I am struggling to stay “up” today. As I entered my seventh day since discovering my seemingly insignificant mark, I was hoping for enough improvement to allow me to travel home for a weekend away. When I woke, however, the nurse discovered another pressure mark, this time on the other butt cheek. How this happens when I’ve spent the week in bed I just don’t know. So much for a weekend at home with my family. Instead i will lie in bed, on my side with my bum in the air, rolled two hourly, in an effort to relieve pressure. It’s hard not to complain, but I shouldn’t. As I think I’ve said before, many of my fellow patients have spent much longer in bed and I’m sure I’ll get through this soon. Before you know it, I will be up and about, terrorising the world with my wheelchair.
At least this week I’ve been able to spend a couple of days with my wife (thanks to the ongoing support of our families). Yesterday, before bed, my wife and I prayed together. As she asked for healing of my bum (and for the sale of our house and various other things), I couldn’t help think of the elephant in the room. Was there any point in praying for the healing of an insignificant mark on my bum when the bigger problem – the very cause of that mark – had being prayed for by people from around the world yet, as far as I could see, without obvious answer? Of course, I may be being ungrateful at this point. After all, things could be much worse and indeed they have been. I have movement now that was unimaginable in my early months of hospital. But if I’m honest with you, the improvement I have experienced can be explained without prayer. In fact, if prayer had been effective, then it seems pretty mean spirited of God to do such an incomplete job of it.
Of course, the theologian in me could give you various reasons why I should keep on praying. We should never presume prayer is about twisting God’s arm but, rather, it’s about what it does in those of us who pray. Further, it is also true that just because our prayer has not yet been answered, that doesn’t mean it never will be (although six months does leave me asking, how long oh Lord). perhaps also our prayer has been answered, just not in the way we had expected (although I’m not sure what that means).
Now it may be that six months out of teaching theology has fried my brain so that the more profound answer as to why God does not seem to have answered my prayers has been lost – and perhaps it will return when my intelligence kicks in again (something I hope might happen when I stop taking so many drugs). But for now, given that I’m forced to use this mushy brain, I just cannot think of a response that is adequate. What is the point of my praying? The answer may be, none at all. Yet I think my wife and I will keep praying, however tentatively and uncertainly. We don’t really have any other choice. We pray because we have to. We cry out, even feeling like we are shouting into the wind, because we have no alternative. God help us. We need you.
Perhaps we are experiencing a glimpse into the struggles of Jesus when he cried, “my God my God why have you forsaken me” (Mark15:34). here Jesus prays in the face of unanswered prayer – father, take this cup from me. It seems wrong to think of Jesus struggling with faith and maybe that is not what is going on in that text (David Parker,what do you think?). But I like to think that Jesus is with me even in my doubts. The paradoxical idea that Jesus is close to me, especially when I feel abandoned by God.