My dad was projected to live into his 90s. His grandparents and parents had, and they enjoyed relative freedom until the last days or weeks of their passing. He worked at being healthy through hard physical work, regular stretching, cutting out sugar, and staying busy with volunteer work. Graduating by the skin of his teeth never stopped him from applying his mind to studies, mainly the Word of God and how to reach others with the Gospel of Christ. He didn’t have any besetting health problems other than a tender achilles heel which stopped him from running. Cancer did not run in the family, and he had so far escaped the heart disease that did.
When I arrived at his bedside at Kalispell Regional Hospital on December 18, 2017, I already knew. It was dark with just a glow coming from the bathroom so I couldn’t assess his skin color. He was not in the ICU so there was no screen showing continuous monitoring. In an act of denial, I had not brought my stethescope so I could not listen to his lungs or heart. Still, I knew he would not live.
In the four weeks and four days that followed we asked for prayer for healing, groups came to the hospital room to pray, distant friends gathered for a phone call prayer meeting. I wanted my dad to live, but as I watched him I was never convinced he would. He walked into the hospital with a blood count 1/3 of normal and as he grew weaker and weaker, eventually going into hospice care at home, he refused to believe it was the end. However, on the fifth day of the fifth week, my mom and I sat on her bed and cried together as we admitted we had long stopped praying for healing. And on the next day, the last day of his life, we asked a pastor to come and pray for his release.
With her on one side and me on the other, the pastor leaned toward him and gave God the glory for a life well lived. He asked that my dad’s mind be put at ease concerning all that had been left undone. He asked that God let him pass peacefully into the next life. My dad, unable to lift his head or speak, raised his arm to touch the pastor’s arm. Pastor Matt, taking his hand, said, “I know you, and I know you are trying to give me a blessing, but it is my privilege to bless you today. You rest.”
That afternoon I stood looking down at the only man I had ever truly looked up to. Like a wooden doll I began moving through life trying to make sense of the previous five weeks from the day of his diagnosis to the day I had listened to his silent chest and declared the time of death. He had turned 68 the day after his diagnosis.
My thoughts continually turned to the prayers I had prayed for healing, and the declaration of others that even the dead have been raised in mordern times soley through the power of prayer. Was my faith too weak? Did I not pray fervently enough? Was my nurse’s training my downfall just because I saw in him the mark of death weeks before it happened? In my crushed world, I began to wonder if it was even biblical to pray for healing. Death is inevitable. No one, even with a family history of longevity, is gauranteed another day or hour. “As it is appointed unto men once to die..” Hebrews tells us, and He knows the very hour each person will breathe their last. Who am I to ask Him to switch that up?
As weeks turned into months and years, I consciously stopped praying for healing, health, safety–the things we constantly ask God for. I recognized that in dying, my dad had won a coveted frame of mind, body, and soul: peace and complete joy in the presence of God. I even began to think it was selfish to ask God to heal the believing sick among us. While I wouldn’t pray for their deaths, wasn’t it backward to beg God to keep the dying in a severely broken world where they could continue to suffer like other people?
After I buried my dad and the narrowed focus of my life reached its endpoint, I returned to life as normal and realized God was all around me like a protective husband. It was an odd and freeing realization as God had always seemed somewhat distant to me. My prayers never stopped, but they shifted from asking for good health and safety to asking for the endurance to praise Him in any trial I encountered. I even stopped telling people I would pray for their healing; I either withheld comment or simply acknowledged the stress of their circumstances. In my heart, I turned my weeping face to God admitting my utter inability to ask for what He had not given my dad. Instead I asked God to give my sick friends and their families strength to endure and even thrive within their trials.
Fast forward to June 2019. My life took a dramatic turn which put my new prayer methods to the test. Many days I forgot to ask for endurance and only let the tears fall. My anxiety ran high and chaotic like a kite in the western Montana wind. Truth be told, there are still many of those days although God faithfully and patiently puts one person after the next in my path to give guidance, encouragement, and love. I have experienced the endurance to bear my struggle and oftentimes, even to thrive.
As the coronavirus pandemic becomes the reality on our front doors, I am again using my new understanding of God and prayer to quell the real fears that rise including thoughts of dramatic political unrest, a healthcare system unindated by deathly ill patients, sickness reaching my daughter who has compromised lungs, and the unhealthy possibility of being cut off from necessities. As we enter into this phase of global illness, we can’t know how it will play out though we’ve already had a taste of the result of panic, greed, and selfishness.
While I have found biblical backing for asking God to heal the sick and preserve life since the weeks immediately following my dad’s death, my personal prayers still lean heavily toward asking God for endurance. Two of my favorite verses are Hebrews 12:1-2. Verse one urges, “..let us run with patience the race that is before us..” We are reminded that others are witnessing our race and that Jesus Himself endured His trial knowing there was joy to be had. Jesus went into His trial knowing He would die a horrible death even before Pilate condemned Him. He did ask God to take it from Him, but by reading the Gospels we see that His predominate prayer was to do what His Father willed, and He did so to the very bitter end.
Let us take courage in these days of fearmongering and also real, valid concerns.
God is with us and gives us the stamina to endure and even thrive within our trials.