Over the past 45+ days, a friend and former colleague of mine has watched his college-age daughter battle an incredibly dangerous infection that arose out of nowhere after she had her wisdom teeth extracted. She spent a week with him here in California (she lives with her mom in North Carolina) over Christmas along with her younger sister … it was a glorious time in the beautiful weather at the beach in San Diego, and all was grand. That is, until one week later when she had to have her wisdom teeth extracted. The very next day after the extraction, she was rushed to the hospital, admitted, and immediately transferred to the intensive care unit with life-threateningly poor vital signs. For the month-and-a-half since, she has been in the hospital, undergone multiple surgical procedures, taken volumes of antibiotic and other medications, and had far less than 100 percent clarity about the core illness or how to successfully beat it. It’s been horrific as a fellow dad to watch my buddy go through watching his daughter suffer so badly.
Which leaves us with a critical philosophical play toy … when we consider this situation and others like it (or perhaps even worse than it) how would we view it? That is, would we see it with a glass half-full perspective, or a glass half-empty perspective? Perhaps a half-full perspective would focus on the fact that they got her to the doctor quickly and stabilized her, that it could have been far worse, that other folks have far more serious illnesses, that even though they haven’t fully cured the illness, she’s now out of the hospital and seems to be on the mend, etc. A half-empty perspective might see that it was just a simple wisdom tooth extraction and something must have been done shoddily and someone is to blame, that this poor kid – a college athlete – should not have to undergo this kind of pain and suffering, that the doctors are being incompetent, that their incompetence is costing thousands of dollars unnecessarily, etc.
So, which is it? Glass half-full, or glass half-empty? My reading through Psalms 40-45 and Proverbs 7 this week left me believing perhaps … it’s both! In particular, Psalms 40:1-5 says:
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.
I love how the psalmist sets the stage for the circumstances we actually live through in life. I can certainly relate when he talks about where he found himself in a variety of situations, and also to the lessons I learned because of those. More importantly, I can attest to the Lord’s rescue and to the manner in which He gives us confidence that when we see the glass half-empty, it’s really half-full. The psalmist tells us why. Let’s think about it.
If He heard my cry, I must first have had to be crying. If He lifted me out of the pit of despair, I must first have had to be in a pit of despair. If He lifted me out of the mud and the mire, I must first have had to be in the mud and mire. If He set my feet on solid ground, I must first have had to be on unstable ground.
None of these situations suggests that all was fine and well. Being in a pit of despair can’t be described as blissful. It’s a pit of despair! It’s real, and it’s not fun. Just like the situation my buddy and his daughter have been fighting through. But the story doesn’t end there. The glass is indeed half-empty, unless and until we fill it with God. That’s a choice only we can make. But making that choice doesn’t take away the reality of the situation. It just reorients it with God’s reality.
For us to decide whether we see these circumstances in a glass half-full or half-empty way is truly dependent on not just the perspective we choose to take, but also on when we look upon them. In the midst of the struggles, we see the struggles. On the other side of the struggles, we might be able to see the rescue. God sees before the struggles, during the struggles AND after the struggles … and He also sees the struggles in the context of the rest of our lives, and the lives of others. In that sense, the glass is BOTH half-empty AND half-full. In God’s purview, it’s a process of taking the glass from half-empty to half-full. God is in the business of restoration, and in our daily, challenging circumstances, He is constantly at work to bring us to the other side.
To me, that provides hopefulness. Wherever I am in my circumstances, God is there to help me through and see things differently. No doubt that the journey from beginning to end … from half-empty to half-full … is bumpy, scary, and difficult. That is, until we let God help us see the half-empty as the half-full. It’s both, after all!
Soli Deo gloria!