Prayer is simply giving to God all the careful attention of which the soul is capable. –Simone Weil
Of all the postures of prayer, having your back against the wall may be the one most conducive to serious conversation with God. This is when prayer finally comes without inhibition. As a person who is more thinker than doer, I’ve taken the time to give this matter due consideration. I know God’s ear is cocked my direction. I can hear him breathe. He hangs on my every word, not because what I have to say is so fascinating, but because this is his nature. He waits patiently for me to speak, be it in words or in silence. In turn, I was made to want to hear what he has to say. Right now, I ache for his assurance and peace.
It’s obvious I have a certain pressing concern. To say I’m a little anxious about my health misses the larger point, however. My heart is on fire, and not just because of the cancer that threatens me. I burn with a desire to both communicate my doubts to the One who can do all things, and for him to bring something good out of this predicament. I feel acutely the passing of hours, the arc of the winter sun across the southern sky. I know that what I say and do in the time I have been given matters. I’m asking God for clarity on what I should hold tightly and what needs to be released.
I do all this through prayer. In particular, there are three things about which I’m calling out to the master: healing, helping, and home. I wait with anticipation for his response.
Healing: I believe God can heal me of cancer. He has the ability to fire up my immune system to kill the cancer we know to be in my body, and to provide the medical arts necessary to help this process along. He could miraculously work within the DNA of melanoma cells to destroy them. The marble-sized mass in my left leg could melt away under his power. I have prayed that it will. I believe that it might. But it’s also an act of faith to have scheduled surgery in two weeks. God is the source of all wisdom, including that of oncology. The doctors and nurses into whose hands I have placed myself can also be agents of his healing. And if I am not healed in my body, it’s not because he hasn’t heard me. There may be something different, possibly bigger still for which he’s preparing me. I do not presume that God hates my cancer in the way that I do. He made it and it’s here for a purpose. His will may be for it to remain.
Helping: I have work to do, tasks to which I need to attend. As much as I’d like to withdraw and simply become a monk, that’s not an option. I’m writing this while Ellen and I are at the coast, and the sun is streaming in through a glass door and Abby is asleep at my feet. I think: “This is not so bad. I could be happy doing nothing but thinking, writing and praying for the rest of my days.” But that’s not enough. I believe that I’m living in the kingdom of God—right now, right here—and that he wants me at my post. I have good work that pays and some that doesn’t, all of which he has commended to me. For now, that’s where I need to be. I want to contribute to the welfare of those I love and others who are in my life for a reason.
Home: I’ve said before that my family has a claim upon my life. I owe them something more than what I want or need for myself. The house in which I live is a home only because of the people who live there. My children aren’t much under our roof any longer, but they are never far away—physically or in spirit. They are in my heart, and in God’s, and need his protection. So does Ellen. God will provide for their needs. He’s with them now building them up in faith and in strength.
The Bible, both old and new, presses the point that our prayers make a difference to God and to the world. “Ask and it will be given to you.” “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well…” I take these passages and others like them on faith, but not without fretting sometimes over how this is all supposed to work. I have but an inkling of how God upholds the universe. In the absence of that knowledge, I will simply try to give to God all the attention of which my soul is capable. Maybe then he’ll release me from needing to understand.