Spiritual Bytes: The Power of the Powerless

In the spring of 1980, Oliver deVinck died. At his birth, thirty-two years earlier, he appeared to be a healthy baby boy. What his parents didn’t know is that six months earlier, when his pregnant mother almost died from a gas leak, their beautiful baby boy lost the capability for sight and most of the abilities that one would expect to give life meaning and value. When advised to institutionalize him, Oliver’s parents said, “He is our son. We will take him home and love him, of course.” Of course.

One day Chris brought home someone with whom he had fallen in love. When he asked if she would like to meet his brother and she answered in the negative, it was the end of their relationship. Later, when he brought home another love interest and he asked her if she would like to go upstairs with him to feed his brother, she said yes. After watching for a minute, she asked Chris if she could feed him, which she did. In his own way, Oliver helped his brother choose a wife.

On Wednesday, March 12, 1980, Oliver was dying. He had gotten a fever that didn’t respond to treatment and eventually turned into respiratory distress. At the end, he lay in his mother’s arms as he breathed his last. She said, “Goodbye my Angel,” as she rested his head on his pillow. For 32 years Oliver had his diaper changed, was fed, clothed and cherished. He never had a bedsore. He knew, as best he could, that he was loved.

Five years later, Chris wrote an article about Oliver for the Wall Street Journal. The response was overwhelming – from a letter from the President to heartfelt responses from parents and siblings who cared for their own Olivers. The deVinck’s love and the purity of Oliver’s heart touched people across the nation.

Chris said, “Looking at [Oliver], I saw the power of powerlessness. His total helplessness speaks to our deepest hearts, calls us not merely to pious emotions but to service. Through this child, I felt bound to Christ crucified – yes, and also to all those who suffer in the world…. So, through Oliver, I learned the deepest meaning of compassion.” (deVinck, p. 88)

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:9

Lord, may we see the world as you see it, value what you value, and love what you love. Amen

*deVinck, Christopher, (1988). The power of the powerless: A brother’s legacy of love. Doubleday: New York.