by The Passionate Papist
Meet James Norman Swender, son of some good friends of ours, born on October 24th, 2011, weighing in at 2.5 pounds and 14 inches in length. James was about 12 weeks premature, and he is currently residing in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Matthew 18 reminds us “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Despite James’ tiny frame, and that he has been on this Earth only about a month, he has a great deal to teach us that will help us on our journey to Heaven.
The photo below does not really do justice to James’ diminutive stature, but you get some sense of his size when you realize that the nurse’s hand covers about half of his body.
Stormin’ James Norman, as his Dad likes to call him, spends 24 hours a day in an incubator, with an oxygen tube running to his nose. He is constantly monitored. James cannot yet regulate his own body temperature outside of the incubator, and is prone to apnea, a time in which he stops breathing. Sometimes, James has to be poked or prodded, or encouraged to take that next breath. In short, James has a crack team of medical staff watching his every move, 24 hours a day, along with his parents, who are constantly at his side, tending to his every need.
James is blissfully unaware of this hubbub of activity on his behalf. He does not yet realize that, despite his tiny frame, he is basically running the show! He has adults scurrying around every time an alarm goes off or anything seems amiss. While observing this, I could not help but be struck by how similar James’ situation is to our own.
James Is Oblivious
While James is certainly aware of his surroundings to some extent, he does not yet understand what is going on or what is happening to him. I am sure he knows the voices of his parents. and those bring him comfort, but he is not aware of the big picture, of all the trouble people are going to to help him. He is not aware that his very survival depends on the staff around him.
Are you and I not exactly like James, only on a bigger scale? Are we not like little children before God, for the most part, completely unaware of how He is acting in our lives? Isn’t our understanding just as limited as James’? Do we recognize all the times when God intervenes in our situations, in the troubles we experience? Do we understand that we would not be alive, but for God sustaining us?
When James has a problem, the staff or his parents resolve it, but he has no idea that they have done so. All he can see or sense is what is immediately around him, and he does not yet understand most of those things. He does not comprehend that a host of people just outside the confines of his incubator, watch over his every move.
We are just like James. We live in incubators of our own making, boxes we put ourselves in. Nevertheless, God, and all the saints and angels peer into our lives, much like we peer through the glass of James’ incubator. In a way, this reminds me of an image of God in the Old Testament book of the prophet Hosea. Hosea 11: 1-4 says:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
These words clearly show our relationship to the Almighty God. He laments our sinfulness and disloyalty, yet He stoops down to embrace and feed us like little infants. In short, we are very much like James.
Do we realize this? Do we comprehend how much our sins hurt God? I think many of us tend to think of God as the policeman in the sky – the Judge. He is most certainly a Judge, but He is also Mercy. I don’t say this to minimize the Justice aspect of God – our culture already does a great job of that! But, I think we can, and should, take comfort in knowing how much God loves us. If weak, sinful creatures can show little James all this love, all this care, should we not expect the same from God, only on a much more infinite scale? We project our human imperfections and shortcomings on to God, and assume that he can’t really care this much.
Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a God who loves you, who knows the number of hairs on your head, who cares what happens in your life, no matter how big or how small. He is watching over you, just the way He is watching over James. Let Him take down the walls and defenses you have built through a lifetime of hurts and disappointments.
Let go, and let God love you. Love yourself – if God does, shouldn’t you do so as well?
James is Dependent
James is completely dependent on the care and concern of those around him. James is most definitely not in control of his own life. Yet, James sleeps peacefully in his little crib, unperturbed by the very storms of life surrounding him. How much we have to learn from him! So often I lose whatever peace I might have, as I struggle to control my environment, instead of submitting to God’s will. How often am I angry or frustrated, or discontent, when things don’t go the way I planned? The truth is, my dissatisfaction stems from the fact that I depend on myself, and I inevitably fall short of my own expectations.
The American culture is one that places a pre-eminence on independence. Our national holiday is known as Independence Day. We consider being dependent on others a weakness, so we spend our lives worrying and trying to plan for every contingency, so that we can be independent, and not bother or need anyone else.
But the Bible counsels us that this is not the way. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” Matthew 6:25-34 states:
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Do you see the folly of our thinking? We spend so much time and energy trying to control our own destiny. yet we are mere specks in the Universe compared to God.
Despite this, God has promised to provide for us, we who are worth so much more than the lilies of the field.
Do we believe this?
St. Augustine advised us to “Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you.” Let us be like James and totally depend on God.
James is Humble and Weak
James is quite literally the smallest of human beings. He has no worldly achievements to speak of, but in his weakness and need he has captured the hearts of all around him. With every breath he takes, he testifies to the glory of God and His mercy.
We must imitate little James. As John the Baptist said (John 3:30), “He must increase, but I must decrease.” We must lay aside our pride and vanity, and look not to serve ourselves, but to serve God. Whatever we do, whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, do it all for the glory of God” – 1 Corinthians 10:31.
St. Paul goes so far as to say:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This is a difficult task, as our natural tendency is to want to be strong, to be in control. Let us be little, acknowledging our weaknesses, that the good God may see our need and stoop down to care for us. For when we are weak, we are made strong.
James Is A Blank Canvas
James’ soul is like a brand new canvas, ready to be painted on by the great Artist. He has no preconceptions, no doubts, no disappointments in which he has learned not to trust others. We, however, have lived life long enough to be let down by others. Do we not again project our fears and doubts on to God? Do we really trust Him, or do we lump Him with others who have hurt us? Do we feel He will do the same?
This is why the Gospels call us to become like little children. All of us can relate to this. When we were children, we ran to our parents and asked them for whatever we needed, confident we would receive it. We had no doubt. We must recapture this simplicity of heart. We must recognize that our Heavenly Father is much greater than our earthly parents. He has said (Isaiah 43:1b-3a) :
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
James and his parents are passing through the water and fire mentioned by Isaiah. It is a tiring and lonely existence to spend 24 hours a day in hospital.Yet, they trust in God, and know that He is in control. They know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
What is there in your life that you find hard to understand? What has happened to you or those you love that seems to make no sense? Know that everything has a purpose in God’s plan. Isaiah 55:9 says “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We must let Christ wipe our sins away, that we may start over with a blank canvas.If you have not been to Confession in some time, make it an Advent resolution to take advantage of this beautiful sacrament. Let go and let God apply the balm of his Mercy to whatever wounds you have. Let Him wipe your slate clean. Then, you too will be like James, ready for the Artist to do a great work on the canvas of your soul.