Helpless

If anything in normal life rivals the wildest possession scenes from an exorcism movie, it has to be the sight of a two-year-old in a full-blown temper tantrum. And if anything in normal life makes one feel trapped in a horror movie, it’s being in charge of a two-year-old who decides to throw a full-blown tantrum in public. There you stand feeling the glare of a hundred accusing eyes, while at your feet thrashes a miniature demon screaming like the souls of the tortured, pounding the floor until it shakes, turning a hundred shades of scarlet and blue, wailing a stream of water to rival Noah’s flood. All over such a petty thing as “No candy today.”

Thank God we outgrow that sort of behavior. Or do we? Most of us have witnessed fourteen-, twenty-one-, and forty-year-olds, and even senior citizens, enacting the above scene from a standing position. The teenager who storms through the house throwing everything in sight across the room. The customer who erupts in a stream of curses at the coffee shop barista, pounding the counter and turning so crimson that you wonder if you should call 911 to report an imminent coronary. The golfer who hurls and breaks clubs like old sticks. The driver who blasts the horn while simultaneously leaning out the window shaking a fist and screaming. All over such petty things as curfews, absence of preferred latte flavors, missed putts, and losing five minutes to a malfunctioning traffic light.

You may be remembering, red-faced, times when you personally behaved that way. If so, don’t feel too bad; I’ve done it too, as have more than a few prominent people. And even if you’ve outgrown actual screaming and throwing things, you may have found yourself struggling to hold it in while your stomach threatens to kick up lunch and a flood of unshed tears tries to push your eyes inside out. I’ve done that, too, as have a majority of the human race.

Why do we do it? What makes us go crazy over tiny disappointments that our own logic tells us make no difference? Why do we seethe with inner bitterness, whining inwardly that we never get what we want and no one cares and we were born to be unlucky? Why do we let one little frustration poison the whole day?

Most Christians will automatically answer: pride and original sin. I don’t disagree, but I also believe that a more direct cause is innate fear of helplessness. Newborns instinctively know that their only power to influence the world comes through tears; the toddler who flies into a tantrum is only continuing the behavior that worked all his life. Even if it doesn’t get him the candy he craves, at least it will get him a faster exit from the grocery store (where he probably was dragged without being consulted, and where the twenty minutes he’s been trapped there feel like hours). Most of us never completely lose the inner voice that says that the way to convince others–perhaps even God–to give us what we want is to turn angry and disruptive.

At the inevitable times when that approach fails, primal instinct knows only two remaining options. The first is to go completely crazy–at least we retain some power by throwing pain back at others. The second, less violent but even more tragic, option is to develop an all-out case of “learned helplessness”–to conclude that nothing will ever go right for us or respond to our influence no matter what we do, and that all that’s left is to suffer in silence. The saddest example of this is the neglected infant whose tears are ignored until she retreats into a permanent shell, spending the rest of her life staring into space and hardly noticing even the kindest attempts to reach out to her. In the early days, when we can do little more than suckle and grasp, wail and flail, our chances of accomplishing anything are dependent on the mercy of larger and stronger people.

When we consider the true helplessness of the newborn infant (and even more the in utero infant, whose future health and very life are almost completely at the mercy of outside actions) it becomes even more amazing that when Christ came to earth, He did it entirely according to the normal rules of human development. The “last Adam” could have come into earthly existence as the first one did–as a man already full-grown–but He chose not to bypass the embryonic and fetal stages, nor the near immobility of early infancy, nor the limitations of toddlerhood or childhood or puberty. Nor did He take special measures to ensure those days would be easy. He chose godly and loving earthly parents, yes; but they were neither wealthy nor influential. It was because they were subject to the whims of the wealthy and influential that He was born “on the road” without a proper bedroom, and when still a toddler had to be rushed out of the country to save His life.

Years later, He would again endure complete helplessness as He deliberately chose not to save His life, but to give it for the sake of others. Perhaps it was necessary for Him to first experience the helplessness of infancy and the limitations of childhood, that He might better learn submission “from the things he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8b). He was, after all, never really at the mercy of human whims; He could have asserted His true power against His persecutors at any time. By willingly becoming helpless, He gave us His strength and righteousness for the places where we are most helpless.

Therefore, His power is ever for us, and we need never exert our own power by force, nor despair for lack of it. For whatever we may struggle with in this life, He, the Source of all help, is with us and for us.

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3 Comments

  1. janetanncollins

     /  December 18, 2015

    This is profound!

    Reply
  2. Jo Swank

     /  December 19, 2015

    Beautifully written, Kathy! “He is with us and for us”…..Amen!
    Merry Christmas to you!
    Peace,
    Jo

    Reply
  3. Bravo! Katherine, with your level of writing and depth of insights, I just hope that you become nationwide famous, so that more and more people can read your beautiful pieces.
    This post opened a very needed perspective on anger to me. It literally changed by outlook on the situations that I encounter throughout the day and helped me react differently.
    Thank you so much for your great work! May God bless you with the happiness and success that you deserve.

    Reply

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