Lenten Devotional: Thursday, April 18

by Nevena Martin

On Tuesday morning, I cuddled my son as he received a breathing treatment in the Emergency Department. Some of the mist aimed at his mouth rolled over his nose, curled up my arm and dissipated in my own face. As I breathlessly observed him, hoping the medicine would ease his effort to breathe, I waited for the tightness of my own chest to slowly release, too. Five mornings earlier a patient of mine, I’ll call him Mr. B, told me he couldn’t breathe. He asked for a breathing treatment. A few hours later, he would be dead.

Haunted, these are the thoughts that ran through my mind as we sat in the trauma bay. Was this revenge? Was it karma? What caused my otherwise-perfectly-healthy son to not be able to draw an adequate breath? How many other people had sat in this room designed specifically for battles that can go either way? What was the driving force of these outcomes? How many miracles had occurred in this trauma bay? How many times was it simply science drawing a natural conclusion?

As the direness of Gus’ situation wore off, I pondered whether God loved him more than Mr. B. Had enough people prayed for his recovery? Was a lamb, off in some distant land, slaughtered and offered as a sacrifice, pleasing God enough to change His mind? Is that the kind of God I wanted to serve:  an all-powerful entity whose mind I could change with enough renditions of “please, sir”? What had Mr. B done wrong, what had Gus done right? Do I praise God on Tuesday but not on the previous Thursday? More concretely, is Death a punishment and a long life a reward? An interesting thought the week before Holy Week.

My thoughts circled back to more of the catch-all mainstream Christian phrases that I often scoff at, and I reconsidered them. Does God have a plan that includes sad, injust incidents as well as acts of unearned forgiveness and redemption? In the battle between predestination and free will, is there a third way? What do we know of Jesus’ ministry on earth that provides evidence for each of these arguments? Is this even a conceptual divide which impacts how one should conduct herself? My thoughts swirled, refusing to settle.

I wondered what I should pray in the moment without realizing I had been praying. Having been conditioned to think prayer looked something like the castigation and implorement of the Joel Osteen’s of the world, I struggled to recognize my ponderance and curiosity of God to be prayer; I struggled to see this as *my* personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And then I remembered a bit from a sermon near Christmastime where Joe described the Adult Sunday School class sharing their favorite lines from Christmas songs, and I offered up this borrowed prayer:

Be near me Lord, Jesus, I ask you to stay. Close by me forever, and love me I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and take us to heaven to live with thee there.