Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Divine Whac-a-Mole

"IS ANYONE AMONG YOU SUFFERING? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. AND THE PRAYER OF FAITH WILL SAVE THE ONE WHO IS SICK, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. THE PRAYER OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON HAS GREAT POWER AS IT IS WORKING." (James 5:13-16)
"Grace," 1918
by Eric Enstrom
Before I got sick, I worked in hospital emergency rooms as a deaconess. My job was to stay with the family while doctors and nurses rushed to save a loved one who'd either suddenly gotten sick or had been in an accident. I'd sit with them, bring them tissues, water, blankets, and coffee, call other family members for them, and I'd keep them updated on their loved one’s progress as best I could. But mostly, I'd PRAY. I'd pray that their loved one would be all right, and I'd listen as they fervently begged God to spare the life of their loved one, as they pleaded with Him and offered Him anything in return for their loved one's recovery. Sometimes the payers worked, and sometimes they didn't. The unending circle of tragedy and prayer seemed more like a game of Divine Whac-a-Mole than anything else, as my husband has so colorfully put it.

My prayers didn't have any more effect over the dying person's fate than the doctors and nurses seemed to have. In fact, it's very safe to say I had less. So all the times my prayers didn't work... Was I doing it wrong? Eh, James? Wasn't I faithful enough for my prayer to reach God's ears? Should I have meditated a little more on God's word before I asked Him for a favor? Did I need to go to confession first? Was my lack of faith the reason these people died??? Me, me, me, I, I, I... I'm just not that important. Nothing I can do, be, or say will make God do what I want Him to do, I don't care how “full of faith” I am. That's not what James is saying: God is not a vending machine.

Think about it: what's at the heart of all our prayers? Save me. Spare me. Give me five more minutes with my Mom. I need my Dad. I can't live without my wife. Help me keep my home, my job. Heal my brother, my child... Help me, O LORD. SAVE US. (Psalms 30, 38, 40, 70109...)

You guessed it. He did: on the cross. Unfortunately, in order to be raised up, we have to die first, just like Jesus did. So, is it possible that perhaps "to save" doesn't necessarily mean "to heal physically"? Yikes. That was a hard one for me to accept. I want to define everything: healingsalvation, helplove, peace... as being synonymous with comfortable because I want to be comfortable all the time. I don't want to be sad or to suffer, and I don't want anyone else to either, especially those I love. But like a child with an affinity for Mountain Dew, what I want isn't always what is right.

So, why bother praying at all then? Well, don't bother if you think you can change God's mind with the right combination of words and lack of doubt. That would not be a righteous prayer. Pray because God invites us to. He invites us to ask Him for what we want and to let Him know how it kills us when we don't get it, but He also commands us to remember that He is God and we are not.

When we're sick or hurting, we can think of nothing better than to not be sick or hurting anymore. When our loved one is dying: our child, our husband, our wife, we can think of nothing better than them getting better and remaining with us here on earth. God knows that about us. Jesus died for our narrow minds, but Scripture tells us continually that there IS something better than physical health and physical life: the love of God, safe and secure because Jesus died to secure it for us. So, when God's answer to our prayer is “no,” we have to bite our lip, nod resolutely, and with all the tears and disappointment in the world, we have to remember the only prayer that really truly matters has already been answered with a great big “YES!” The prayer of the faithful WILL save us. The prayer of the faithful HAS saved us: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Jesus in Luke 23:34)

Suggested verse to repeat if it's a difficult day is Luke 22:42b
Pain Rehab buddies, remember to breathe!
"Nevertheless, not my will, -------> 5  count inhale
but Yours be done." -------> 5 count exhale

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