I have my fair share of physical troubles, almost all the result of entering middle age after a lifetime of unhealthy living. Not that my living was particularly hedonistic or any worse than most Americans, but when you are dealt a certain genetic hand you need to be a bit more careful than I’ve been.
Anyway, it’s not that I am ill or remotely disabled. Just the poster boy for metabolic syndrome. I’m never in any real pain and suffer no problems with mobility, but for some time now my doctors have called me a “high risk” for….some bad stuff, I guess. Just like over half of the Americans out there who are over 50. So I keep popping my pills, watch what I eat (kind of ) and tend not to worry. Too much.
But last week was somewhat trying. Persistent head aches, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness. And my BP was going crazy, higher than it ever had been before. Being the alarmist hypochondriac that I am, I prepared myself for inevitable admission to the O.R. for major chest surgery…or worse. As it turned out, my doctor only had to play her voodoo shell-game with my prescriptions and things are looking a lot better. For now.
My point here is not to whine about my health or my ailments. I just wanted to set the stage for my thoughts of last week, particularly some of those about God. Because I really, really had to work hard to keep myself from praying.
I was disturbingly aware of a desire to ask God to protect me from whatever might be coming my way physically. I really wanted to revisit my old penchant for asking God to extricate me from whatever predicament I found myself in and I desperately wanted to recapture the opportunity of asking God to cure me.
But I hadn’t believed in those types of prayer for some time now and I knew that it would be wrong to allow myself a little relapse into what I now believe is religious superstition. Why would God deign to reach down inside of me and fix the relatively minor physical problems that I am troubled with? When there are so many millions who are really suffering, from hungry children to the mentally institutionalized to severe burn victims to the paraplegics whose prayers for healing have apparently not been heard? I don’t think God would fix my problems. I am not sure that God even could.
I did pray, though not in that way. Instead I prayed prayers of thanks, that I made it this far, with the wonderful people I have known and loved. My wife, my children, my friends, family and students. I was still tempted to ask for another 50 years (or 30 or 20 or 10 or even 5). But I didn’t. Instead I prayed for peace and for courage, for acceptance of whatever might come. Surprisingly, my prayers were answered, almost immediately.
If I had prayed for physical healing or a change in my material circumstances, I would still be waiting for the that big shoe to drop. Playing the long odds against the house, yet holding out hope for something ‘miraculous’ to take place. Anticipation. Unneeded anxiety. And if the cards looked good this time, if it seemed as if God had answered my prayers, this too would pass. Until I met the next low hanging branch on the path. A relentless cycle of beseeching, worry, thanksgiving and then more worry. This was my old pattern.
Over the years I’ve seen some friends die. A few were young, tragically young. Most were pretty “old” I guess. A lot of them were in their eighties. My Dad is in his eighties and he’s been struggling a bit. The thing is, if we are lucky, we will get old and die. Sometimes it looks easy, more often it can be painful. But I’ve seen that it can also be peaceful. Should we be wasting what time we do have by asking to live longer? “ Please, just a little bit more of this good stuff “ (even if it looks as if there isn’t enough “good stuff” to go around for everybody). Where’s the peace in that?
I like it better this way. I’m not asking too much from God and God’s not asking too much from me. I just have to resist asking for the deck to be loaded in my favor. Instead, maybe God could provide me a with just a little help playing the hand I’ve already been dealt.