Thursday, January 3, 2008

Prayed Upon

Approximately two years ago, I started telling people about another significant part of my life. For two years before that, only a few trusted friends knew I worked four jobs and that one involved providing personal assistance to someone with quadriplegia. What began as a part-time job has become a core feature of my life -- and identity. I'm still sorting through why I decided not to talk much about this until relatively recently.

With the exception of one published piece, I haven't written about it, either. For one thing, I've been busy writing about other things, but I suspect the really real reason is that I just wasn't ready. Hearing from Elizabeth has prompted me to start writing about disability issues from my perspective as a PA, and with the blessing of the person I assist.

Elizabeth is a smart cookie. She figured out I'm a PA and after reading some of my blog posts, asked that I comment on the following:

Christians tend to pester me about not praying for healing enough or they stop talking to me because my life now is so different from what it was, but say, "I'll pray for you" which sort of sounds like "see you never" because I've heard it so many times. Several have gotten quite angry because I say that I believe that God's hand is doing this -- that I believe in many ways that God has prepared and strengthen me for becoming disabled. Can't say I know why! But many seem very frustrated that there are not exact answers, that I get sicker or that I am in more pain and there seems no meaning to it.
You mean "some" Christians, yes? I offer this to start: I'll pray that you meet good Christian folk who won't pester you about "not praying for healing enough." Good Lord. If you have the energy the next time this happens, please consider asking whether the person is talking about you being healed or cured. While you're at it, try asking whether they're talking about disability or illness. These are not the same, although illness may indeed lead to disability. In either event, it's possible to be healed in mind and spirit while the body is disabled -- or even terminally ill.

I write this with confidence, based on my experience providing hospice care in the past, my current role as a PA to one of the most spiritually healthy people I've ever met, as well as my own 20+ year dance with a chronic, incurable-but-not-life-threatening and sometimes debilitating physical illness.

In my own situation, a turning point came at a retreat when, during Mass, in response to reciting, "Only say the word, Lord, and I shall be healed," I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, "You already are healed, you just don't know it." That I didn't also hear, "you idiot," proves it was the H.S. My overwrought psyche would have engaged in such negative self-talk.

Your ability to see God's hand in what's happening as you become more sick and disabled is not only evidence of grace but of your own spiritual maturity. I'm not surprised that you have trouble explaining your deep knowing (e.g., God's hand). Mystery defies easy explanation.

As for interpreting, "I'll pray for you" as dismissive, you may be correct. But not always. Sometimes, saying "I'll pray for you" has about as much authenticity as asking, "How are you?" Having caught myself doing this, I vowed to write out my prayers in a journal so I could see if I had, in fact, prayed as promised. Very illuminating or, as some Christians would say, convicting!


  1. Thanks for writing about this - which was very brave. I do find it frustrating that the time I emotionally may need it most, I seem to be failing to be meeting the expectations of some of the Christian community by having wheezing breathing. My own manta is, like many things in religion both a paradox and horrific - it is the quote:

    "I live because you sustain me: I die because you ordain it. Save me you can, O Great God."

    It was found etched into one of the torture and eventual execution cells at Dachau (or Triblika). It is very reminescent of the words spoken by Shadrack and the two others in Daniel 3:17-18 which is that even if the King threw them in the middle of the furnance, thier God was a God who could save them, regardless. But even if God did not, they wanted to King to know they went to their death unmoved in convinction.

  2. Errr..sorry, I just realized that "God's Hand" is a reference that people outside the cult I was raised in may not understand. And though I have in aspects of that religion I don't necessarily want to get rid of them but they might need some explaination - in the Old Testament often the phrase "God's Hand" is used to refer to people or events in which it often doesn't really seem that terrific for the people; for instance Ezra spoke often of "God's hand upon him"; Jeremaih virtually cursed God's Hand and vowed that he would try to sew up his lips so that God would just leave him alone.

    So sort of unlike some Christian ideas, about "resting in God's hand" my view is more like I Kings 18:46 where after, it is hard to know how to explain this, perhaps "channelling" God in order to kill 850 men by hand the Hand of God was upon Elijah and he ran what I once measured as 51 miles faster than a chariot of horses. After which he most earnest desire was that God kill him. This is what it means, for me, to be in the Hand of God; people in the Hand of God are asked to do things like kill the child they waited 90 years to come; to leave friends and family and spend thier time trying to save the nation attempting to destroy them; to be covered with boils, have every son and daughter killed and then taunted for three days. That is God's Hand in your life. I had a friend, and he had a child who was born without intestines and a few other organs and half a brain; which required full time caregiving which he and his wife gladly (and exhausted gave), then he got his first brain tumor (excised), and second and third and fourth. For him and his wife and child, the Hand of God was upon them. I do not say this with any particular bitterness, but rather the simple fact that I have seen again and again such a cycle. Before he died, when I was off trying to do something completely impossible (walk over 2000 miles from mountaintop to mountaintop), he sent me a toy truck; or to specific a toy bulldozer with the single phrase 'keep trucking.' He died, and over the years I have understood more and more what he meant in sending that to me - it is not about speed, it is about endurance. It is about Job knowing in his heart he would die but that God would not.

    Sorry I wrote so long, I just felt the need to explain that I would never use the phrase "God's hand" referring to myself lightly or indeed, willingly.


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