A PRAYER FOR SOPHIA
I write this after spending the morning at the bedside of a dying lady. Sophia (not her real name) is in a nursing home, and the hospice assessment is of “imminent death.” Family, friends and volunteers maintain a vigil so she will not die alone. But she will die.
We give her soothing words and strokes, which she may or may not hear or feel. They are given anyway. Prayers are offered by others, and I want to pray, for her sake. But prayer is a problem for me.
I am not a believer. I am at most a seeker, trying to find faith in God, but not succeeding. I am as consumed with doubt and uncertainty as I am with a desire to believe.
So how do I pray? And to whom?
“God, if you are there, please…” That sounds as heartfelt as a letter addressed “To Whom It May Concern.” Or even worse, a message in a bottle tossed into the sea: “If anyone finds this, please…”
Can such a prayer, so conditioned upon doubt, be sincere or meaningful? If I were God, would I answer such a prayer? Not if I was having a busy day.
Can I address the Lord as “God, if you exist,” or “God, IYE…”, the way devout Muslims refer to “the Prophet, peace be upon him…”, abbreviated as PBUH?
So there’s that problem. To whom do I pray? The other problem is “For what do I pray”?
A priest once explained that there are three types of prayer: to praise God, to thank God, and to ask God for something. In Sophia’s room, the third seemed most in order.
What do I ask for Sophia? Recovery? A quick, easy death? Rest? To hang on a little longer? What exactly is it she needs most, what is best for her? God only knows.
And that’s the problem. Whatever is best, whatever she needs, God knows it better than I do. And because He loves her, he will give Her what is best, with or without my advice. Any specific request seems terribly presumptuous: “I’ve given this a lot of thought, Lord (IYE), and I think you ought to…”
Finally, and simply, I find myself saying, “God, be with Sophia.” I don’t know if He is anywhere, or even IS, but I sure want him to be with Sophia. I know my wanting and my asking are of no account. But it is what I want. So I said it, over and over, as the hours passed.
I realize it is not really coherent. If God exists, He is there with Sophia; if not, then not. My request cuts no ice either way. Even if, as Martin Buber said, we can only talk TO God, and not about Him, it seems silly.
Still, I repeated my silent prayer. And to Sophia, I spoke aloud when she was restless. “Rest, Sophia. God is with you.” How fraudulent, even cynical! As if I know that to be the case! But I knew it was what she, as a believer, wanted and needed to hear. And it is what I wanted for her. So I said it. I don’t know if she heard it, or if He heard it.
A PRAYER FOR VIVIAN
Which brings me to my little friend, Vivian. A wonderful, bright, beautiful 5-year old daughter of our wonderful loving neighbors, and big sister of a wonderful, rambunctious 3-year-old brother.
Her family is the best missionary project I have ever seen. They are a living billboard for Christianity’s ability to generate and support the very best kind of people and families. I am blessed to live next door to them and to play with the kids whenever I have the energy. It is a joy to bask in the glow of this loving family.
Well, Vivian has been diagnosed with cancer. She is being treated at a top hospital, and her type of tumor is a rare form of childhood kidney cancer with a very good survival rate. She is getting chemotherapy. The odds are in her favor. But she is suffering, and her parents are suffering.
Like all of their friends, I have offered any help I can give. Her family asks only for prayers. And I face the same problems described above regarding Sophia. To whom, and how?
So I prayed “God, be with Vivian”
But I could not stop there. My prayer for Sophia was vague because I don’t know how to be more specific. A certain humility stops me from giving God my impertinent list of demands.
Not so with Vivian. I know what I want God to do. I want him to heal her tumors, to make them go away. And I want her restored to health, and her family restored to peace.
And I want it NOW!
I realize how presumptuous this is. God, with whom I am not even on speaking terms, knows what is best for Vivian and her family. And He loves her far more than even I do.
So I should just pray “Thy will be done,” and leave it in His hands. But I cannot.
I pray my very specific prayer, hoping He will forgive the impertinence.
“God, please heal my Vivian.”