Monday, January 24, 2011

Sickness, pain, faith, and prayer

I posted the other day that I found another tumor. Immediately I went back to the top of people’s prayer lists. I totally appreciated that, and I started thinking about it too. Then a friend told me that she’s had chronic pain for decades. The first thought to fling itself Godward was, “Take that away from her. She doesn’t need it.” Hmmm.

I read all my posts from last June, and remembered. What I want prayer for—what I really want in all of this—is wholeness. I don’t believe God gave cancer to me. I don’t believe that any cosmic being thought I needed it. But I know how I’ve used it. I know it could kill me, and I don’t want to die. But neither would I ever give it back.

I don’t believe God gives or takes diseases. Sickness isn’t a punishment. It isn’t a test. It’s an evolutionary process (cell division, virus replication) gone wonky. Sometimes people tell me, “Miracles happen.” I just cringe. I know how healthy I appear. I know how alive and full of life I am. I feel so completely, thoroughly blessed just to be here—and that’s where my energy comes from. I already get to love this life. That’s miracle enough. God doesn’t pick and choose who gets cured. If you survive stage IV cancer, it’s because you and your doctors found a treatment that would help you. Not because you’re too special to lose.

I know when people pray for me, they go exactly where I went with my friend in chronic pain. “Take that away from her. Make her well.” I don’t fault anybody for that. It’s love. You want your friends to be happy and healthy, and fully who they are. But I believe that God is with us in our suffering. God doesn’t, or can’t, take it away—but God can and does love us fiercely through it. I would not be who I am right now, were that not so. And I wouldn’t want to be anybody else. (Do I want other people’s lives, sometimes? Prosperity, health, self-confidence? Oh yes. But that’s a different question.) I know how loved I am. I know it because I can show you where God has been in my community, in the last almost-three years. It’s just so obvious. I’ve had lights all around me, showing me things and giving me gifts that help me truly heal. I know how tightly I am held. And I would never want to lose that awareness.

I want my friend to be free from pain. I don’t think she needs it; I doubt there’s anything good in it, and I wish she weren’t suffering. But if God were going to lift it from her, there’s been plenty of time in the last three and a half decades to do so. That just isn’t how God works.

My friend has a friend, who is very much like what A is to me. (Begin with “refuge,” and go from there.) This friend is seriously sick; right now with a complication of everything else she has. When I imagine losing A, I’m filled with so much fear it takes my breath away. I hurt for both of them. And the only way it makes sense for me to pray is this: “Love them. Hold them both. Love them, and make damn sure they know it.”

Because that, I know, God has done and will do.

Pray for C, D, A, and me.


eileen said...

Always you have my prayers, and, the others have them too.

Holly said...

Kirsten -- I too hold you in prayer.

This entry hits home with me in many ways, but one of them is that I (a lay preacher) am scheduled to preach next Sunday on the Beatitudes. After all my wrestling with the text and with the understanding of what it means to be "blessed", I have been carried back to the old hymn (currently used in True Grit): Leaning on the Everlasting Arms of God.

"What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms; I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, Leaning on the everlasting arms."

May you C, D, and A know you are held by those everlasting arms.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Kirstin, you are, have been, and will remain on my daily prayer list.

Love and blessings.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I somehow missed your post, Kirstin--but you certainly have my prayers. Because I feel the same way you do about prayer and God, all I ever know to pray for is for you to know peace, comfort, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. I'm praying that now....


Two Auntees said...

You are in my prayers. Neither do I believe that God causes us to have misfortune and disease. It is a part of life as a human. What I do believe is that God can help us make something good come out of the disease or misfortune. God is with us. If we can still ourselves, we can become aware of God's presence. I KNOW that God has helped me through some horrendous messes but did not cause them. In the past, God has answered my prayers in ways I could not have forseen......better than I could have imagined or asked for (and no disease was not removed) but relationships happened that were extremely unlikely. Healing happened (not cure but healing). So when I pray for people, my prayer is that they feel the love of God, that they are able to allow the healing to happen. That the person is open to possibilities.

There are times that our bodies do miraculous things including ridding itself of diseases. We do not understand these things but they have happened. Do I believe that God grants these cures to some and not to others? No but I do believe there is hope.

You are on my heart and in my prayers.

it's margaret said...

"I know when people pray for me, they go exactly where I went with my friend in chronic pain."



There's prayer for healing.
There's prayer for cure.
And, then, there's 'your will be done.'
And then there's just the O.M.G. open-ended type prayer --which is usually where I end up in prayer. For you. For others. For most.

So --my dearest sister. You continue in my prayers. And may you continue to be the sacrament you are --a sign of God's abundant love.

Sue said...

Kirstin, you stated so beautifully my personal theology of suffering. Like you, I don't believe God hands out pain and cancer to those who can "handle it". That old chestnut "God only gives us the suffering we can cope with" makes me want to scream. If that's our God, then I can't give my life for him/her. If that's our God, then please don't make me strong enough to "cope" so well.

My prayers are for your sense of God with you, for strength and for faith - but from what you've said here - those prayers have clearly been answered already.
Bless you.

Kayko said...

Prayers, of course, but I really just wanted to say congrats on the writing award!

Kirstin said...

Thank you, everyone.

erinj0 said...

Hello -
I just wanted to say that I love this post. I agree with you entirely. I hope your friend has more good days than bad and the same goes out to you. I can relate in many ways. Take care & I am now a new follower!