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The idea of prayer has me all kerfuffled lately.

Most of you know my brother is waiting for a double lung transplant. Over the last two years Rob’s health has been declining at a frighteningly steady pace. I want to pray for him, but each time I feel the inner churning to reach out to God in prayer, my tongue quickly gets tied up in doubt and this looming question hangs over me: Why would God, if He is willing and able to intervene on my brother’s behalf, wait for someone or a handful of people to ask him to? Why is it important to pray for the sick? If God were going to heal them, wouldn’t he just get on with it, without needing the faith of a few or many. My mom feels its important to ask as many people as possible to pray for my brother. But this idea that God only answers prayer when lots of people pray the same thing with enough faith confuses me – like Santa who can only get his sleigh to fly if enough people believe in him.

I remember when I was a first year at SSU and was worried about Rob’s health. Back then he was still working full-time, and although marathons were out of the question, he could do laundry, and walk up a flight of stairs and take his dog for a walk without major issues. Not knowing enough about cystic fibrosis, I didn’t know what signs indicated serious risk to his life. I phoned him one night to ask him what it would look like before his health became critical, when should I start to “worry” so to speak. He told me there was nothing to worry about, that his life was safe, and that until he required oxygen on a daily basis, cut out even the mildest forms of exercise due to inability and was waiting for a transplant, I could expect positive outcomes from any hospital visits that were required.

That day has come, he can no longer lift a load of laundry, or walk up a flight of stairs without serious effort. I think about him every day. There’s a very small window between “sick enough” to get the transplant, and “well enough” to survive the surgery.

I’m trying to establish how to live through this with hope and not fear. One thing I’ve learned is to not play the “what if” game with myself. Rob has taught me a lot about living in this moment, one breath at a time, trusting God’s plan for his life. I want to trust God too, but sometimes I still revert to that little ten year old kid who thought her brother could die at any moment, and I feel the fear and anxiety building.

It is especially in these moments that I wish I could pray the way I was taught back in my charismatic church days. I’ve left a lot of those believes behind as I found them to be unrealistic for my life. I can no longer pray the “yes and Amen” that convinces me God will come sweeping in on a white horse and save us from sorrow. Yeah, I think God loves us, and yes I think God may heal my brother – but I don’t think me asking for God to heal him will make a difference. Why would God listen to me?

My friend Kendall and I had a funny, kind of remarkable experience the last time Rob was hospitalized with major intestinal blockages that would require a very risky surgery to correct if my brother couldn’t pass them himself. My mother kept saying to me “just pray” and I felt lost, not knowing how or what to pray. I was talking to Kendall about this online and in frustration wrote, “what am I supposed to say – dear Jesus, please let my brother poop?” At that very moment my cell phone started ringing, and my dad was calling me to say Rob had passed at least one of the blockages and surgery was being postponed to give him a chance to pass the rest, which in time he did, and he was released from hospital later that week.

Is prayer really that simple? Just asking God for what we need and then hopefully expecting him to follow through. Because there are lots of times He doesn’t, for reasons I know I can’t understand, but what are we to believe in those moments. We can keep begging God for little miracles for my brother but at some point if God doesn’t do something big – like new LUNGS – and protection from all the crazy complications that come with transplanting major organs, what do we pray then? It’s great that the doctors are keeping him alive until those lungs come and he has his transplant, but if God was going to do something to give Rob life, why wouldn’t he do it now? Why must we wait?

Without some form of prayer I feel lost and alone in my fear. Kathryn is an assuring rock for me. She exudes Jesus-style love for me in ways I don’t understand. But she too is at a loss when it comes to praying.

The best I can come up with is lighting a candle, asking God to let the candle represent all the fears and longings and hopes, and mumbling through a few short quotes in the hope that God can hear the depth of my desire to pray.

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