Numb And Number

NumbNumberMy fingers were numb. I couldn’t feel anything.

And not feeling is a weird feeling.

It happened a few weeks ago when I picked up my guitar after not having played for years. I used to love to play, but piano has taken guitar’s place as ‘my’ instrument.

Now I am at that age where I carry a bucket around all the time filling it with stuff from a list of things I want to do before I get too old.

Speaking fluent guitar is on the list.

After more than a week of playing pretty hard I realized the fingers on my left hand were developing some serious callouses. As I touched my computer keyboard, stroked my granddaughter’s hair or simply tried to pick something up, I couldn’t feel a thing.

They were numb. The more I played, the less feeling I had in my fingertips. I went from numb to numb-er.

During the weeks of loss through which I have so recently passed, my heart sometimes envied my fingertips. Oh to not feel anything. To get reprieve from the haunting but familiar ache in my heart; to not have tears come spontaneously at the most inopportune times.

I have also become keenly aware of a disturbing fact. I am immersed in a culture that shares that desire to just go numb.

My boss got me thinking about this in a conversation shortly after my Dad’s funeral. Just one year ago I had been with him at his dad’s memorial. We also had some interesting personal conversations following His dad’s death where I was exposed to a deeper part of him I seldom get to see.

What he offhandedly asked me after my father’s passing was telling. “How do you get back there?”

Obviously he wasn’t talking about reliving his dad’s departure. He was talking about that place of soul-reality that emerges as pain jars you from sleep and reminds you what alive feels like.

In a way he was warning me.

There is something deep and meaningful you experience in seasons of pain. Those moments are raw, real and revealing.

But it is easy to lose touch with that awareness because the numbing effects of life’s pace and priorities set in so quickly.

  • The tyrants of success, achievement and money make demands that sap our energy and possess our vision.
  • The treadmill of familiar, habit and routine incessantly grind on our sense of uniqueness and purpose.
  • The titillation of entertainment, media and technology capture our attention and pinpoint our focus on minutia.

Our lives are rife with numbing agents–cultural anesthetics that act like Novocaine for the soul. It is bizarre that in a society literally obsessed with feelings, we have so few that are genuine and lasting.

Paul said it rather starkly to the Ephesian church: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:19) The literal translation of that first phrase is, “Having become calloused…”

Calloused like my fingertips…except these form on the heart. The rub of daily reality quickly desensitizes the heart to what it means to be fully alive and why that even matters.

The British rock band U2 gave this phenomenon words in their haunting song, Numb. One snatch of lyric says:

(I feel numb)
Don’t project, don’t connect, protect
Don’t expect, suggest
(I feel numb)

The proverbial life without pain because it is a life without risk.

We are numb and number.

  • Numb is when we anesthetize pain because we just want to stop hurting for a while.
  • Number is when we get to the point in life where we like the feeling of not feeling.

But startling interruptions like grief, loss or tragedy wake us from slumber and give us the chance to reset our default to life.

There is something vital and alive in moments where you face life-ultimacies. Whether critical moments of failure, tragic times of loss or vicious seasons of betrayal, you are never more alive than when you stare over the precipice of death.

Honestly, I am convinced we are made for that kind of living. Edgy, adventurous, scary and potent, this raw edge of life is the seam between time and eternity.

Here you find out who matters and what means something. You find out what is worth dying for…then you start living for that.

That kind of living is a standing on tip-toe, anticipatory, expectant affront to the numb and number existence we see all around us.

The Bible has a name for that dynamic: hope.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:18-24a)

There is a form of life that refuses to be sleep walk or shadow box. It may groan, but it does so expectantly. It feels frustration, but that dissatisfaction is based on a vision of what can be, what should be and what will be.

Such life will inevitably feel like labor, but what is birthed is the reality of God in the rub of my place and space.

Living alive is painful. There is no way around that.

When you allow yourself to be impacted by the stuff of the real world and imprinted by experience of real people, the intensity can be overwhelming. But when you seek to deaden the pain remember, something important will die. If you choose to escape the struggle, realize some significant things will be left behind.

I was moved by my boss’s thoughtful comment. He was a year ahead of me in this journey and was encouraging me to not lose any of the lessons my losses were teaching.

In these moments, I choose to live in the raw vitality of life where I feel the pain of time but also the pulse of eternity.

Otherwise, I will just grow numb and number.

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