A wise friend and neighbor who knows me better than I thought recently dropped off Olive Ann Burns 1984 novel, Cold Sassy Tree. This is not (directly) a story about faith, but it included a concept regarding faith and prayer that many may have heard before but really caught my eye.
What made an impact did not come through a devotional, apologetic or theology essay, or any of the books that I have been given regarding psychological and faith aspects of healing. In fact, I think the “message” resonated because it was a well written story that happens to simply –show- what I have been experiencing through illness and subsequent treatment.
At this point, life experience and earnest seeking seems to have rendered me nearly immune to just being -told- big claims and directives regarding God and faith. It has taken me years to be comfortable with the fact that God has, one way or another, wired us all differently. On the other hand, I’m certain this has to do with my own pride issue. I have work to do.
Toward the end of the book is a conversation between a beaten, pneumonia stricken grandfather and his wife.
“Right now I’m not really prayin’. I’m just sittin’, starin’ with my eyes closed. If I went to prayin’, I’d be sayin’ words, thinkin’ about myself, what I want and what I’m afraid of. But this way I ain’t thinkin’ nothin’. I’m just feelin’ God’s presence. And it makes me feel safe – like I can do anything, including stand all this pain.”
Just sitting. Feeling God’s presence. I say (and write here) that I’m praying or resting. But while sitting in the rough times, I’m experiencing what it means to abide. [Not like The Big Lebowski, which I have never seen other than all the memes.]
Abide in God…Be still and know…Rest in Him…says the Scripture.
Sometimes I wonder if this understanding could have been gained through some lesser trauma. Would a fractured tibia or the pandemic alone been enough? I doubt it. Who knows. I am, or at least was, a person with legitimately alotofthingstoDO. And now life has drastically slowed down. I have been forced to witness God’s provision in an obvious and amazing way that was previously unimagined (to me.)
In the story, Grandpa speaks regarding his grandson, Will.
“Something Will’s been questionin’. He doesn’t understand why Jesus said, ‘Ask and it will be given.’ He says why would Jesus say such a thing when it ain’t always so?”
The grandmother responds.
“Tell Will that sometimes God has to say no for our own good, or to teach us something, or show His power. Sometimes it’s just not his will, or he wants to test our faith and see if we trust Him.”
Grandpa laughs. “You sound like every more pious than I ever heard. But Jesus didn’t say God might say no. He said God’s go’n say yes. Anything we ask for, we’re go’n git it. Well, hungry folks pray for food all over the world, but they shore don’t all get fed. Sick folks and their loved ones pray for healin’, but lots of them die young, or barely live on in bed. Jesus just had to mean somethin’ different from what so many folks think he meant. Jesus wasn’t no fool. Ask, but what for?…”
“…I don’t think Jesus meant us to think we can all get our way just by askin’. God made us so we want to live. He put healin’ power in our bodies. We don’t have to beg Him. All we got to do is accept bein’ sick, do what the doctors say, and trust that God wants us to get well if we can.”
“But, in the Bible Jesus healed people who asked, and believed. If Jesus could heal then…? If we pray and have faith?” asks the grandmother.
“Faith ain’t no magic wand, but a way of livin’. It means you don’t worry through the days. It means you’re go’n hold onto God in good or bad times. You respect life like God made it, even when it ain’t what you would have ordered. Some of the same folks when they pray and don’t get better, say God let’m down. Some will flat out deny that God did let them down. But I say that’s not even what Jesus was talkin’ about. He was giving a guarantee on spiritual healin’, not body healin’. “
“…He was sayin’ that when you get beat down, scared to death you can’t do what you got to, or you’re go’n die, or folks won’t like you – all you got to do is put your hand in God’s and He’ll lift you up. Now I know it for a fact. When I pray ‘Lord, help me to not be fearful, help me to endure,’ it’s like an eraser wipes it away. We should ask for comfort and hope and patience and courage, and to be gracious when things ain’t goin’ our way. But they ain’t no guarantee of no troubles, or that the pain will right now go away.”
Amen grandpa. I do not want to live a faith that denies the obvious or fails to respect…reality. Even those with great faith often don’t get what they want. Others get far more than it seems they deserve. We all pass away at a rate of 100%.
Please do continue to pray for the family and I, however you see fit. I usually do offer praise and straight up ask God for healing and an end to this worldwide pandemic, among other things. But it seems wrong when praying is taught like from an instruction manual. After a while, at least for me, it comes down to little more than two things.
Thank you, God.
Your will be done.
Sometimes I manage to sit silently and feel God’s presence.
I do have peace.
This peace is beyond understanding. It’s not only for me, or those with a long churchy history, or some kind of super spiritual connection. It’s for anyone who will slow down (I think), and ask.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
-Jesus as recorded to his disciples
Olive Ann Burns spent the majority of her life working as a journalist before she turned to fiction as a respite during cancer treatment. She completed this and a partial manuscript for a sequel before her death in 1990.