“O God, please don’t let me wake up if I cannot walk,” I prayed as I unloaded the dishwasher and stacked the blue and white dinner plates on the shelf. It was a sincere prayer that I had repeated a dozen times in the last week. Surgery was scheduled for the end of the week, and although it was not life threatening, it was major, and the prognosis for full recovery was not optimistic. The thought of never being able to walk unassisted frightened me.
I had seen my husband’s frustration and anger after a stroke took away his independence. I knew all too well the burden care giving placed on loved ones and how family relationships changed. Visits which were once a pleasure soon became a duty, and even though no one voiced these feelings, it could not be denied. I would see glances at the clock, which translated: How soon will I be able to get on my way? Is my expected hour over, yet? And I had to admit that even I, in spite of my love and effort not to complain, had moments when I resented the demands on my time and the restrictions on my life.
My family assured me that I need not worry. They would help. But I knew their lives were busy, and before long there would be more and more excuses. I had seen it happen before. They did not mean to be negligent or uncaring, but they had their own families and work obligations. This was the way it was. As I stretched to put the last glass in the cupboard, my prayer became more urgent. “O God, I am truly ready to leave this world if I cannot be a contributing member of society.”
No one here really needs me, I whined to no one in particular. Yes, they loved me, but their lives would go on quite comfortably without me. They might shed a few polite, maybe even genuine, tears. But those tears would dry quickly when they realized the time saved with no morning calls to check on mom. Even the grandchildren, to whom grandma and grandpa were once bigger than life, would find it easier. They were now grown up, and there was no need for babysitting, trips to the playground, or seasonal shopping trips followed by ice cream sundaes. Secrets about their romantic relations were no longer confided. Enthusiastic telephone calls reporting accomplishments were now quick texts, not real conversations. Our exchanges consisted of polite inquiries. Visits were sparse – one more thing to cross off their ‘to do’ list when they came home, and I saw how difficult it was for them to keep their eyes off their fancy phones, anxious to read the messages from friends who speak their language.
I felt useless and incompetent. Everyone’s life would go on quite complacently if I were not here, I thought. I no longer understood their world and had little to offer, not even a decent inheritance if health bills continued to mount. I was being dramatic, but simply stating a fact. I did not want to be needy, and the thought of living in the home of one of my children filled me with horror. “Please, God, not that,” I whispered. I would miss my life here too much - my home, my friends, and one very close relationship I had formed since my husband’s death. He and I both knew the pain of losing a spouse, and in comforting one another we had forged a precious friendship. But even though he said he loved me, he was very self-sufficient and did not really need me.
My black and yellow splotched cat rubbed at my legs. “What would you do without me, Ladybug?” I asked her. I wiped my hands on my jeans and dropped down in a chair at the kitchen table, propping my head on my hands. I know they all love me, but they do not need me and they certainly do not need the responsibility of caring for me. The last thing I want is to be a burden.” Ladybug looked at me with her knowing green eyes, as she curled at feet. “Do you really care about me, or do you only love me for your treats,” I asked, wallowing in my self-pity. In answer, she batted at my hand and then walked over to a sunny spot on the rug, as if to say, “My life is complete, with or without a human in it.”
“Please, Lord, do not let me linger in uselessness.” As I toyed with my coffee cup my eyes fell upon the devotional book lying on the table and I began to absently thumb through the pages to the day’s reading. The words literally leaped out at me. “In the face of death, and no cure in sight, there is no telling what God has in mind.” No telling what God has in mind! Were these words written just for me? Was this God speaking? Does God actually have some purpose for me even if I am no longer independent? And, do I have the faith to trust him, to believe that he will be true to his promises, and that my life will not be useless?
I vaguely recalled a Scripture reference in the book of James, but the wording escaped me. I leafed through my Bible and found what I was looking for in the very first chapter. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” A few verses later I read, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
James didn’t say IF you face trials. He said WHENEVER. His words were an assumption that those times come into everyone’s life, but he also offered the hope that it is possible to profit from those times if we do not give up. His key words were perseverance, hope and optimism. A positive attitude not only turns trials into learning, but it is a witness to Christ and can be a powerful source of encouragement to others. My fear and negativism was certainly not a witness to my faith. Pessimism is contagious and hurts the cause of Christ. We cannot know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure. Hardships are opportunities for growth. They are opportunities to become more like Christ, who suffered beyond all that we can comprehend. Do I really believe this?
The cat stretched and looked up at me, as if to confirm this message by saying, “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere, so why are you worried?” The softness of her fur as she rubbed about my legs was a comfort. I reached down and scratched her neck. Yes, I was frightened. But I was also reassured. I felt a release, as if a burden had been lifted and no matter what, I would have the courage to go on. “God knows best.” How many times had I said those words! And yet, when my control over my life was challenged, I was rejecting my own wisdom.
Again, I closed my eyes. “Lord, I surrender to your will. Like Paul, I would consider dying to be my gain, but if continuing here, whatever the circumstances, will mean fruitful labor for you, I am willing to remain. I know your planning is perfect.” Somewhere I once read that there are 32 million seconds in a year, and every second is like a diamond, a treasured gift from God and not to be wasted. Each precious moment has a purpose and I will trust God for his purpose.
I stood up and carried my mug to the sink. I do not know what the future holds. But this I do know. If God is with me and has a purpose for my life, in spite handicaps and declining health, I have a reason to go on. In the garden when he faced the cross Jesus prayed, “Not my will but thine.” A chorus from my long ago days in youth camp drifted through my mind. “If you know the Lord, you need nobody else.” That was a promise and I will hold on to those words. If I have the Lord, I need nobody else. Thanks be to God!