I’m haunted by a memory: Emily is enduring her second bout with cancer, this time preparing for extensive surgery involving her neck, chest, and leg. Like any cancer surgery, it might or might not be successful. The surgeons have warned her that, regardless of the outcome, she’ll likely lose the use of her right arm.
What haunts me isn’t the enormous stress of that time (Gwyn was six months old, still nursing; I drove my baldies back and forth to the Mayo Clinic all summer) but rather the tangle in my heart. With every cell of my being, I wanted Emily to be well. I prayed for this—make her well make her well make her well—all the while guarding myself against a bad outcome. The doctors were decidedly cautious, even pessimistic. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that all five surgeons would be on their game. I bargained with God (“Okay, we can deal losing use of her arm so long as she can be cancer-free”). I tried praying “Thy will, not mine, be done,” but couldn’t.
And here is the crux, the bit that won’t let me go. I didn’t trust God. I knew only too well that illness and death are part of creation, and that God doesn’t swoop in deus ex machina to fix things. More than any miracle, I trusted the Mayo Clinic surgeons to give a realistic picture of what was possible. If the statistical likelihood of Emily having a good arm, even keeping her life, was slim, my own desperate prayer that she be well was futile. God’s will felt to me like fate. I didn’t want “God’s will” to be done because I didn’t want the likely outcomes.
Emily’s surgery was successful. I felt immensely relieved—and ashamed. I had spent so much energy preparing for loss, I’d not fully allowed room in my heart for the possibility of health. I’d limited my hopes; our world is so full of hurt, I’d prepared myself for more of it. Emily’s full restoration to health has been humbling. My prayer is inadequate. My sense of what’s possible is too small.
Since then I’ve lost many loved ones prematurely. Our world is full of unnecessary suffering, terrific injustices, and genuine evil. Through it all, I’m slowly emerging into a sense of the confounded, backward way that love works. Dame Julian wasn’t Pollyanna when she said “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” During a tax upheaval deeply burdensome to poor people, under an unjust leader, in an inhospitable town, on a dark night, divinity became human. What plays out in our small lives pales in comparison to the big love at work in and through them.
But, honestly, we don’t need to worry about any of that. We don’t need to believe or not believe. All we have to do is practice opening our hearts, staying open to possibility, always working within and without, always welcoming, because that’s how big love enters. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
On this darkest day I wish you much light and love!