A 3 a.m. Insight into Prayer
Actually it was 3:36 a.m. this morning. I woke up for a quite natural reason, and glanced at the night clock display on my charging phone as I lay me back down to sleep: 3:36 a.m. At that very moment new insight into prayer and prayer requests instantly came to mind. I had been thinking about writing this post today, and about the real usefulness of a lot of detail in prayer requests. In the past I have taught as I was taught, that according to biblical instruction on prayer and after the example of many biblical prayers, we should pray “specifically” and “intelligently.” Specific and detailed prayer requests help us follow the biblical instructions and examples. The principles are solidly founded biblically.
But questions about why this should be so have long niggled at me. Certainly when we bring a lot of specificity and background to our prayer requests we’re not telling God anything he doesn’t know. He knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8). And I know that we too often have not because we ask not (James 4:2), but at the same time I can’t feature the Lord I know capriciously holding back on a praying person because they haven’t managed to name the one truly needful thing in their praying. The Bible also teaches that the Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26).
At 64 years old, at 3:36 a.m., here’s the insight that came to me (you may have known this for a long time, but your pastor, if that’s what I am to you, just came around to it). I know that hundreds of people are praying for me; sincerely, faithfully, repeatedly, consistently, daily, and in some cases more than daily. Dozens have told me so, and the look in their eyes or the tone of their emails and notes lets me know that they are not just expressing concern in Christianese – they are really praying for me, a lot. The insight that came was that if they only pray, “Lord, heal Pastor Chris of his cancer,” the sincere pray-ers are just not yet satisfied lobbying the throne of grace on my behalf. Even if they add prayers for the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), and other related requests they have heard me mention or which come to mind, they want to pray more. If I might be so bold to suggest it, love won’t be fully satisfied with a single sentence “bless all the missionaries” kind of prayer. They want to pray the big issues, and also the smaller daily ones. They want to pray the big picture, but they also want to thank the Lord for the daily blessings, and lift up requests for the present needs. So my insight was that it isn’t about informing the Lord, or the Lord holding back on us until we specifically hit upon the request he will answer, but about the pray-er’s desire to fully pour out his or her heart before the Lord for someone they care deeply about. If you are reading this, you surely must be one of those pray-ers, and I thank you again from my heart.
So here are some blessings for which we have prayed. Yesterday’s bloodwork was “perfect” according to Dr. Devore. Lab results from my blood don’t tell us anything about the cancer, but they do reveal how well I am handling the chemotherapies which do not discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells. There was nothing in my lab results that indicated a needed or impending change in current chemotherapies, so it’s full speed ahead. Dr. Devore was also pleased with the receding original symptoms that led to my diagnosis in the first place – the persistent cough that has all but disappeared, as well as the feeling of food “sticking” half-way down so that I felt the need to “wash it down” with drink. I was hoping this was an indication that the tumor in my esophagus is shrinking and presenting less of an obstruction, and the doc agreed that such is likely the case. We’ll know for sure with the CT scan before my fourth 21-day round of treatments in about a month and a half. The doctor was even pleased with my recent weight-gain. Since my diagnosis on February 7, I had probably lost about 20 pounds. The cancer itself may have contributed to that, certainly the emotional impact of the diagnosis wasn’t good for the appetite, and neither was the nausea after my first intravenous treatment. I’ve been wanting to lose those 20 for a long time, but the sharp trajectory was a concern to me, and during my week off from all chemotherapies when I was feeling so good I ate whatever and however much I wanted. Yesterday I weighed 9 pounds heavier than the previous weigh in! The first thing Dr. Devore said when he walked into the exam room was, “You’re getting fat on me!,” adding that for most doctors that is a scolding, but he was fine with it. Still – nine pounds! I think I had better dial it back a bit.
Now the requests for the next week or so. I got my second intravenous treatment yesterday, this time about five hours worth. Dr. Devore didn’t like the level or duration of nausea with my first round of treatments, so he added a new intravenous anti-nausea medicine (although I opined that two days of rough nausea and a few more days of queasiness certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker for me if the chemo was doing me good). He also prescribed an anti-nausea patch, which I am to use only if needed. He is hopeful that these adjustments will eliminate the nausea. That would be nice, and a nice blessing from the Lord. With the first round the really rough days were the third and fourth days after treatment, which this time around would be tomorrow and the next day.
Certain other side effects of one particular chemotherapy I am taking are immediate, and can have a cumulative increase over time that could eventually force discontinuation even if it is still proving effective against the cancer. One is a very strange tactile hypersensitivity in the fingers, hands, and feet (a feature of neuropathy). After my first intravenous treatment, this lasted for about a week. I am wearing gloves now when alone (don’t want to weird people out), just to avoid the unpleasant thrill of inadvertently grabbing a door knob or hand rail, taking something out of the fridge, or even resting my hand on a countertop. Neuropathy can worsen with continuing treatments and even get to the point of not being able to hold a pen to write. Please pray that it will remain manageable for me.
There is also a hypersensitivity to cold food and drink, especially drink. Anything colder than room temperature feels uncomfortably cold and prickly on the back of the throat. By the end of my “week off,” I could bear a little ice in my drink, which was nice, but the symptom comes back with a vengeance with the first drip of one of my chemotherapies. The nurse warned me that if I really overdo it and accidentally take a big swallow of something too cold, it will feel like that “freezing your throat” thing that everybody knows, except that it will last a few minutes instead of a few seconds. Yikes! This symptom can also graduate into mouth sores that feel like a scalded mouth and make eating and drinking next to impossible, and necessitate discontinuing that particular chemotherapy, even if it is still proving effective against the cancer itself. Not everybody gets the mouth sores, so pray that I won’t, at least while the chemo is doing me good otherwise.
The fourth side-effect that may worsen is lingering pain in the veins that actually receive one of the intravenous chemotherapies. In both my first round and yesterday’s second round of intravenous treatments, pain from the needle in my hand reached up to my elbow by the time I got out of the chair, and it also lingers for about a week. The nurse informs me that this symptom tends to worsen and spread with continued treatments, and can also necessitate quitting that particular chemotherapy, even if otherwise effective. Pray that this also will remain a bearable side-effect, at least while the chemotherapy is working well against the cancer.
Have you every read an obituary that used a phrase like, “after a courageous 5-year battle with cancer,” or some such? I’m still praying for healing, and I know you are too and I am glad for it, but I’m starting to understand what those phrases mean, or could. Thanks again so much for your love and your prayers.