Archives For Illness

To Pray or Not to Pray

January 29, 2022 — 14 Comments

I’m in the midst of a health issue, and it has sharpened some thoughts I have long held about prayer.

I welcome prayer. From anyone, pretty much.

That’s because I believe despite the pray-ers beliefs’, it could possibly help, definitely can’t harm, and may simply possess a positive sociological element, even when the prayers are not efficacious. More on that in a moment.

The Current Concern

I think I’m coming off of a bad cold. Early in the week I experienced a cough, a moderate temp, and a couple other symptoms (minus the scratchy throat) I’ve associated with the Rhinovirus for decades.

I’m vaxxed and boosted against the Coronavirus, but being a super-conscientious pastor (who counts a fair number of seniors in his congregation) I decided it would be best to know whether or not these few sickly days have been caused by omicron, I got tested yesterday. Results are due in today or tomorrow.

Testing is never so easy, of course, as we would like it to be. In my case, my primary medical care provider was referring people like me to other facilities. The one which was the least inconvenient proved to still involve major time and effort.

The hassle came from having to fill out a fistful of forms to verify everything from my insurance providers to my current gender identification. One sheet was an extensive questionnaire about who they could speak to in regard to my health. It was more thorough than ones I’d encountered in the past, and raised an existential question at its end.

It began by asking if they could talk to my spouse (I think they called her a “partner”). I checked “yes” and wrote in her name. Next it asked about other family members. Triple check; I inscribed the names of my three children. After that it asked about sharing information with my other medical providers. Fine (although getting different medical caregivers to communicate on my behalf in the past has proven quite challenging).

I was surprised the form didn’t ask whether I wanted the results made available to the People’s Republic of China, but immediately realized that was a moot question since they have access to every American’s most personal data. And due to their earlier breaches of Department of Defense systems they probably already have my DNA code.

The final question on the form was not surprising. Still, in the (literal) Friday morning fog, I considered responding rather than simply passing on to the next sheet. “Is there anyone else we can speak to about your condition?”

I had an answer to that, and even I doubt anyone will ever read it once the paper is filed, I decided to write it down. “You have my permission to speak to God on my behalf.”

The Theological Ramifications of My Invitation

Being a Lutheran, especially a theologically trained one, means you can never take something simply at face value. You have to critically analyze it to the point where each of the statement’s innate flaws is stripped bare. I’m sure some readers are doing that right now with my words.

The question boils down to whether or not it is a “good” thing to have people from alien worldviews or faiths pray for you. I’ve met people in the past who were quite clear about not wanting Christians, for example, to pray for them.

A few of these were atheists. In such cases I tried to give them the benefit of not desiring to be seen as a hypocrite by “welcoming” such prayers during a crisis – but I sometimes thought they were actually afraid of the turbulence that would result from God showing his divine hand in the pristine secularity of their lives.

Returning to my case, I have never consciously rejected anyone’s offer to silently pray for me. The following ideas guide my thinking on the subject.

1. It could well mean absolutely nothing. The offer to pray is frequently just a reflex. Many people say “I’ll pray for you” the moment they hear about a need, and I think we’d all be disappointed to discover how many actually follow through. While this sort of thinking is not healthy for those who manifest it, it causes no harm to the intended recipient of the prayer.

2. Non-Christians who might be called “spiritual” want to wish others well, and I don’t see any benefit in preventing them. This sort of person may use prayer terminology, but some are more self-aware and say things like “I’m sending you positive thoughts.” To be gracious, they are attempting to communicate their empathy. To be accurate, they are wasting their time. I know I don’t have telepathy, so any thoughts they may be able to transmit in my direct won’t be received at this end. Likewise for the new age trope “positive energy.” That’s the immaterial stuff that gurus have supposedly been harnessing for centuries to make our world a more peaceful place. Since I’m pretty sure it’s 100% sentiment, it doesn’t hurt me, so I don’t mind having it launched toward my vector.

3. Adherents of other religions will sometimes offer to pray for each other. In this too, I find no problem. Those who know me, understand without a shadow of doubt, that I believe Jesus Christ’s declaration that he is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him.

But if they wish to offer me the sincere expression of their friendship by offering to pray for me, I regard that as an honor. Not something that will result in a positive intervention by a deity which does not actually exist.

(By the same token, when I offer to pray on their behalf, I do not expect them to believe in the faith I profess, or even the existence of God himself.)

So, this sort of prayer does me no harm, does not compromise my Christian witness, and can strengthen bonds of friendship and shared humanity with other individuals for whom Jesus died.

4. People who worship real entities. Now, this is really “out there,” as they say, and so uncommon as to be something none of us are likely to ever experience. But let’s discuss it theoretically, since it falls under the umbrella of having “anyone” pray for you. In this scenario, we have a person who worships an actual supernatural entity. Let’s ignore the lower echelons of the “principalities and powers” and skip right to their boss, the broken-winged Lucifer. Let’s also ignore the fact no true Satanist would be inclined to intercede for a Christian who ridicules their Master. But, let’s assume someone did mention my name in their conversations with Screwtape’s “Our Father Below.” It would mean, and accomplish, nothing. Christians, you see, have nothing to fear from Satan. He is powerless against the Holy Spirit of God himself who lives within us.

Update

So, as it turns out, I just got a call from a nurse at the clinic and . . . yes, I do have a case of covid. It was mercifully short, with no temp now and decreasing nasal congestion. Basically back to “normal,” with a future “natural immunity” added to my “vaccine-induced immunity.”

Adding new T cells to my body’s arsenal will be a beneficial consequence of this week’s sickness.

The dangers of covid for people (like myself) possessing so-called comorbidities, are real. I pray regularly for medical breakthroughs in battling the viruses, bacteria and cellular aberrations that plague human life.

But I recognize all too well that life is fleeting, as the Scriptures say, like “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

As Larry Norman used to sing, we’re “only visiting this planet,” on our way to a new and unfallen world like the one the Lord first created for us.

This pilgrimage entails many challenges. And, although I know my Savior will see me safely through everything I face, you have my permission to pray for me.

Nursing Those We Love

August 1, 2012 — 13 Comments

This week I became a nurse. No, I didn’t complete a degreed or certificated program, I simply assumed the duties of being my wife’s post-surgical caregiver.

She had very serious knee surgery, which will require her to place no weight at all on her right leg for at least a month and a half. This first week she’s required an escort and assistance for virtually everything. And I’ve offered this service gladly, and lovingly . . . even when it’s interrupted my sleep apnea crippled rest.

Obviously, over three and a half decades of marriage, she has needed modest nursing in the past. But this is more serious. It is sustained. She has seen me through a number of serious illnesses and surgeries, but then she (like so many other women I’ve been privileged to know) is a natural nurse and caregiver.

C.S. Lewis was a man not vastly different from me. He was not terribly comfortable when placed in such a role . . . yet he too discovered great meaning in caring for the needs of his wife during her illness. His precious Joy was dying, so the intensity of his labors, and their corresponding emotional investment dwarf my own. And yet the “framework” of our circumstances bears a marked similarity.

In his wonderful book Lenten Lands, Lewis’ son Douglas Gresham relates how Lewis and his brother Warnie provided exceptional care to his mother during her illness. He writes:

[Lewis] spent most of each day with [Joy] at the hospital, but they both agreed Mother should be brought home to The Kilns to die—in Jack’s home—her husband’s home—with him at her side. The “common room” was converted to a hospital ward, complete with a system of bells by which Mother would summon a nurse, or later Jack, if she needed help, as she often did.

I’ll make a confession. Although most men can adequately perform familial nursing duties when there is no alternative caregiver, most of us are quite content to step aside and let our wives or sisters attend to whatever nursing procedures are called for. Actually, I was quite gifted at removing slivers, but when it comes to bodily discharges, I’m no sexist to admit I and most of my gender display a serious weakness.

And yet, even in these cases, when changing the soiled diaper of an infant (or someone old enough to feel shame for having such needs) . . . even such unpleasant acts are possible for us to do for those we love. So the key to being able to care for others is not to pinch our nose and do it as quickly as humanly possible. The key, instead, is to learn to love those placed in our care.

In our grandparents day, it wasn’t uncommon for an elderly great-grandparent to reside with the family of one of their children. My father, for example, grew up with his blind grandfather as a member of their household. Similarly, my mother enjoyed the daily presence of her grandmother in her own home throughout her life. Not only was it expected that children would “take in” their elderly parents, it was natural. After all, they were family.

But, how does one transfer this familial affection to the stranger? After all, as Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (John 6).

Mother Teresa and the many thousands of saints throughout history who have cared for the leper, the outcasts, and the dying know this truth. They do everything as though they were caring for the Lord himself, just as he asked his disciples to do. Medicines are not their only balms—nor their most important. Their compassionate touch and tender encouragements are often far more healing.

When I compare myself to these caregivers, I realize just how inadequate a nurse I am. As a pastor, a core aspect of my vocation has been to bind the injuries of the sheep entrusted to my care. But I do this in a “spiritual” manner, and it has been rare to ever help one of them replace a bloodied bandage. Spiritual, emotional and social wounds are those that most pastors feel comfortable treating. Providing for the “baser” physical needs of the diseased is quite another matter.

And this brings us to the end of today’s reflection. When next I write, I’ll carry this final thought a bit farther forward.