This is part nine of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.
From Alan July 8, 2019 (66 days after first email):
It was a challenging weekend. Holidays are going to be rough, I guess.
I think I am at a place of self-preservation, meaning I am trying not to think about Lynn’s being gone as much as I have been. I am going through the motions of life. It’s weird, Wayne, I cannot seem to pull up images of her in my mind. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because of the intense caregiving for 5 months wherein I saw her in hospice and such. I have pictures of her during that time, and I look at them – she is still beautiful to me even then. I recorded her saying, “I love you, Alan,” and I listen to it every 2-3 days.
I told her many times that it was my pleasure to serve her as I brought her water or juice. As I woke up in the night several times to check on her. To bring her hot chocolate from the store near our house (It was my pleasure because I got to see her so excited and thankful). Even as I re-live these moments, I am tearing up again. I miss her so much. Why did God not answer my prayers? I know you have said my theology is all screwed up, but if we don’t have a God we can go to and stand on promises in the Bible, then what is the use?
It was so surreal in church yesterday. Our (I still say our and even wear my wedding ring) pastor’s wife is a breast cancer survivor. He was significant in Lynn’s battle in his love and allowing himself to be led by the Holy Spirit in what he prayed and how he encouraged us. Lo and behold, she just had a large tumor removed from her head and has a spot in her lung that is malignant. So he’s been standing on the victory she had years ago and now is standing before us yesterday reading Isaiah 53:5 and other Scriptures that we as Christians stand on because we think they are reliable and mean what they say. I mean how many ways can one interpret “If you abide in me and my word abides in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be done for you.” (John15:7)
As he encouraged the saints to pray, and as he shared the go-to Scriptures, I just marveled and said to the Lord, “I hope it works for him.” I’ve been praying throughout the day, “Let it work for him and his family.”
I’ve been meaning to ask you if we can’t believe for answered prayers, what is the point of prayer and also what is the point in trying to understand the Scriptures. Would you be a dispensationalist who believes the miracles and gifts went away with the apostles?
I’m still struggling to understand.
I’ve wondered about you of late and was getting ready to check-in. Glad you wrote. Grief is a long process, my friend, and all the longer for the greater-sized hole she left in your life. But the comfort of the Spirit is sufficient to walk you through this and take you beyond it.
I got an email last week from a woman I have known for twenty years. I’m going to give you a peek into our conversation. Perhaps her journey will encourage you on your own. Here’s what she wrote: “Four months ago I lost my second husband. He had cerebral amyloid angiopathy. While our time together was only eight years, six of them married, we packed the time with love and fun until his disease took over. When he and I married, we said we began our first married year with 80 years experience. Each of us had beautiful forty-year marriages ending too soon: My first husband died in 2001 with pancreatic cancer. His first wife died in 2004 with brain cancer. I lift it all in Prayer and try to begin each day with a grateful heart. I loved and was loved… by two wonderful men. Blessings counted.”
I wrote her back, expressing my concern as I marveled at how well she seems to be handling it. She wrote back: “On a difficult morning, I read your kind note. Thank you. The grief walk is uphill, one step at a time. I know I’ll learn to live with the loss and I am doing just that. I have difficult days and less difficult days with sunshine discovered in each. Your perfectly timed and authentic kindness lifted me today. There can be no rainbows without the rain; you were a rainbow today.
“When my first husband died (pancreatic cancer, 2001), I truly never was angry at God. I think I didn’t feel that anger because my first love (my soul mate) and I talked about life and love and consistently felt Christ with us. My soul mate was completely him as his disease overcame him. He was brave in the process. He was “him” but weak. When my second husband died, four months ago of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, I was angry like I’d never been. I’m not an angry person. I called to God with why and lots of hurt. In time, that anger dissipated. The feeling of anger had been foreign to me, but no longer. It was real. I still grieve. I know I will learn to live with the loss of my heart magnet (my term for my second love). Grief is hard. And to live without love would be a life not worth living. I loved and was loved completely, unconditionally by two amazing men. Thank you, God.”
Grief is a process, most certainly. The good days will become more frequent as the bad days recede. Finding gratefulness in pain can help. Death intrudes on our lives and robs us of those we value. We grieve, but not as those without hope, for the day of our reuniting is coming. Death does not get the last word, and one day, we all stand triumphant together, and our brief time here will seem like a wisp of smoke.
What you say about not being able to get an image of her in your mind is very common. CS Lewis addressed it in an email with a friend, Sheldon Vanauken that he details in his book A Severe Mercy, about the death of his wife. Lewis thought the reason we can’t pull up an image of someone in our mind that we were close to, is because we have seen them in so many different situations with so many different expressions it is hard to see them in one view. A stranger we meet is easier to recall because we only saw them once. But those we’ve seen in tears and joy and concern and anxiety and rest give us so many images it is hard for the mind to focus on one. It was your closeness to her that makes it difficult now.
As to your last questions, “Am I a dispensationalist?” Heavens, no! I’ve seen loads of miracles and pray for them whenever I am asked or led. I just don’t believe they are in my power to make happen. I don’t believe that God has given us certain keys to be worked, and if we work them the right way, we get the healing we want, and if not, we don’t. I see no pattern to the people God has healed around my life or in response to my prayers. It’s not the worthy who get healed, or the most desperate. It doesn’t matter how many pray. I’ve seen thousands fail and the prayer of two or three transform a moment. After years of trying to find the key to what brings healing to one person and not another, I’ve given up. Could I leave that in his hands and just become a responsive follower of his leading? So, I did. I am much more at rest in it all.
My best friend died at 55 of melanoma that had metastasized throughout his body. The first time I prayed for his healing, I felt an inward nudge asking me if I would walk him to death’s door. I didn’t like the thought. I never shared it with him. Many prayed for him, as did I, but cancer continued to progress and take his life after four years. I could pray with him in one breath and in the next have the conversations I’d want to have with a friend I wouldn’t have long in my life. On the podcast this Friday, a man from Ireland tells his story of battling incurable cancer and going through a bone marrow transplant sensing that God had asked him not to pray for healing but to go through this experience. I think that story may help you.
I have seen way too many people marinated in teaching that God always heals if we’ll just pray enough, believe enough, find the right key. I don’t believe it anymore. God heals as he wills. Our prayers are part of that, but not the only part. I’ve prayed for people who got healed of cancer, impregnated after being told they couldn’t have children and a host of other things. I believe by his stripes, we are healed, but in the fullest sense of that. He’s healing not just our diseases but our flesh appetites, our desire to be in control, and we get to experience some of that here and some of it we’ll encounter in the next life. We know today that Lynn is completely healed and free. No, it wasn’t the healing we wanted, but it is still healing, the same one assured for all of us. Christ’s healing is not just from physical ailments but also from the brokenness, evil, and sin of this age. That is the hope we all look forward to.
The kingdom has come. It is here, but it is not fully here. Jesus is still taking captive all things under his feet. It is not done yet. We do not see all things conformed to his will in this life, in my life, but we do see HIM! He is the Lord of the universe, and he will have the last word on everything. Just not yet, not in everything.
So, why pray? Because that’s where God makes himself known so we can cooperate with what he wants. Prayer is not the requisition box to get the answers we desire; it’s our conversation with the God of the ages as he reveals his purpose and our part in it. I pray for everyone who asks, but I can only pray in faith when I have a sense of what he wants and what he is doing in a given situation. When I have a sense of it, I pray with fury. When I don’t, I pray to hear, to have my heart circumcised from my wants to his wants. And in all that I see through a glass darkly, so I never have absolute confidence that I have heard accurately, not until the circumstances confirm it. I often read in my own wants. I’ve been wrong before and will again on both sides. I’ve prayed in faith for healings I felt confident of and watch them not come. I’ve prayed almost hopelessly and seen a great miracle occur. These things are not in our hands. They are in his, and I’m content to have them there.
Scripture helps us, too, when we stop reading it in sound bites and instead look at the whole of it, inviting us to trust God, not try to work him. Remember, when Peter prayed that Jesus would be saved from going to the cross? (Matthew 16) “You are looking out for man’s interests, not God’s,” Jesus reminded him. How else will we learn that except in prayer? Lynn’s death does not prove God doesn’t work, only that he works differently than we would. It doesn’t show his lack of love, but that he loves us more fully than we love ourselves.
Why wouldn’t we want a God who is so much wiser than we are? He knows something you don’t. Our trust in him is not based on outcomes, it is embedded in his light and character. In He Loves Me, I talked about the prayer God always answers. In John 12, Jesus is facing the cross, and he asks, “What shall I pray, Father, save me from this hour?” That’s mostly what we pray. We always pray ‘save me’ prayers. Don’t let me hurt. Fix my pain. Jesus refuses that prayer. To pray it would mean that he would subvert Father’s will. The cross was the reason he came. Instead, he prays, “Father, glorify your name.” That’s the prayer he always answers. “Father, as you glorified your name in Lynn’s life, now glorify your name in her passing. As you glorified your name in Alan while she lived, glorify your name now as his life takes on meaning beyond her.”
That’s how I’m learning to pray. I realize it isn’t easy for people to see this, especially in disappointment. Just like your friends who want to teach this Scripture always works if we just claim it. What happens when cancer returns, if it does? I know so many people who teach this stuff, who suffer diseases they can’t be honest about because they have to provide the image of faith. It is false. It will collapse on them at some point because God is working at a level we can’t understand. As you’ll hear on this week’s podcast, we always look from our humanity up at our problems, instead of letting God (in prayer) seat us where he is and look back down on our situations from his perspective. That’s where we get to participate in what he is doing, rather than trying to enlist him in what we want him to do.
Unfortunately, this is not often taught. We frustrate people with techniques that won’t bring the miracles they want. They get disillusioned with God and frustrated because it doesn’t work. “It” never works. He does. So when you say, “I hope it works for him,” you’re still talking about an ‘it.’ It’s a technique, a belief, instead of a connection with a Living God who has a purpose unfolding in all that concerns us.
I know the best time to learn this is not in the midst of grief. We can talk someday when you’re ready to process this. Admittedly there’s nothing easy about learning to understand how God works. Now, you just need to process her death and let God begin to map out where your life goes from here and how all the gifts that Lynn gave you in your life together will strengthen and encourage you in days to come.
To be continued…
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