Vale of TearsThe Divine Anaesthetic
The Divine Anaesthetic
Like a child, I was taken over and “managed.”
It was as if, at the time of Peter’s death,
I literally stepped into the radiant Kingdom of God on Earth.
Catherine Marshall, To Live Again (8)
In the aftermath of the shock of her preacher husband suffering a fatal heart attack, Catherine Marshall experienced a generous measure of what can perhaps best be called a divine anaesthetic – along with a series of detailed instructions that she was quite sure came straight from God.
Catherine received a deep inner strengthening during those vital first few days, which enabled her to care for other people’s spiritual and emotional needs, as well as to attend to the host of practical matters that needed dealing with.9
Not everyone understands the value of this divine safeguard that protects us from being paralysed by grief and anxiety. Adopting an overly robust attitude, some feel it their duty to shake people out of what looks to them suspiciously like denial.
We cannot state too strongly that trying too soon to make people face their new realities can seriously weaken, and even puncture, the protection this God-given anaesthetic provides.
Other people are inclined to make well-intentioned but utterly unhelpful observations such as, “Well, at least you survived. You ought to be grateful!” Or, “The fact that you’ve got other children must surely cushion the pain for you!”
As one friend put it, after coming through a particularly complicated divorce:
Such remarks compress the sufferer’s shock and pain, and cause the person to remain in limbo: a sort of frozen state of shock.
When the anaesthetic wears off, the person will still be in shock, but much more uncomfortable and disoriented because of people’s failure to empathise.
One of the fastest ways to jeopardise the covering this “divine anaesthetic” provides is to try to respond in the way that other people are expecting of us. We can end up using the greater part of what little energy we still have trying do this – only to discover that our best efforts still fall well short of whatever it was that they were looking for.
Sooner or later, we have no choice but to face this issue head-on if we are to develop new patterns successfully.
May the Lord give those of us who are watching and caring grace not to push too hard. There will be a time when people will need to let go of the person, position, place or possession they have lost, but until they are ready to do so, it may be wiser just to stand alongside them, loving and praying for them while the divine anaesthetic continues its precious work.
Reflect and Pray
I realise that the sweetness
You are giving me
may only last season,
but let me profit from it
for as long as possible.
When the tide of grief returns in full spate,
help me lean into the pain,
and, like a skilful surfer,
ride each wave in prayer.
8 Catherine Marshall, To Live Again. Chosen Books (2001)
9 Catherine Marshall, To Live Again. Chosen Books (2001)
10 Lorenz, K. 1991. Here am I – Where are you? The Behaviour of the Graylag Goose. New York, and San Diego: A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.