I was recently at a luncheon with my colleagues at Southeastern seminary. We were talking about music and family and the question arose whether Samuel had any siblings. I have come to the point where I answer that question differently depending on the circumstances. Sometimes you meet someone at the park, and you are exchanging niceties. They notice your son running around with the dog and casually ask if you have other children. They very well could have asked, “Do you like the weather?” Their motive is a desire to keep the conversation going. “No,” you reply. “We’re just here with Sam.” At other times, you are in a conversation about your family. The other person really wants to know about your wife and children and what makes your family interesting. My conversation at lunch that day was such a conversation. So I shared Anna’s story.
Not much longer in the conversation we were talking about Sam and his singing. I mentioned that I had put Sam into a difficult situation one time (many times, actually!) when I asked him to sing at my mother’s funeral last year. “Oh my,” my friend responded. “You have had a rough two years.”
Our conversation continued on with other things. I didn’t tell her about my father and his open heart surgery following my mother’s death. I didn’t share about the difficulty and stress of changing jobs. Of moving twice. Of buying our first home. Of living out of suitcases, oddly enough even after we moved into our home, for a year and a half.
But her very candid response about what a hard two years I have had gave me pause to reflect for a moment. It caused me to think again about the very different circumstances surrounding the sudden and accidental death of Anna, the death of my mother after a brief illness and a debilitating surgery, and the healing of my father after his heart was almost completely deprived of blood.
And now another colleague of mine at Southeastern seminary is going through these same times with his wife. Dave Black and his wife, Becky, are enduring painful times while she is being treated for a very aggressive cancer. She is recording her story and it is well worth reading. I will provide a link to their website at the side of this blog. I know they would appreciate your prayers.
With all of these things going on, I have been reminded, as I often am, of my prayer for my mother while she was in the hospital. It was Easter Sunday. She had been through a very invasive surgery to find out the extent of hercancer and to try to remove it. The effects of the surgery, let alone the cancer, were devastating. She was very sick. Several family members stood at her bedside that morning. I prayed for my mother that morning, but I got stuck in the middle of my prayer. I realized that I wasn’t quite sure what it was that I was praying for. For a year I had been thinking about Anna’s death and processing the truth of what the apostle Paul had written two thousand years ago, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” I had been meditating on the fact that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” I had been thinking about Jesus’ words to the thief next to him on a cross, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” I had concluded that, for Anna, being with the Lord was better for her than to be with me.
Given all of this, what was I to pray for my mother? Did I want God to “heal” her? To bring her back home with her broken body? Knowing that it would not be long before we would be bringing her back to the hospital, for this or some other ailment, until finally, at some point, she would not return home with us? I don’t recall my words now. I know that I asked for God to heal her. I was painfully aware of the fact that not only was my mother listening to what I was praying, but the rest of my family was there listening as well. I do know that when I finished praying, whatever I had said, I felt the need to apologize to my mother. I was embarrassed.
After praying with her, I was asked if I would come talk to the nurses on the floor, who were all working on Easter and wanted to have some sort of worship service together. That might not have been the safest thing to do, for me or for them. But it provided me another occasion to work through these things. As I said, I do not recall what I said when I prayed for my mother that morning. I recall perfectly what I said to the nursing staff that Easter.
“100 percent of your patients will die. You will lose every patient that comes to your floor. Oh, they might leave and go home, but they will be back again. And one day they will not leave the hospital alive. You will lose every one of them.” I went on to tell them that if their goal is to keep people alive, they will be bitterly disappointed. On the other hand, if they understand death as a necessary result of sin, that it is a fact for every person, but if they also understand God’s work of resurrecting the dead, and if they see that future resurrection as an ultimate act of healing and restoration of the body, then they can view their job not as the futile attempt to keep people alive forever, but as a partnering with God in giving people a brief foretaste of what the resurrection will be like.
Every patient at the hospital, whatever their condition now, whether they walk out today or tomorrow, or whether they are confined to continue living in the hospital itself, will one day not leave the hospital alive. Or, as in Anna’s case, will not even reach the hospital alive. That is, they will not leave the physical doors of the hospital. But they will leave the hospital another way. And God, for those who are saved, is going to work a mighty raising of the dead on the day of his returning. Every nurse and doctor should be looking ahead to that day with wonder and amazement as the Great Physician comes to work his final miracle of healing by raising from dust and ashes those who have died.
So do we pray for healing now? Yes, of course. But why? So that the sick can live another day, or week, or year or two? No. We pray for the sick, so that as God heals them, the world can have a brief glimpse into the resurrection that is to come. We pray for healing so that the glory of God might be revealed.