A friend was telling me about the many illnesses and deaths she’s heard about recently. Along with the boatload of sad stories she related, there was also a profound statement:
“Honestly,” she said, “it seems you can’t pray hard enough or long enough to cover all the problems these days.”
Almost every day, I get a phone call from someone asking me to put them on my personal prayer list. The list grows longer and longer — and I spend more time praying than ever. Mentioning each person by name gets increasingly difficult.
Sometimes my mind is full of questions: Is God listening?
Is He answering any of these prayers the way people hope they’ll be answered?
Is it wrong to speculate?
In the past month, three acquaintances have passed away and two have been diagnosed with terminal illness. In my own family, two of my children have worrisome health conditions that must be monitored regularly.
A dear member of my family has become someone we barely recognize. Her decline was incremental and hard to detect. Although it took her family and friends a while to see it, we now know that Aunt Elizabeth has been sick for a long time. She hid it well. None of us knew she wasn’t taking her blood pressure pills or the pills the doctor had prescribed for arrhythmia. To her, taking pills every day somehow means that one is weak and unwell.
She wants to be seen as strong, healthy and aging slowly.
We live in neighboring states and see each other only once or twice a year. But we’ve always been close. Only three months separate us in age.
Once, while she was visiting me, I placed the tablets on the table that I take with my breakfast. Only two were prescription meds. The others were vitamins. But to Elizabeth, that was a lot of pills.
“Oh, my!” she said. “Just look at all those pills you take! I don’t take any. I must be healthier than you.”
I tried to explain about the vitamins, but she wasn’t buying it. The fact that I was ingesting several pills was a sure sign that I was ailing and not as strong as she.
Not long after her visit, I received a call from her sister-in-law telling me that Elizabeth was in the hospital. Her doctor did not conceal his anger when he learned that she hadn’t been taking her medication. When he released her from the hospital, it was with strict orders to take her meds as prescribed.
But in a phone conversation with her a few weeks later, I asked, “Are you taking your blood pressure pills?”
“Sometimes,” she said.
“Now Liz, you know what the doctor said,” I told her. “You must take your meds the way you’re supposed to; you could have a heart attack or stroke.”
“Aw, I’m alright,” she said.
Months passed. Her health declined even further. She couldn’t eat. She lost weight. She had no interest in anything and stayed in bed most of the time. I couldn’t reach her. When I phoned, nobody answered and she never returned my calls.
At my insistence, family members checked on her and found her a mere shadow of her former self. She was thin, unkempt and so weak she couldn’t walk without help. She wouldn’t hear of moving in with relatives who offered to take good care of her. She begged them to let her stay in her own home. And they did.
As I write this, I’m thankful that a family member is living with her as her caregiver.
Still, matters have worsened. I’m told her mind has deserted her body. She remembers very little. When I talk to her on the phone, it’s painfully clear that she doesn’t remember me.
Only God knows what remains in her memory.
We’ve been close since infancy. Best friends.
I miss her.
I’m praying for Elizabeth. Others are praying, too, but nothing changes. It’s heartbreaking!
I’m reminded of a group discussion in which I once participated: A woman expressed great sadness because she couldn’t understand why God had taken her beloved daughter although she’d prayed fervently for her life. She had unbending faith that He would answer her prayers and allow her daughter to live.
“But the answer was ‘No,’” she said tearfully.
“Sometimes prayer seems like an exercise in futility?” she added.
“Oh, no,” I said.
Often things happen that we cannot understand, but God allows them to happen for His reasons, whether or not we understand.
Instead of doubting, we must trust Him and remember that He is a good, just, loving God — and merciful even when, for the present, He allows trials and sufferings to come into our lives.