Empty-handed: What Makes You Feel Helpless?


I remember that night in vivid snippets, though five years have slid past since then. The Nile was swirling below my husband and I, moonlight pooling in eddies. Something swooped around us there in the dark, perched on a rock (my husband wisely waited to inform me they were fruit bats). We’d spent the day in the village, digesting just a few slices of all the ways God was working, slowly yet profoundly, in Uganda.

The question on our minds: Did God want our family of six—including our kids, ages two to seven—to come to Africa?

Later, leaning on the breezy porch of our banda, I tasted my own fat tears. I was so excited. So afraid. I felt pummeled by my own questions. What if God took one of my kids’ lives here? How could I live a hemisphere away from my family?

Though flooded with vision and energy for this place, my heart also felt flayed open with unknowing. Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah. I whispered the lyrics of the hymn above.

What’s the one thing in your life that makes you feel…helpless?

Perhaps it’s the current political situation, so charged with fear and anger. Maybe, like me a few times in the last month, it’s parenthood—that child who seems so hardened to all that is good and right. It may be unemployment. Or your marriage. Or a health issue.

As I page through the Bible, I marvel at a number of circumstances that appear to be carefully coordinated for despair: The beleaguered, terrified disciples in a sleepless, storm-thrashed night, bailing water for hours from a boat. Hezekiah, watching the Assyrians that sacked Israel, and the vast majority of the known world, closing in around his people. The sun descending on a dead man sagging from a Cross, whom everybody hopes would change everything forever.

The reality? Rather than despair, these situations were masterfully strategized and written for astounding triumph. For glory. One would gather that circumstances were only dismal in order to glorify God to the max when He did show up: To say, Behold: Our God.

Abraham Lincoln, presiding over the bloodiest conflict of American history—between neighbors, families, brothers—once wrote, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

I am weak but Thou art mighty; Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

Lincoln likely had no notion that the war would be won, the United States preserved and slaveless. Or that it would require his own life. As we all well know, walking with God—following Jesus—does not hygienically seal us from loss. Jesus’ own life, as well as His discipleship, seem to indicate we may even be led into greater loss as we “take up our Cross.”

Thankfully for me, five years later, I can now peer behind me at the breathtaking tapestry He’s intricately woven: I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told (Habbakuk 1:5). Though living in Africa has not always meant we were safe, it has meant that we’ve gotten a front-row seat to His glory there.

This week, rather than finding a false satisfaction in safety and all we can see, may you be satiated with so much more: Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.



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2 thoughts on “Empty-handed: What Makes You Feel Helpless?”

  1. Courtney, my heart just breaks as I read your words. Please know that I am so sorry for such a loss for you and your family! I do, however, love hearing the tenacious faith in your words. I’m grateful for your honesty about the fears that grip us–and totally make us feel helpless–and that God’s given you such grace to see that He’s enough, even for the darkest corners of our minds and our most empty-handed moments. I am praying for you, Jay, and your three boys right this moment: certainly for restoration of your family, if God sees fit, but also that He would be all you need. May God prove Himself to be so much more than you could ever ask or imagine. Grace and peace!

  2. Thank you Janel for sharing your story. Your question above : what makes me feel helpless? I feel the need to share b/c as I’ve been walking through this desolate land (metaphor) I’ve recently gained a new perspective that your message here solidifies. My husband left me and our 3 boys 7 months ago leaving me a single mother of 3. We’ve been married only 5 years Our problems involve nothing more than those most marriages face: communication, having young kids, finances and unfortunately depression that has taken hold of both of us. The severity of the last cause (depression: mine worsening with postpartum depression and his worsening as a result of his denial of having any problems). I’ve only recently become aware of. Jay, my husband hired an attorney and filed for divorce immediately after he left. Yet he still has not told me the real reason he left. Everyone around me says “he will never come back home.” But through this journey, I’ve gained peace despite chaos. At first I trusted God b/c I knew he would bring my husband home b/c I couldnt fathom my life as a single mother of 3 young boys. I lived in fear of becoming a single mom of 3. I was delivered from my fear and learned to trust God regardless. To put my faith in HIM and to trust HIM day by day. I still don’t like the idea of being a single mom to my 3 boys but I’ve learned that I don’t have to carry that load. I gave my fears to God and HE has given me rest… peace… that whatever occurs, my boys and I will be blessed. And we pray daily for God’s glory to be revealed through us. Thank you for reminding me that God carefully coordinates circumstances for despair only to masterfully strategize for astounding triumph; for HIS Glory.

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