When You’re Feeling Useless

Today is a bright sunny day, for now. It’s supposed to rain and maybe snow a little bit tonight. But for now we’re just enjoying the sunshine. It helps to offset the negative feelings of being confined to home.

Have I mentioned how much I admire and appreciate Oswald Chambers? It seems whenever I’m rolling some thoughts around in my head his devotional from My Utmost for His Highest uncannily speaks directly to them. The latest example of this came hard on the heels of a conversation I had with my brother from another mother Gary Leftwich a couple of days ago.

We were discussing the frustrations of having to be confined to home during this virus outbreak and the toll that confinement is taking both physically and mentally. I find it doubly frustrating because of everything else in my life with which I deal already. The physical toll of cancer treatment, trying to deal with a mother suffering from dementia in the nursing home who wonders when we’ll be able to visit her and wants to come home, and the feelings of helplessness and lack of control over all of it. The lock down has exacerbated those frustrations exponentially. Added to all of that is the fact I’m getting older and my body no longer works the way it did ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

While I have no fear of death, my response as a guy tends to run along the lines of what Dylan Thomas said: “Do not go gentle into that good night”. I don’t expect to be able to work like I’m twenty, but I expected more from my sixties. Having been strong and able most of my life, I now find myself beginning to grieve for what I once was. Some days it’s anger, some days bargaining, every now again I make it to acceptance. Under the present circumstances, withdrawal and depression rear their ugly heads at an uncomfortable frequency. The realization that my expectations were optimistic at best and completely unrealistic at worst doesn’t do much for my frame of mind, either.

I write this, not to get sympathy or have others feel sorry for me. It’s for those whose lives I’ve just described, who understand it only too well. This is for the one who thinks they’re nothing but a burden, a hollowed out life of no worth. The one who may have been “large and in charge” at some time in their life, but now feels useless. It’s a mindset difficult to fight under the best of circumstances. Being locked away from the world, from those you love and who love you, it can become deadly.

And that’s where Oswald Chambers comes in. As you read through his writings (actually transcribed by his wife, based on his lectures and sermons), he reminds you of certain foundational truths. Our standing with God is not based on our usefulness but on our relationship with Him. We concentrate so much on “doing the work of the Lord”, relying on our own strength and ability, we lose our proper focus on being in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It’s only in the moments when we are brought to the end of our own strength and ability that we begin to be of use to God. It’s when we realize our own incapability that we become the “empty vessel” ready to hold God’s treasures and let them shine in us.

Maybe I can’t do everything I once did. But that doesn’t make me useless. Because God doesn’t need my strength, talent or ability, just my absolute devotion to Him and a willingness to be an instrument, a vessel for His use. I can still sing (and thank you for the kind responses offered to our worship services on YouTube each Sunday). And I can write, and share some thoughts in the hope they’re an encouragement to someone. If that’s you, just remember this: you are never useless as long as you seek to remain close to God and open to His working through you. Because God has no useless children, only sons and daughters filled with his glory. And if I’ve encouraged you I’ve fulfilled my task.