Letters From a Hospital Bed #6: Reflections From a 99 Year Old
Letters from a Hospital Bed is a series of reflections by Jim Houston, now entering his 100th year, in which Jim seeks to capture and reflect new insights of his ever-discoverable God, revealed through his own hospitalization, for the encouragement of all care givers.
December 16, 2021
In so many ways our everyday language gives us clues into some of the deep-seated assumptions which so often guide our attitudes and actions without our being conscious of this influence. I have been reflecting on this in the simple phrase with which I became so familiar as an adult, “Happy Xmas”. Once, we had a sense of freedom to express “Happy Christmas”, then we dropped the Christ and substituted for an “X” and now we have dropped the term completely and greet each other with “Happy Holidays”. To be sure, we are but reflecting the rapid secularization of our culture, but as Christians, we risk losing our own identity in this loss of sheer wonder at the enormous mystery that is the Incarnation. I suspect that beneath our simple language changes lies a seeping loss of confidence in our own faith, at a time when confidence in faith is more deeply needed than at any time before.
This pandemic that has swept aside some of our most cherished habits and practices and has disrupted commerce, food supplies and all manner of other essentials, has also been a remarkable instrument of God’s grace. I am reminded of the observations of the Earthkeeping Institute that so much industrial emissions were reduced by shutdowns earlier in the year, that we saw the creation already begin to recover, both on earth and in the heavens. Each of you, in so many ways have seen new life emerge out of the suffering that this time of global travail has caused. Somehow, we have all both lost and gained so much that has surprised us and this disorientation, even this discontent, prepares us to welcome the Christ of Advent who comes to us not in triumph but so handicapped, so vulnerable that He was unable to even feed and clothe Himself. I think I understand this vulnerability better now than ever I did before.
Where I live, everyone is old and some are very old. Their bodies may not be up to much, but they still have a remarkable capacity to complain! “It is no fun being old”. “It is no fun being deaf”. I can join in this lament. I know. I am old and deaf and can no longer enter into the chatter of my grandchildren and their children. When my masked visitors appear, I can hardly hear or understand what they say. I have been reflecting on what our gospel physician Luke may teach me about such grumbling and he teaches me about holiness, not mine, the Christ’s – Lord of All – the one laid so low as to be without any capacity to care for himself. Utterly dependent. Only He is holy and so my grumbles and complaints fade into inconsequence of my own sinfulness before Messiah. I’m reminded of the younger sister of Corrie Ten Boon, in prison, ready to be killed by the Nazis, complaining to Corrie about the fleas in their mattress, to which her older sister replied “Thank God for the fleas which is why the guards leave us alone so that our other sisters can join us for bible study and prayers together”.
Some years ago, when Chris and I were teaching in Brazil, I was asked by one of the conference participants as to what I attributed my long life. Chris reminds me today that I gave only a one-word answer to the question. “Gratitude”, I said. There is a simple chorus that I love that reminds us
“Count your blessings,
Name them one by one,
And it will surprise you,
What the Lord has done”.
May I encourage us all, even in the midst of this confusing season of loss and gain, with too much that is so unfamiliar, to see in this mysterious Incarnation that we celebrate, a call for overflowing gratitude. That is the cry of my heart. There is so much that I can no longer do, but with all I have I will still boldly declare “Merry Christ-mas” to you all!
Most hopefully yours;
"It's all of Grace. So to live in Christ is to live a gracious life, and to live in grace means you are always living in gratitude" Jim Houston https://www.reframecourse.com/episodes/episode-10