Sometimes things don’t work the way we planned.
After nearly 40 hours, an overnight airport delay, and two itinerary reroutes, I found myself sitting in a mass of disgruntled travelers in the Addis Ababa airport waiting for our now twice-delayed Ethiopian airline flight to board for Nairobi. Our original team of twenty had been split up twice already, and my wife and three kids were the only 4 left with me. We were trying to count that blessing as my children, travel novices at best, were questioning why we ever left our quaint Midwestern suburb for dad’s claim of a life-changing missions adventure. In all my travels, I had never experienced anything quite like this. We were exhausted, we were hungry, and we were stuck in one of the least desirable airport terminals in the world. And to top it off, I was powerless. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
So we pulled a few snacks from our carry-on bags and tried to keep each other in good spirits as many of our irate East African co-passengers argued with the gate-check agents in unknown tongues about the unexplained delays and lack of communication. The intensifying scene was already beginning to make me a little uncomfortable when I glanced down at my 11 year old son. He had been complaining of an upset stomach since we arrived in Addis, but now his face had grown a bit pale, too.
What happened next unfolded in slow motion. His knees stiffened, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his body tumbled backward like he was doing the Nestea plunge. Had it not been for his oversized backpack, his head would’ve certainly cracked hard on the concrete floor. His sister’s scream silenced all other activity and conversation in the buzzing terminal, and we found ourselves on our knees tending to our unconscious son surrounded by a circle of curious and concerned Ethiopian onlookers.
This was not the beautiful journey I had promised my kids for the last 6 months.
Thankfully, he had just passed out, the result of extreme fatigue, lack of food, and airplane dehydration. After convincing the airport officials he was not suffering from some horrific communicable disease and in need of quarantine, we were finally allowed to board the plane to reunite with the rest of our companions (although I can’t say as much for our luggage).
This was not the trip I had planned. It was nothing like the picture I had painted in my head. But there are unexpected blessings to encountering moments of complete powerlessness.
My son is a strong-willed negotiator, never content with an answer he doesn’t like. On many occasions I’ve told my wife, “I wish he would just listen to his dad sometimes. I wish he could find rest in my decisions, that I know what’s best, that I can be trusted.”
This terrifying moment deeply impacted him. In this new unknown environment, he’s humbly asked a lot more questions, he’s paid attention to my instructions, he literally clung to me physically as our days unfolded in Kenya. He fell asleep grasping my arm. As a dad, there’s nothing you long for more, even though the circumstances that got you here could not be desired less. He sought refuge in his father, and together we both found refuge in The Father.
Powerlessness can be a gift. It can connect us to God in unmatched ways, draw us into His covering and protection, and tap into a strength so much greater than our own. We were made to find our rest in the Father, but to get there we usually have to walk the uncomfortable road that leads us to the end of ourselves.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” –Matthew 5:3 (MSG)
So here’s to powerlessness. It just might be more powerful than you think.