I would not consider myself to be a prayer warrior. But, I do pray. Not because I believe in the power of prayer, but because I believe in the power of God. At times, I have prayed big, brave prayers; but for the most part, in tough situations I try to pray “make it count” before I pray “make it better.”
So, keeping my general cowardice in prayer in mind, I have a story to tell you.
I’ve waged a long war with illness this winter, and early in January, I lost hearing in my left ear. A course of antibiotics and a bunch of other medicines could not clear it up. Instead, it grew worse, and after a month, my right ear decided that since misery loves company it, too, would start to block up.
Coupled with weeks of coughing, sewer drama, pneumonia, family crises and my daughter coming home with headlice, I was at my wits end. I had agreed to speak at our church’s women’s retreat, as well as at a college ministry function; and with just days to go – I was exhausted and partially deaf. My mom nagged me to go to the doctor. “I don’t have time,” I protested. “What little time I have, I need to prepare for retreat.” But she prevailed on me: I needed a better plan.
One Friday morning, I left my children with the babysitter and escaped to a coffee shop. My agenda for the morning was simple: make an appointment with the doctor, get out of the college speaking engagement, and do some prep work for the retreat. I settled in with a latte at the coffee shop, only to discover I couldn’t connect to the wifi, and so, unable to contact the doctor or the college pastor, I dived into retreat prep.
My passage for study was James 4 and I made steady notes, mentally formulating my talks about our Father who loves us and who invites us to ask him for our heart’s desires. I found myself continuing to James 5, where all of a sudden these verses leapt up at me:
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (12-13)
Really? Really? This verse, right there, right then, while I was preparing talks about asking our loving Father for big, bold, heartfelt things?
The contrast could not have been clearer. My “wise” plan for coping had been to (1) say no to my commitment, and (2) call a doctor about my illness. But here were two verses that say (1) let your “yes” remain “yes,” and (2) ask the elders to pray if you’re sick. Oh, and use oil.
The words simple obedience floated in my mind, and I surrendered in tears. I sent a message to the college pastor, assuring him I’d be there the following Tuesday; and I mentally rehearsed how to phrase my awkward request to the elders.
I spent the afternoon tending to kids and re-checking my daughter for nits. I had a meeting at church later that night, at which several of the elders would be present. Leaving home, I hastily grabbed the tea-tree oil we’d been using for lice treatments and stuffed it into my purse. On the drive over, though, I felt sheepish about the oil, and resolved to just ask them to pray instead. Surely the oil was symbolic, anyway? Simple Obedience came to mind, but I squashed it.
We finished up our meeting, each person speaking clearly and slowly since I’d explained I had lost most of my hearing. When the meeting was over, I sheepishly explained about James and all the coffee-house tears earlier that day, and asked them to pray. They gathered around and laid hands on my shoulders and prayed for God to please heal my ears.
We said our “Amens,” and things were that strange combination of warm-and-awkward, and someone made a joke that there should have been oil. I threw my face into my palms and confessed, “I actually have oil in my purse but I felt too stupid to bring it out!”
“Well, then let’s use the oil,” someone said, and so – adding to the awkwardness – they gathered around once more and removed my tea tree oil from its ziploc back and wads of paper towel (so holy, I know) – and prayed once more, this time dabbing some of the lice-repellant on my forehead.
Another round of amens brought everything to a close, and I packed up my oil into its plastic bag and made my way to the parking lot. What was that about, Lord? I wondered, pulling my car out into the dark, foggy road.
Thirty seconds later, tiredness caught up with me and I yawned. My left ear crackled and I was suddenly engulfed by a wave of nausea. My vision swam in front of my eyes and I gripped the steering wheel, afraid I would black out. I pulled over, Jesus-take-the-wheel-style, hoping I wouldn’t land in a ditch, and waited for the nausea to pass and my vision to settle down.
I yawned again, and this time my right ear crackled and another wave of nausea washed over me. I closed my eyes, waiting for the horrible swimming sensation to go away. As it ebbed away, I blew my nose and yawned again, trying to shake out the clogged feeling that remained in my ear. With that, my right ear suddenly cleared, and with two ears now open for the first time in six weeks, I realized that the radio was on. I hadn’t been able to hear it before, but now with crystal clarity the beloved voices of Simon & Garfunkel singing these, the first words that drifted into my nearly-restored ears:
Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you please, Mrs Robinson,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
Hey. hey. hey.
I sat in the car and cried and cried tears of gratitude and surprise and the overwhelming knowledge of being loved and heard by a Father who cares.
And all of a sudden it made sense: the talks on asking our loving Father boldly for our deep desires, the call to simple obedience, and even the silliness of the oil. Because no matter how old we get or how sophisticated people may think we are, some truths bear repeating: Jesus loves you more than you will know, and heaven holds a place for those who pray.