As I write this, my youngest child will be twenty-two tomorrow. It’s hard to believe, I remember when she was three years old and for the first time used a big girl word in a sentence. A couple of months ago, she gave birth to her son Jackson. He was born 8 weeks premature by c-section because of complications. I watched as she anticipated this event, analyzed the challenges ahead, and then faced each milestone with great courage. I’m so proud of her and her husband.
My daughter is a lot like me – she is stubborn and likes to debate/discuss issues. Not that we’re egotistical, we both do our homework and know what we’re talking about. Of course, we know deep down that we’re not always right, but we seem to have the need to speak up for what we think is right and what we think needs to be said. Even though she is not afraid to speak her mind, there is one thing I haven’t heard her say through her experience in labor and delivery with Jackson — “why me?” There were sometimes daily challenges she faced in the hospital, in addition to the normal grind of adjusting to and raising an infant. She endured and faced every challenge that came her way. I think this is a product of doing your homework–you realize anything can happen–and sometimes it happens to you!
Last night Laura (my wife) and I were talking about prayer. We’ve moved beyond the superficial prayer life we used to have. Now, we are examining all avenues of prayer and thinking about prayer like we’ve never thought before. One great shift for me has been hearing my pastor, and his wife, say “Prayer is not to get something from God, it is for us to be properly formed.” I attended his prayer school where I learned about prayer liturgies and borrowing well-crafted prayers from the past, including Jesus and Saint Francis. I’ve also been reading Julian of Norwich and getting familiar with the idea of simply being with God and considering my life as a prayer. So, it was in this context that I discovered something about these two approaches to prayer that helped me understand God and prayer a little better.
I remember standing next to the incubator gazing down at my new grandson (Jackson) and I was to say the least a bit overwhelmed. I had never been that close to such a small child before. He was so small and had all kinds of tubes and sensors coming out from all around him. His skin was off color and he looked like he had been through some stuff the past couple of days. His face looked somewhat bruised and it seemed like every spot that didn’t have a tube or sensor coming out of it had evidence of some past trauma. Some people tell me we are born evil, after staring down at my grandson I could no longer believe that. When God created the first human in Genesis, He said, “It was very good.” And, that is exactly what I thought when I saw Jackson. I thought “He has such a battle ahead of him, but it’s all good!'”
Looking across the incubator, I saw my baby girl. She always looks determined, but this was the first time I could see helplessness in her eyes. Lily’s husband, Trevor, is a strong, determined young man but he also showed signs of confusion and concern, I almost returned our first born because I had no idea what to do and I was facing nowhere near the challenges my daughter and her husband faced. I stood there next to the incubator that held my infant grandson in the chasm between life and death and in that moment of uncertainty, I cried. As I struggled to accept the gravity of the moment, my mind wrested with the concepts of acceptance, denial, and confusion. My thoughts were cloudy at best. Being in that place at that moment was somewhat like preparing to go down a road I had never traveled before.
That evening was a weighty moment between me and God. I didn’t pray any eloquent prayers. I didn’t give any excellent advice to my children. I didn’t write any meaningful poems. I’ve always said we should have a ministry of presence–we should just be there for people. I wasn’t sure I was going to even be able to do that. If I was to be truthful with you, in that moment between life and death when my daughter and her husband were fighting for the life of their newborn son with beautiful abandon, I was fighting the urge to run out of the room throwing medical equipment screaming, “What the Hell, God?”
As awesome as my daughter and her husband have been, it’s not them directly that taught me about God and prayer. Laura and I discussed months later what we both believe about prayer, how we prayed for Lily — what we think about our youngest daughter and what we imagine God thinks about us.
I’ve already mentioned how we felt about our grandson from the instant we saw him. He is precious, he is good, he is loved, and he didn’t have to do anything to receive that. I simply gave it to him because he was all of these things! I have similar feelings toward our daughter. I have always loved her. Nothing she does can change that, I think she knows that
I didn’t feel the need to pray that all this would go away. When I hear people say, “God is good” it is usually because something goes the way they imagined it would. Repeatedly, I have experienced situations in my life that didn’t go the way I wanted and instead turned out for the best anyway. These detours in life are very often the path to maturity or growth, sometimes even the path to a better destination. So, no, I didn’t hope that we would wake up tomorrow and have a different outcome. I didn’t really pray for anything to change and I didn’t try to do something to make it change. I just stood in the hospital room and cried because that seemed like the appropriate thing to do.
I am coming to understand God as one that enters our situations. I now believe, that much like us, He understands that what we most need is for him to be there, be present and experience the pain with us. I think God sits with us, cries with us, walks with us, and reminds us when it’s time to go out and get some real food! You see if God emptied out the hospitals, He would only be solving one of our problems. Physical healing has never been our biggest issue.
Laura always said I was a pushover for my two girls. I felt so helpless most of the time that when I got the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to do something for them. But, now that I can do more for them and have more resources, I find myself holding back often. I’ve learned to ask myself the question, “Is this the best thing I could do for them or is there something better?” I’m learning that my first inclination is usually wrong and asking this question forces me to stop and consider the alternatives. I suppose God always acts in my best interest whether I recognize it or not, if I am getting better at responding to crisis then God was always better all along!
I’m still trying to sort through all the complex situations in everyday life and apply what I learn along the way. It seems like the responsible thing to do. I just watched the Santa Clause movie the other night and remembered that I ruled out the Santa Claus version of god a few years ago. He doesn’t make a list and check it twice to see if I’ve been naughty or nice. I’ve also stopped believing in an angry and retributive god. I’ve stopped believing in the favorite uncle god that does whatever I want.
These days I am focused on the God who comes to the hospital, stands next to my grandson’s bed, and is with me when I cry. I can feel his hand holding mine, his arm around my shoulder. And when I turn and look into his face, I don’t see the God of my youth. I see a Father with eyes full of love and a face stained with my tears, not because He is helpless or hopeless, but because I’m His child and He is with me.