Yancey asks a very valid question. How does one pray in circumstances where a chronic illness is present and there seems to be no way out? What kind of prayer does one have? Can God reverse this illness miraculously as He had with cancer and other terminal illnesses?
I have struggled with those same questions along my journey with HD. It is possible that this can never show up? Yes it is. Is it probable? No it’s not. Is it possible that God will intervene and remove the defected gene? Yes, it is. Is it probable? No, it’s not. So how should I pray?
Henri Nouwen has given me some incredible insight into how I should deal with it. His insight into his own loneliness and woundedness helps me to understand that if I am to minister, as a chaplain, to others in their pain and suffering I have to come to terms with my own pain and suffering. If I am to be a blessing to others, then I have to bind my own wounds. My prayer then changes from “remove this illness” to “let me use this illness.” I realize that if I want to be used by God, I have to be willing to be pruned and polished. And I realize that means dealing with my own pain and suffering. I realize that means being wounded. I realize it means binding the wounds.
Even though God could use medical science to discover a cure for HD, and I believe one is not very far away, I have no illusions nor false hopes that I might see a miracle cure. But I am praying for something different. Since my illness is dependent on how quickly the onset comes, I am asking God that my miracle be holding that onset off long enough to used by Him to the fullest extent. I am praying that He will give enough intellect, mobility, love and compassion to minister to others as I visit my patients. I realize that I will have to do my part taking care of this temple so that it can used more efficiently than ever before. Instead of praying for 100,000 miles, I am praying for 350,000 miles! I am asking God to give me wisdom for making the right decisions. I am asking Him for strength for my loved ones who will have to see me go through this. I am asking Him for strength and courage for myself.
Yancey ends his chapter with a very touching story about a family who had to deal with their father’s illness (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and all the struggles he had to go through (not being able to tie his shoes, not being able to sign his name, falling and breaking his collar bone, falling in the parking lot and waiting on the ground until someone found him, not being able to eat cornflakes for breakfast anymore, not being able to put his arms around the family anymore, having trouble swallowing, not being able to hold up his head anymore). This was the first seven years of the diary. Then after seven years he found this entry:
He writes that “in the midst of the man’s suffering, and their own anguish, his family was able to provide the strength and comfort that he needed in order to die gracefully.”
That is the kind of miracle I will be praying for.