After living for over 67 years — much of that time as a Christian and a Christian minister and chaplain — one would think that I had worked through all the “why” questions about God. I’ve had Holy moments holding vigil at the bedside of dying patients in the hospital. I’ve had miracle moments watching a grieving mother pray her brain-dead son back to life. I have experienced questioning moments standing before a God I could not understand.
Why do young children get sick and die? Why does disease ravage a body? Why do people have to suffer? Why are there starving children in the world? Why?
Do I worship a God who cares about that? And if God does care about all those tragedies, then why . . . you know the rest of that question.
So what does it really mean to pray? What’s my role in it? What’s God’s role in it? What can I expect from a sincere fervent prayer lifted up to a caring God?
Sylvia Plath wrote, “I talk to God, but the sky is empty.”
I can identify with that feeling. I know the frustration of praying to a silent God, hoping for an answer, hoping my faith will be enough. Obviously, I have found no answers to the hundreds of “why” questions. I do not know how God works with me. I do not know if my prayers will be answered. I do know that I can live with all the “whys” by the hardest, by faith.
I recently observed several months in the life of a 23 year old woman who battled cystic fibrosis since she was two years old. Eleven months ago, she received a life-giving double lung transplant. On March 17, she died after her body rejected the new, healthy lungs. The thing is, almost 50,000 people prayed for her through it all. They prayed day and night, asking God to heal her. After she died, a friend posted the above image to her Facebook page.
I cannot say I understand God’s ways, why one person is restored to health and another is not. Fortunately faith does not have to understand. Faith just endures through it all. So what is prayer all about? What are the answers to all this “why” questions? I do not know. I do not have to know.
Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
― Mahatma Gandhi
It’s all about the soul, I think. Taking hits, experiencing grief and pain, deep down human sorrow . . . the soul is where the questions live. One of my favorite hymns expresses this so well.
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
– Katharina A. von Schlegel, pub.1752
translation by Jane L. Borthwick, pub.1855
Please take a few minutes to enjoy this hymn at the following link: