I've had something HIGHLY unusual happen. In fact, it's so incredibly odd that I've debated whether to write this. But my radiation oncologist called me this morning with news about my most-recent scans, and I knew I should tell you about the last four days. Say I'm crazy. Say this is what happens to people who are facing death from a terminal illness. Tell me this isn't "real" because I believe in a God who is far removed from religion. Yet, despite all of that, on Monday I started having unforgettable dreams. In fact, every time I fall asleep—which is frequent because of fatigue—I dream that I'm talking…with God.
Thursday, May 12, 2022
Why I Haven't Prayed to God
Monday: I sat in a waiting room. The tech just finished a second mammogram and confirmed that there is a mass in my left breast. "I'm sorry for the wait," she said, "but the doctor said you need an ultrasound today. That mass is extremely suspicious, especially since you already have stage four cancer. We're experiencing delays, and you could be waiting for up to an hour. Is that okay? Do you have time to stay here that long?"
I nodded. "Yes. I can wait." They'd seen all of my imaging from April back when things had begun to look bleaker than ever. I exhibited signs of progressing cancer in my back, and a recent PET scan showed spots in my lungs. I didn't know how I would truly feel if cancer had progressed to my left breast as well. "God," I thought, "my entire body is falling apart to the point that this is insane. Not to be dramatic, but you took some of my spine and I don't want to lose my boobs too—they're my only good part that's left!"
I sat there so long, staring at the clock on the wall, freaking out. Tick. Tick. Tick. And that's when, I fell asleep….
My consciousness floated in an area without gravity or sound. It hit me as ironic that I could think, yet the place felt void of ALL energy. I couldn't see my body or anything. I could simply sense an all-encompassing purity around me, but not even that used energy to exist. It just…was.
"Why did it take you so long to pray that I would heal you?" The words enveloped me, and I realized I felt them more than heard them.
"You're God," I thought, simply knowing who I conversed with. "What's the point of praying for what I want? You'll do what you need to anyway. You know a heck of a lot more than I do." I paused. "Plus, who am I to ask for something if it goes against your plan?"
Nothing happened, and I remained, waiting for a response.
"I trust you." The words finally came from my consciousness, more gently this time. I already had cancer, the last thing I needed was the wrath of God as well!
"Do you? Do you really trust me?" The words didn't seem punitive, but they did feel contrary. "You thank me for things, but you rarely ask me for what you want. Why?"
"You know why." I didn't mean for it to sound angry, but it did. "When Zeke died…. I BEGGED you to heal him. I got down on my knees and cried. I spent hours upon hours talking to you, asking you to fix my son. And then—when I took him off life support, I kept thinking that somehow, some way you'd heal him. But you didn't. Some lady even came up to me at his funeral and said my son would've lived if I'd had more faith. Well, the joke was on her! I had enough faith that it should've moved mountains. That's when I realized how futile it was to pray. You'd do what you needed to anyway—I mean, you're God! And after Zeke died, I did finally come to some sort of peace. Nothing would ever bring him back, but I could see that maybe you had a plan. That we can find good even in the most harrowing of situations. That Zeke was only meant to live a short while. That everyone—including me—became better just by knowing him for that small amount of time. And I learned to find joy despite heartache. Life is hard, there's no point in making it even harder by depriving ourselves of potential happiness that we let pass us by during the tough times."
"But you finally asked me to heal you. After all of this time. Why?"
"Maybe there's power in surrender."
"In surrender? Or in acknowledging pride? Elisa, be honest with yourself; you didn't want to ask me, in case you aren't healed. You're worried that you'll finally put faith into this and that you'll be let down again—like you were with Zeke."
"Okay, fine! I didn't want you to know that I'm finally breaking down, that maybe life is getting the best of me."
"And you thought that your actions showed strength. That it would somehow impress me. There are so many humans, so many creatures, so much creation—"
"You're right. And compared to everything, God, I'm almost nothing. And so, yes, I got to the point that my pride didn't matter anymore. I don't care if you think I'm weak. I begged you to heal me because this is hard. Because I want to see my kids grow up. Because I'm tried of seeing everyone who cares about me struggle because they hate seeing me so damn sick all the time. And because…I can feel myself breaking on some days. Constant suffering seemed doable the first several months, even the first year. But almost two years of this—without an end in sight except death—to think that life will never ever be the same as it was before my diagnosis. Yes, I prayed for you to heal me."
"You need to stop trying to win my love."
"But, I'm not—"
"Stop trying. I know who you are. I made you. You are flawed. You're a mess. You're chaos. BUT you are also joy. I made you to be joy."
A strange kind of love washed over me. I felt such truth in those words. I've always wondered who I am, what my root is, but to get this confirmation, even in such an odd venue. It just rang true.
"That's why you see joy in so much—it's a reflection of your true nature. The good people see around them, that's who they are. The good you see, is JOY! But it's time to see strength in unexpected places as well. Where you make joy out of hardships, strength can be found too. In weakness there can be strength."
"Everyone's heard that, but what exactly does that mean?"
"It took strength to acknowledge that you're weak. It takes strength to truly admit to pride. Pride can eat people alive without their knowledge, and it can be MUCH worse than any cancer."
"Yes." I could almost hear the mirth. "Even melanoma. Acknowledging faults is not weakness or a sign or brokenness. That's finding room to grow as a person. You found strength in admitting that you feel weak. Your body might seem like it's failing you, but as it fails, you are growing in the ways that truly matter."
"But…God. Is it too much to ask for both? Can't you heal my body too?"
"Elisa? Elisa," the nurse's voice woke me. My head had slumped to the side, and my neck throbbed from where doctors have said the tumor is located in my thoracic spine. "It's time for the ultrasound."
"Okay." I straightened my hospital gown—which I'd cinched in certain places to make it much more flattering around my fake boobs, what was I just saying about pride?—then I followed her through the doorway. But no matter how much I tried focusing on the ultrasound, I couldn't stop thinking about the strange dream I'd just had. So much truth laced that conversation; illusion or not, I hoped I'd never forget those words.