January 13, 2011
by Patrick Lafferty
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever...
At around 20 weeks in the pregnancy, Jan Morrison went for a routine sonogram to check her gestating son's progress. This would soon be the second child for her and her husband, Russell. Garrett would be his name, a young brother to their firstborn daughter, Carson. No sooner did the murky images reveal his frail form than the sonographer noticed a shadowy abnormality in young Garrett's chest cavity. Where his incipient left lung should have been, a thick cystic mass now existed, having scavenged its own blood supply to foster its parasitic growth. A further look confirmed the diagnosis of a lung lesion known as a Congenital Cystic Adenomatoid Malformation—CCAM for short.
Most CCAM's resolve without significant intervention. Garrett's however had grown to such a degree that it was impinging upon his heart and subjected him to a condition called hydrops—an accumulation of excess fluid in the body cavities. Unless extreme measures were taken to alleviate the fluid build-up, Garrett's heart would fail.
Until recently, most children in this rare condition would die; Garrett's parents had already begun making funeral arrangements. But recent medical advances in pre-natal care had developed a procedure that barely a decade ago would have been unthinkable. Doctors would access young Garrett by surgically opening his mother's uterus and then opening Garret's chest to remove the CCAM. With the lesion removed, Garrett would be carefully placed back in his mother's womb to continue his development until he reached full-term. As straightforward as the procedure might seem, there was no overstating the perils to which mother and child would be subjected. The womb is a sturdy haven for a nascent life, but breaching its territory risked tragically upsetting the delicate work transpiring within.
Under the direction of Dr. Darrell Cass at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, a brilliant host of help was marshaled on Garrett's behalf. In the days leading up to the surgery and during its several tense hours, over two-dozen doctors of different specialties plied their expertise. They excised the CCAM and returned Garrett to the safe confines of his mother, who then spent the rest of the pregnancy in the quiet (but oftentimes exasperating) repose of bed-rest.
On Easter Sunday, 2006, Jan went into early labor, creating panic that all their effort would come to naught. That panic soon gave way to joy at the sound of Garrett's lusty cries. He'd survived the largely unprecedented intrusion into his development, his lungs now full of air and life.
But for a slight scar nestled in Garrett's now five-year old chest, there is no evidence of his great struggle for life in his earliest days. At his tender age, he is mostly oblivious to how desperate his need was, how utterly dependent he was in that hour, or how astounding was the help roused to his aid.
That the Son of God sent no less than the Holy Spirit of God to be our helper confirms how desperate and dependent we are spiritually—to the same degree Garrett was physically. But as Mark reminded us last Sunday, rather than remain oblivious to those realities it is to our benefit to be aware of the depth of our plight and the brilliance of His Helper.
Our need stems from something more acute than having learned a few bad lessons or seen some bad examples. It goes deeper than needing to adopt new habits or behaviors. Our need involves a comprehensive renovation of the center of our being—an entirely new ethic born of a new motivation. Our ethic is, as Jesus says, to keep His commandments. Our motivation is to be out of love for Him. Though Jesus Himself leaves us a vivid example of what it means to follow Him, His sending the Spirit means we need more than an example to replicate it. We need an abiding influence that reminds, teaches, and sustains us with both discipline and encouragement in our aspiration to His holiness.
Knowing we require that kind of help should have several effects. It should, as Mark mentioned, both sober us and still us. We cannot expect our waywardness to dissolve by mere force of will. Nor should we assume that our only obstacle to adopting His way is found within us; we are, after all, in a war with forces unseen (Eph 6:12).
And while we are not entirely passive in this work of learning to walk more worthily of Him, our efforts toward holiness are akin to being a patient: though we cannot apply the remedy, we can see to it that we are brought into the Lord's surgical theater. Our attentiveness to His Word (cf. Heb 4:12!) and Spirit, our participation in His sacraments, our immersion in the life of His Body, the Church—none merit His approval or compensate for our corruption, but they, in effect, usher us into the posture that facilitates His work in us.
But for the scars upon the hands and feet of the Son, no evidence remains of the struggle He endured on our behalf. By the Spirit, though, we come to understand the magnitude of His help, and thereby ennoble it as we're enabled to imitate the love that motivated it.
If your need demands the help of the Spirit of God, what are you willing to do to become sensitive to His work?