little things.

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