Join to Rebecca in the YouVersion Bible app, Unexpected: Five Women in the Lineage of Jesus 
April 19, 2024


6 min read

I think it was the sheer number of them that punched me in the gut.

There they lay on my kitchen counter, arranged in neat rows like an army regiment preparing for battle.

How was I to know that this sheet of “Fragile” stickers would be included in the mailing labels I had ordered? Or that I would react so strongly to the mere sight of them?

My interpretation of them was like a prophecy, an omen shot like an arrow at me, transpiring in a single second. “This is you,” the stickers seemed to say. “This is what you are.”

I didn’t even try to protest, couldn’t drum up the energy to fight the assessment that seemed to have originated from my bones and leaked into parts more ethereal, like my soul. I knew that they spoke truth because I had been battling weariness and discouragement for what seemed like a long, long time.

I was struggling with a health issue, one that didn’t come with precise operating instructions as far as treatment and prognosis. Try this and Try that was the name of the game and each failed attempt claimed its due like a bad landlord demanding rent of his hovel dwellers.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have faith in my clinician, who is an experienced and empathetic specialist. And despite constant assaults on my grasp of God’s goodness (tenuous at best during long-term trials), I hadn’t lost all my faith in Him either. It’s more like I lost faith in myself as a fierce contender in this fight, as a woman of strength who persisted until the last bell was rung and the last lap was run. I had always seen myself as a scrappy survivor. What was different this time around?

My autistic son, for one. Now that he is hitting puberty, he himself is stepping into the ring to fight for what he wants in a more concerted, far less compromising fashion. Individuals with autism are often rigid in sticking to their routines and insisting on getting their own way on pain of the parent dealing with a meltdown if expectations are not met. Sadly, many of the activities my son chooses to soothe or entertain himself prove highly triggering to me, such as loud, repetitive noises or non-stop, nonverbal utterances that chip away at my sense of sanity, if carried on long enough.

My age, for another. At fifty-three, I find myself contemplating the effects my traumatic childhood has had on me. You would think that the suffering I have endured would grow smaller in the rear view mirror the further down the timeline I travel. Yet, as I try to learn how to show myself more compassion and patience as a maturing adult, the events that have shaped me only loom larger. It’s like I must give them their proper due, bless each member of the Greek chorus that they form, saying things like, “Yes, what you say is true,” or even ask them, “What is it you need from me now?”

Taken together, I realize that it’s my job to parent not only my special-needs son, but also to parent my special-needs me, who also insists on her way and has habits that eat away at her too (constant worry, for one). Maintaining true wellbeing from one day to the next is a true miracle, one that seems more impossible the more I strive to achieve it.

Thus I feel fragile. Like I should slap one of those stickers upon my forehead as if to announce to the world, “Beware. Don’t break me.”

I don’t know what is easier: being around others who are likewise fragile or around those who are steady and solid as a rock. I feel I need both the commiseration of those fighting in the trenches alongside me, and those whose perspectives differ dramatically from mine because they do not abide in a state of constant insecurity. Each group carries its risks as well as benefits, as too much misery-bonding can sink one further down the abyss, while comparison with those who do not carry the aftereffects of trauma can make one feel weak and pathetic.

The best companions, I suppose, are those whose feet remain planted on the shore, even as they reach out to pull you in from the undertow.

Years ago I had a breakfast buddy whom I would meet at a diner on a regular basis. She was no stranger to suffering. I did not know much about her childhood, but as a grown adult she had served as a missionary overseas and had encountered much difficulty there. She also had a special needs child of her own, who would become the target of unwanted attention the older (and prettier) she grew.

One day, as I was baring my heart to her about one trouble or another, she stopped me short and remarked, “You have to stop despising your own fragility. Some of the world’s most precious things are fragile. Think of a Stradivarius, or a rose.” As I pondered that statement, I found I could easily add to her list: a crystal glass or chandelier, an exotic fish, the flame of a single candle burning in a darkened room. My friend was right: not everything on this planet is constructed from brick or steel. Many things we cherish last only a moment, urging us to appreciate them while we can.

Fast forward twenty years and picture my husband and me, sitting in a parked car at a train station we often visit on date nights to pray for the week. We like it because it’s close, clean, and fairly deserted. If someone were to walk by our vehicle, they would see two people clasping hands, eyes closed, lips moving in murmurs.

That particular evening, we had been discussing our heartache and fatigue regarding my health and my son’s challenges. Then we began to pray. Nothing fancy, just plain, unvarnished confessions from the heart. A scant few minutes later, we opened our eyes…to a miracle.

Arched in the sky above our heads was a vibrant, beautiful rainbow, which we could see in its entirety from beginning to end. “Look!” my husband exclaimed. “It’s a double rainbow!” And as I lifted my eyes I saw that a second rainbow stretched above the first, faint but unmistakable.  My husband had the presence of mind to get out of the car and snap a few pictures. I was glad of it, for both became obscured by clouds all too quickly.

As we prepared to drive home, I looked over at him, tears streaming down my face, and asked, “Do you think that was God?”

“I hope so,” was his reply, as honest an answer as any my forthright husband might give.

This fleeting and precious experience has convinced me even more that often when we wish for God to make a dramatic, no-holds-barred move on our behalf amid interminable trouble, He chooses to answer in small but significant ways, so subtle that we might easily miss them if we are too bitter or self-absorbed to notice. He knows that our distressed systems need not a jolt but a gentler touch—one that is as pointed as it is personal. One that feels more like a kiss than a shove or a slap upside the head.

I’m not sure exactly what the psalmist meant when he wrote the following words of the most confessional psalm I know:

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

And the light about me be night,”

Even the darkness is not dark to You;

The night is as bright as day,

For darkness is as light with You.”

(Ps. 139:11–12)

What I believe the psalmist is getting at is that God is the best sort of friend to have around when one is feeling fragile. This is because He is equal parts compassion and constancy, someone who literally has traveled to hell and back but is not traumatized nor haunted by the journey. He remains the undefeated champ, someone before whom the darkness trembles and must flee.

In Jesus we find both the “bruised reed” that will not break (Matt. 12:20) and the “fortress” in whom we take refuge (Ps. 18:2). He is the best of both worlds, or, better: the best in heaven above and the earth below.

If you are feeling fragile, my friend, please know that you are not alone. Even the Son of God has known fragility, has been imprinted with this central feature of our humanity. As doubting Thomas learned by Jesus showing him the wounds that remained in his hands and side after his resurrection, the Savior neither forgets nor foregoes what it’s like to be one of us. Remember that the next time you need to sit in a quiet place and make a confession, one you worry might not be faith-filled or triumphant enough. That’s not what the Messiah is looking for, the One who is also called the Suffering Servant (see Isaiah 53).

Oh, Lord,

Lamb of God

Have mercy on me as I struggle

Befriend me in my darkness

Bless me with light

For  You hold both in Your hands

And know well my fragility

Use those around me

To comfort me

And may I strengthen

Another bruised reed

In my distress

Let me never despise

The small ways You speak

For You know most what I need

And love me without fail

Help me remember

You are always my friend

In Your holy Name