Preston Yancey‘s writing is hypnotically good. Once you start reading, you can’t tear yourself away. As well as devouring his perspectives on theology and spirituality, I also hop over to his food blog, Coffee & Brown Butter from time to time, just to salivate. He’s American but I’m delighted to say we’ve borrowed him (St Andrew’s University). It’s a privilege to have this post here today – over to Preston:
After this long, you would think it would be easier to write about this.
She was diagnosed maybe fourteen years ago now—after a decade, numbers are harder to hold onto with clarity. (This is actually a defense mechanism. More on this to come.)
It was called something else then, if I remember, now it’s Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I have done the research, I have checked the symptoms, have studied the outline from Mayo Clinic Online that serves as a concise explanation of the after. (Everything about diagnosis is about the after. There is no prevention for this sort of thing, so you make do with coping. Coping, managing, quality of life. You will use these terms with liberal thrift for the first few years. Then some day you will find that you’ve stopped. It’s another year. What’s to say? You’ll arrange the flowers in the vase and bring the chicken out of the oven. The world, your world, on its tilt, spins on.)
I was writing about the symptoms. Mayo Clinic Online.
She’s described it as someone pouring gasoline on her flesh from head to toe and lighting a match while simultaneously taking a hammer to every one of her bones.
This is my mother.
This has been the past decade and some change of years. I think four.
This is a defense mechanism, only knowing so much. You’ll find it keeps you sane.
I was in sixth grade when I thought I heard God tell me that she would be healed on her birthday.
You’ll do this. You’ll look for important dates, for omens, for good signs. You’ll pick out likely intersections of Divine poetics and you’ll hedge bets around your hope.
And you’ll pray it out. You’ll pray out toward the date, because terminus is power. Definite end is easy to reach toward. Slouching toward conclusion, you can be a cripple the whole way knowing there is rest at the end.
But then it doesn’t come.
But then there is no terminus. There is no clarity.
There is a vague but profound feeling in you, in people you love, in people you trust, that healing is going to come in this life, but the details—the how, the when—are abstracts. And so where do you go, orphaned child, reaching out to all that is solid that has melted into air?
You try and know as little as possible. The less you know, the less you feel the potentiality of her pain. The less you are concerned with every bump in the road, every shake of a step.
You try and know as much as possible. The more you know, the more you feel the ability to control. The more you are concerned with every new medication and new treatment.
This is the first decade.
Afterward you have to do something else. You’ll go crazy otherwise.
And you stop praying.
I mean it.
You can’t pray for this about this in this by this through this—you stop.
But you tell no one. This is a defense mechanism too: other people don’t understand. They experience the pain by proxy, the romanticised version they think tells the whole story. To tell them you don’t pray for the healing anymore is to tell them you have given up on God.
They can’t understand that you’ve stopped praying for the healing because it’s all that’s keeping you still believing in God.
The Psalmist becomes at once wonderful and terrible in these times. You hate his or her conviction that God is truly present in the suffering, but you need it more than anything else.
The psalms serve as your prayers for a handful of years. Maybe you say nothing of healing. Maybe you say nothing of asking, but you are, in a way, through those psalms, you’re getting at it.
When you’re putting the flowers in the vase and taking the chicken from the oven, it will be the psalms that keep you from shattering the glass and throwing the chicken on the ground. You won’t know that explicitly until later, but in retrospect you’ll see it, and, in a way that seems impossible, you’ll see Him.
And you’ll pray again, directly, and you’ll round out the words a little bit more boldly than the first time with a little more grace for the timeline.
Until it hurts too much again and it’ll be back to the psalms, to the not praying praying, and you’ll find that He can walk in that, too.
You and your tilted world—His tilted world—it keeps spinning right along.
Preston Yancey is earning his Master of Letters in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts from the St. Mary’s School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He runs on a diet of caffeine and God’s grace. His first two books, Tables in the Wilderness: Scripture and the Enchanted Creation and A Common Faith: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again, are under representation with Darrell Vesterfelt and being written now. He blogs about the intersection of faith and his daily life at SeePrestonBlog.
Over to you:
- What defence mechanisms have you developed in the face of unanswered prayer or ongoing disappointment? Does reading the psalms help or hinder?
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