The Privilege of Prayer
I never knew the power of prayer until I really needed it. I still find that strange because I prayed every day, if not for my entire Christian life, then certainly from the day we became parents. There is nothing like being responsible for tiny, helpless creatures who become mobile beings capable of taking themselves into multiple dangers that brings a person to her knees! From our adult Sunday School departments to our work as leaders in the youth group, we always shared prayer requests each week. We typed them up and e-mailed them out, and I was diligent (most of the time) to pray for them. It wasn’t hard for me, and maybe for that reason I didn’t think about how valuable those prayers really were. Until cancer. Or more accurately, until cancer affected us personally.
A week after my husband, Chris, was diagnosed with melanoma, we were sharing prayer requests with the other adult volunteers serving in the youth group. The look of real concern and focused attention on the faces around us hit me with a jolt, as I realized, maybe for the first time in my life, what a privilege it was to know that these people were not making empty promises when they said they would pray. They prayed for us right then, and I knew they would continue to take us to the feet of God Himself as we entered treatment and a suddenly uncertain future. It was humbling. I felt treasured and loved in a way I hadn’t felt before.
In the worship service the next week, there came a time in the service when people sometimes went to the altar for urgent prayer. Our teenage children sat with their friends in worship, but when that time came, I grabbed Chris’s hand and pulled him into the aisle. I beckoned to our daughter and son as we passed their rows, and without hesitation they came out to join us. We went to the altar, came together in a circle, and prayed as a family. Usually, we prayed together before meals, at the beginning of trips, when someone else shared a need, on important birthdays, etc. As a family, though, we didn’t often pray together for a need we had. I was struck with regret that we hadn’t more often prayed together, but in this circumstance, for the first time I felt our kids were more than just people we had to protect. They were also there for us.
With family and friends covering us with prayer, we waded into cancer treatment. We did everything the doctor said to do, and everything we felt that God led us to do. Scans every three months remained unsuspicious for a while. Two years after the initial diagnosis, though, scans showed a shadow on his lung. When subsequent scans showed growth, we decided on a biopsy. I turned down kind offers to sit with me at the hospital. The whole thing was supposed to take less than an hour, and I thought I’d be fine. One sweet couple from church, Donna and Gene, ignored my refusal and showed up anyway. I can’t imagine how the rest of the morning would have been if I had gotten the news alone.
The surgery took longer than they had led me to expect. When the surgeon came in to see me, I could tell by the look on his face that the news was bad. He took my hand, looked straight into my eyes, and told me how sorry he was. It was definitely melanoma. They waited on preliminary test results to be sure, and then removed about a third of his lung to be sure they got it all. That tumor was gone, but now that it had metastasized Chris would need more treatment. Horrified, I knew from the research we had done that survival odds were now well below 50%.
Donna and Gene stayed with me while I processed the information, prayed with me, and held me while I cried. I made phone calls to people who needed to know. They immediately set in motion prayer requests that went beyond our group of friends to the prayer ministries of their relatives and friends in other churches and even in other states. They offered anything we might need. When Chris woke up in recovery, I calmly and lovingly told him what the surgeon had said. I was not hysterical, as I had often been before with less disturbing news. This was my first experience with strength beyond what I was capable of on my own. It is the first time I remember being aware that God was both holding me up and making me aware that it was my responsibility to hold up my husband instead of collapsing onto Chris’s strength as I was prone to do. I think all the prayers being lifted for us were lifting me. If I was going to be the help mate I had promised to be at our wedding twenty-five years before, it was time to be strong. Thank God, literally, that I didn’t have to be strong alone.
Sometimes I have felt helpless in the face of others’ needs where “all” I could do was pray – as though that isn’t real help. I don’t feel that way now; there were times when I could literally feel the warmth of prayers being lifted on our behalf. Our families prayed, our church family prayed, and from time to time we got Facebook messages or other encouragements from people we didn’t know who had seen our need on a prayer request list somewhere. It was “real” help. God was there regardless of how many or how few prayers were said, but He worked through these entreaties on our behalf to stem my fear and make us feel less alone.
I am grateful for the lessons I learned about the comfort of prayer in the first round of battle. When Donna and Gene prayed with me in the waiting room of the hospital after the surgeon gave me the news that the melanoma had metastasized, I grabbed that lifeline of prayer again and never let go. I felt it sustaining me as I struggled through the days, doing what had to be done. Sometimes I would wake in the night, terrified, and immediately feel a warmth descend that I believe was part the Holy Spirit and part the warm prayers covering us.
I didn’t know then how much harder our battle would become. I didn’t know yet that a time would come when I was too overwhelmed to be able to voice any prayer myself. But, I had learned that no matter what happened, we would be lifted and covered by others speaking to heaven on our behalf. God doesn’t mean for us to walk His path alone. Our warriors were with us every step of the way. Knowing what prayer meant to me in that season changed forever my commitment to prayer for others. I have been carried into God’s presence by loving believers when I was too weak to make it there alone. It is now my privilege to lift up others who need Him. It may be the greatest privilege of my life.
As soon as we shared our need, you
You wove soft fibers of help and concern.
You stitched together pleas for healing into
yards of unfolding promise.
You claimed verses and related past mercies
to mend the worn fabric of worry.
You darned every unraveling fear.
You embroidered designs of peace and hope.
And all your handiwork waited, so appreciated, but…
surely not necessary.
Until one night it was.
Until one night when worry grew icy tentacles of terror.
When tomorrow’s warmth seemed much too far away.
When the Light had trouble breaking through the darkness.
We shivered, exposed and raw.
And then we reached for all you’d crafted.
Pulled your offerings over and around us:
as soft as wool,
impenetrable as armor,
close as swaddling,
light as air.
Tucked snugly around us, you held back the cold.
The chill of despair unable to claim us,
the specters of doubt unable to reach us,
we rested beneath all you had claimed
from all He had conquered.
As soon as we were able, we bowed our heads.
We thanked God for the comforters.
We thanked Him for each of you.