Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The unfair answer to prayer

(Note: I started working on this post several weeks ago, but delayed posting it because I don't feel like I answered any of the questions I've been asking since I started writing it! I am still posting it, though, because I would rather be honest about not having answers than give up asking difficult questions :) )

When I wrote about Levi's recent hospital admission, I briefly mentioned a patient in the next bed to his in the ER - a little girl about his age who was also in respiratory distress, with a possible diagnosis of pneumonia (like Levi), but whose breathing sounded even worse than his and who even in the couple of hours we were there, deteriorated noticeably.  Her parents stood on either side of her bed, her mother making phone calls in tears, presumably updating relatives or friends on the condition of her child.

I don't know whether this little girl lived or died; my guess would be that she didn't make it through the night.  I don't know her name, or where she was from, how long she had been sick ... but what I do know is how her mother felt as she watched her child struggling to draw every breath, and the uncertainty they faced about what the next hours and days would bring their family.

Praise God, Levi improved after a terrifying 48 hours.  We are so thankful!  As Mark and I have talked about what happened during that first night, we certainly feel overwhelming gratitude towards Dr Erin, whose skill and attentiveness as his doctor were amazing.  However, we also know that literally hundreds of people across the world - even many who we are unlikely ever to meet - were praying for Levi.  And although modern(ish!) medicine definitely played its part in Levi's recovery, we know that without the incredible prayer coverage of family, friends and total strangers, Levi's outcome could have been shatteringly different.

What if we had been that other family in the ER? The one who didn't have hundreds of people standing in prayer for the life of their child? I still get to watch my son run around and play with his big sister, and hug him every morning when he comes running out of his bedroom to find me; did that little girl's mother deserve any less simply because she didn't have a phenomenal network of believers across the world who were willing to drop what they were doing and pray for her child? What makes me any different from her? Why was my son spared when her daughter very likely died that night? Or what about the lady Mark cared for just yesterday, who came to the ER from the remote Jimi Valley after being in labour for many days with her deceased baby's arm presenting when she arrived? All of my pregnancies and deliveries have involved some level of complication requiring skilled medical intervention in a hospital setting.  The mother from the Jimi loved her baby no less than I love mine, the life of her child held no less value than mine, but I had access to the care I needed and she didn't.

I have thought about these questions many times in the last few weeks, and not come up with a satisfactory answer.  In fact, my questions have multiplied as I have mused.  Do the prayers of many people hold more weight before God than the prayers of one desperate mother?  What is my responsibility, knowing that prayer changes things and there may be patients here who don't have anyone other than their doctor or the hospital chaplain praying for them? How do I invest my heart in the hurting people around us, without emotionally incapacitating myself from caring for our own family's needs?

I don't know the answers to these questions.  I do know that Jesus was well acquainted with sorrow and suffering (Is 53), that He has promised comfort to those who are mourning (Matt 5) and that He uses us to meet the practical needs of His people who are hurting (Rom 12, 1 John 3).  I also know that while I may not be able to care for the lady who shows up in the middle of the night for an emergency C-section to deliver her dead baby, or for the teenager diagnosed with cancer or the victim of a bush-knife attack, there is one thing I can do.

Ezekiel 22 and Isaiah 6 both describe God searching for someone to stand or act on behalf of His people who, even in their sin, He loves desperately. In the Isaiah account, God found what He was looking for. But in Ezekiel, there was no-one whose heart was moved to stand between God's people and their destruction.

The one thing that I can do, even while hanging laundry or putting children to bed or sweeping crumbs off the floor, is to allow my heart to be moved to prayer.  I am being more deliberate in my praying.  Stopping what we're doing when Mark goes back to work for an emergency, and sitting down with the kids to pray together for those he is going to care for. Knowing the names of his patients so that I can pray into their lives in a specific way.  Pausing throughout the day to pray for the spiritual and emotional (and physical!) reserves of each of the doctors who are caring for patients here every day.

I may not be given answers to all my questions, but I do know that prayer is effective and has the power to change reality.  It changed Levi's on that awful night last month, and that experience motivates me both to thankfulness and to prayer for the hurting and needy around me.