Tuesday, September 02, 2014

On Miracles

Every few years I feel like I re-examine what it means to have faith. I'm not talking about whether or not to be a part of a Faith . . . using the word in a way that it makes it synonymous with religion, or insert the name of a certain church. No, I believe that your relationship to a church, while certainly being an element of faith, is separate from the question of faith as an expression of deep belief that inspires you to action. 

Two events have unfolded in the last few months in my life that have cause this re-examination to take place. The first is that a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. Despite symptoms of major colon issues, she spent several months praying and believing that whatever she had going on would just clear up. I don't see her as a person who believes in faith healing, per se, but she did spend several weeks with whooping cough last summer before her very practical teenage son insisted she go to the doctor. I think she is busy . . . she has seven children and a hundred things she enjoys doing. I think she puts off such visits, as many of us do, thinking we'll eventually get better on our own. 

Anyway, by the time she was diagnosed, she had a malignant tumor the size of a golf ball obstructing her bowel. It obstruction was discovered Friday and they had the surgery scheduled by Monday. While hospitalized, all of her lymph nodes were checked and cleared as cancer free. The tumor was completely excised and she won't even undergo chemo or radiation. 

And yet, despite my very real gratitude for her clean bill of health, I have had a hard time getting my head around the language of miracles she and her husband have so freely spoken of in the last few weeks. You see, many years ago, my family likewise fasted and prayed for a miracle and my aunt died of colon cancer anyway. She had a family of young children and was just 34 years old. Our lives are in God's hand and we are subject to natural processes. We cannot change His mind nor erase the fact that we are born to eventually die. 

I am not the best at prayer, or maybe faith, but as I get older I have come to believe, as CS Lewis once spoke, that we don't pray to change God, we pray to change ourselves. And yet, of the many prayers uttered in my friend's behalf the Sunday before she went to her surgery, I heard very little thy-will-be-done type prayers and very many of those other types. Please Lord, give us exactly what we want.

From my friend's Facebook page,  "My heart is so full of deep gratitude for the results I learned today. . . To deny the reality of a divine creator, a merciful God and a loving Savior would deem me an ignorant fool in not recognizing to whom the power of the prayers of so many has blessed the preservation of my life and the ability to continue to love and serve and raise my children and others upon this earth for some while longer. I'm very grateful for all the love and support our family has been given and received during such a challenging time. Faith precedes the miracle. I love you all."

This is a lovely, public expression of gratitude and her faith, already very strong, is clearly stronger now. 

But what about when faith does NOT come before a miracle? My thoughts of my aunt have been very heavy in the last few weeks. I will not deny that her family has indeed experienced miracles, and I know that her daughters have at times felt their mother very near as they have grown. But it has been a very, very hard road for them in many ways. They dealt with trials as children (related to their mother's death and their father's subsequent, disastrous re-marriage) that I can hardly even begin to comprehend. I don't think I could ever say that any child is better off without their loving, and lovely mother. I know that God is in charge of the universe, but I also know that he wouldn't be God if he intervened every time we were uncomfortable. Part of what makes Him God is that He allows the world to proceed as it will, so that we can learn and grow from this experience. Even when it means we suffer. Especially when it means we suffer.

My friend's faith is lovely. Beautiful. Almost childlike in its simplicity and trust. 

It is not a faith that works for me. And when I read her piece I felt strongly that such simple expression belittles those who have prayed in great faith . . . with the greatest faith they knew and still not received the hoped for blessing. I hope that I would not imply to another that if they just had a little more faith they would see a few more miracles. For nothing is more personal than faith.

The second thing that has happened is the process of selling our home and buying another. It has been a ride. In June, after bidding on two homes, I was practically ready to give up and just chuck it all in for a while, continuing to endure the small house. I had begun praying for patience, humility and most of all, gratitude for all that I'd been given rather than discontent for what I didn't have. 

And then the house we wanted came through. Not luck or even coincidence. It was an empty short sale and we hounded the neighbors until we got the needed information and put the process in to play. That process was much shorter than expected (as noted in an earlier post) and we have spent many hours in the last few weeks making sure our financing was in place--a tricky proposition because we had no contract on the home in which we currently live.

In the past weeks, many have told me to pray that the new house would come through and the old one would sell. You've earned this! You deserve it! You do the right things, God will bless you! I have heard each of these and more from my delightfully sweet friends who have more faith in general, and certainly more faith in me than I have in myself.

But I couldn't do it. Not once have I been able to bring myself to my knees to pray specifically for this particular blessing. I just couldn't. The world is such a hot mess right now. There is actual suffering and pain and . . . well, I'm sure you can watch the news as well as I can. About three weeks ago, I was on my knees, knowing we needed a blessing. We nearly ran to the point of bankruptcy with a house nine years ago; I am deeply fearful to go through that again. 

I found there were things I could pray about. I prayed that if it was a bad idea then our loan wouldn't come through. I prayed that whatever happened we would not be foolish enough to clean out the boys' mission fund. I prayed that we would continue to be generous with our time and talents despite our greater obligations.

And then I had a moment of inspiration during my jumbled prayer of desperation. This scripture came to mind from Luke:

27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
 28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

 29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.

 30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

 31 ¶But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

And I finally knew what to pray for.

I spent a happy fortnight praying for experiences that would allow me to serve others. Oh, I still did all the things necessary to work on getting the house, etc. And I still worried. I can't help it; it is my nature to do so. But little by little I was able to let go of really caring if it went one way or the other. I felt the joy of spontaneous chances to serve and was able to sleep. I felt at peace with whatever happened next.

We fasted 9 days ago, but I was in a better place to do so. Our fasting was about gratitude and a desire to serve and give our boys a place to grow and gather with their friends. I was finally able to approach my question with proper humility and in the right frame of mind, but with trust that it would all proceed as it must.

Four days ago, We got a perfect offer on our house the same day our new one was recorded in our name.

Getting the new house feels like a LOT of hard work over the past year. Selling the house we are in? That feels like a miracle. The scriptures tell us that faith precedes the miracle. I don't doubt it. But in my case, I had to learn a lesson in faith first. The miracle isn't selling the house. The miracle is the change in heart. Maybe the miracles are not what others see, but what we come to understand as we learn to exercise faith.

I didn't pray about the house, though I've expressed much gratitude since. I am coming to see more and more that my prayer needs to be a supplication to the Father of the Universe that he will find a way to use me. I don't think it is fair for me to ask anything else. God will bless us as he will, but I am going to try to focus less on the the blessings I think I need and more on how I might be a blessing to others and recognize more miracles as they come, while allowing others to see what miracles they see as well. 

Oh, I'm still the girl that would go get checked out right away, if I was dealing with the symptoms my friend had, but it doesn't mean I have to be a skeptic either. By seeing the world as it is maybe I'm better able to help it. Maybe my leap of faith, my gift, is to feel the doubt about so many different things and still behave as though there is no doubt. To not know of a surety, but to still plead that the Lord will help mine unbelief.


Melanie said...

This post really resonates with me. It has been said that men create gods after their own image. While I 100% believe that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are actual people with bodies and distinct personalities, I also wonder if because we rely on faith to know them, we don’t to some degree create them after our own images – our own perspective and understanding. Nephi and Laman experienced the same events, yet they had vastly different interpretations of how they had been treated by God. It’s not always that black and white, faith vs. lack of faith. Maybe some people are more apt to speak the language of miracles because they see God’s role as one of doing the impossible, while others are more works-focused, assuming that as they make decisions and move forward, God will subtly direct their paths. Of course, we know that both are true and valid outlooks, but people may be disposed (by experience, their own particular brand of faith, etc.) to see God’s hand or hear God’s voice in their lives in a certain way. I’m also convinced that learning to speak and interpret the voice of the Spirit is a lifelong process, and that as we become more fluent in this language, the more we recognize just how much revelation there is to be heard.
All of that doesn’t change the fact that events happen, and no amount of interpretation can undo the event. Would your aunt have lived had your family only prayed and fasted for a good outcome? Would your friend have had a more serious diagnosis if more people had prayed “Thy will be done?” No. As I get older and faith feels so much more complicated than it used to, I’ve realized that perhaps it is the first principle of the gospel because it’s something that few of us will master in this life. It’s first, foremost, of principal importance because it’s something that we have to continue to exercise, grow, and wrestle with throughout our entire lives.

Feisty Harriet said...

I have a very complicated faith right now, with ebbs and floes and....lots of complications. And I have a really hard time with the idea that faith is the only indicator of physical healing. I have an aunt undergoing chemo for breast cancer right now, after a double masectomy. I have a cousin in chemo for melanoma in her lymphnodes... they both caught it early, have had regular check ups their whole life...but both have had to go through what will be a year of treatments AFTER having tumors and breasts and lymphnodes cut out.

Is that because they lack faith? Or because we as their praying family lack faith? No. It's not. And I despise the insinuation that faith has that much to do with it. Do miracles happen? Yes. Do they always happen? No. Are miracles only for the deserving? No.

**Admittedly, I'm irritated about this right now because of the anguish going on in my family right now. So perhaps ask me in a year and I'll have a slightly less acerbic response.


Sherry said...

I thought about this post a lot after I read it the other night. It was timely for me.

I thought of it even moreso yesterday when I learned I was having a miscarriage - right before I was getting ready to reveal my exciting news to the world. I thought about praying for everything to fix itself. Instead I've prayed to know what I'm supposed to learn with this experience.

I definitely have a tendency to lay out my plans to Heavenly Father and tell him why my plans are the right ones (I'm certain they are!) and then to get really angry when He apparently doesn't agree with me. This attitude has made my last year incredibly hard. (Or, more accurately, this attitude coupled with events in my life have made my last year incredibly hard.)

I'm working on it.