At the age of 14 months, just after I had learned to walk well, and had learned to say “Mama” and “Da-da”, I became very ill. Our doctor was baffled– I was tired and weak, I was losing weight, but I wasn’t carrying a fever. It wasn’t any of the “usual” culprits– we did find out I was allergic to penicillin, but other antibiotics had no effect. We tried a different doctor– he was also stumped, and all the while, I got weaker. My desperate parents prayed for healing as the weeks went on. I was too little to even describe any symptoms– I whimpered and slept; I ate very little, and became too weak to walk.
God was listening to my parents’ prayers, even though the situation seemed impossible and tragic, and God seemed silent and distant. My mother, in the years since this incident, has shared with me the “breakthrough” moment for her– that moment when her prayers changed from “heal my little girl”, to “thy will be done.” Not immediately, but shortly after that, the new doctor was inspired to look for another cause. After some blood tests, he determined that my body wasn’t absorbing and processing protein. As soon as I began a regimen of protein booster shots, my health began to improve. I was still sickly as a child; I had immunity issues, and I was small for my age, but I was out of grave danger. I had to relearn how to walk, and my return to solid foods (especially meat) was a gradual one. I have no actual memory of these events, but I learned a valuable lesson about prayer.
When we pray “Thy will be done,” we sometimes think it is “our” will vs. “God’s” will… that God’s will is always opposed to ours; that it will lead to us losing whatever it is we are holding on to. That may be the case, sometimes. We grapple with God’s will, struggling and wrestling, like Jacob, until we are forced to give in. Some of us limp our way to the altar of prayer. But God’s will is not set in relation to ours– His will is His own. It is higher than ours. It is perfect and complete. That doesn’t always make it pleasant, comfortable, or easy. In my family’s case, it meant months of trips to get shots– every day for the first few weeks; every week for months afterwards, and every month after that until the time I started Kindergarten (a year later than I might have if I had been healthier). For many, “Thy will be done,” means saying goodbye to a loved one. Sometimes it means losing a limb, or letting go of a cherished dream. But what we see; what we experience; these are mere moments in God’s plan for our eternity. Like the booster shots I had to have as a child, they bring a momentary sting, and the fear of them may loom large, but in God’s plan, they bring us the opportunity for life and health and ultimately, triumph.
Sometimes God’s will means walking through the fire, or walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Long before my birth and health scare, my mother had lost twins, and been a divorced mother of a young son. She had already faced death and heartbreak and hardship. After this incident, she would be hurt by my teenage rebellion, face depression, and go through health issues with my father before his death; but she would also gain another daughter, and live to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren who bring her joy. In my own life, I have faced the shattered dream of wanting children of my own. I struggled for years with singleness, when I wanted to be married and have a family. But God’s will allowed me to learn patience, compassion, and empathy for others who hurt in these areas. And he has blessed me with a family I would never have imagined–not only the husband, step-children, and grandkids, but all the students and children I met through my careers in education and public libraries.
It is natural and easy to pray for what our will tells us is best– healing for the sick (immediate healing is even better), success for our ventures and those of our families and friends, safety in travels and daily routines, prosperity, and happiness. It is not wrong to want these things. But it is better by far to remember that God is sovereign and good. Giving him complete control over our situations is not weakness; it is not “giving up”. Instead, it is investing our future– putting it in the hands of the one who holds tomorrow. It is trusting the one who is most trustworthy to make the most of our hours and days; our treasures and our dreams.