Prayer Doesn’t Work…At Least In These Instances. How Asking God to Fix our Lousy Diets Is a Poor Strategy.
Sonja is hopping mad, and she’s also hopping sad. She hates feeling helpless.
Her godfather, a deeply religious man in his seventies, is in the hospital again. A few years back she lost her godmother to a traffic accident. She was T-boned at an intersection. The offender got off with a hand slap.
After a vehicular homicide.
What do you do?
Now her godfather, a great, strong, square block of a man, who recently presided at Sonja’s wedding, and whom I first met when he gave the eulogy at Sonja’s mother’s funeral just last summer, is bed-ridden.
“He won’t eat right. He just eats what he wants and then he prays. Like God is going to somehow make him better when he won’t be more careful with his diet.”
She’s furious. Not without reason. She lost her dad young. Then her godmother. Then her mother. More recently a beloved nephew committed suicide at 21. She’s lost too many family members. In this case, she feels as though it’s preventable. Because it likely is.
In fact she knows it is.
Sonja’s deeply devout. However, she is also very health-conscious. She leans more towards the notion that God helps those who help themselves, rather than hoping for Divine Intervention when too much good food (but not necessarily good for you food) begins to cause health problems.
Sonja loves her family, as well as all the many people she has drawn to herself. This was evident during the service at her mother’s funeral. The facility was packed with family, friends, community members, people from all over who came to honor her mother. And in many ways to honor Sonja, who had sat vigil with her mother for well over a year as her mother declined. Who visited daily, tending to endless details.
Her mother’s family was a cooking family, and a successful catering one as well. Great food is in the genes. Her family fed many of the stars who played in the bars, honkeytonks and popular venues during the heyday of Denver’s Harlem of the West.
In fact, her mother also performed with those bands. Those stars included Ray Charles, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, all of whom Sonja’s family fed after hours.
Family, food and faith are the cornerstones of Sonja’s life. For years, aunties and cousins would tut-tut about her tiny waist. Encourage her to eat more. Instead, Sonja ate carefully. She still does, which is why she’s in such great health as she homes in on sixty. She just got married. She plans to enjoy that, for a good long time.
Sonja stated flatly the other night that her deeply devout godfather will, if he wishes to live, have to completely revamp his life. His diet, his sedentary lifestyle. He won’t want to, either. It’s hard thing to try to convince someone in his seventies to reconsider his choices. His long-standing habits. She knows it, too, so when she said this, there was sadness in her voice.
I recall watching this powerful man walk with a bit of a limp when I last saw him. He didn’t look well, although he beamed with joy when he pronounced his goddaughter married.
FINALLY. You could see it on his face. She had found love and had settled down. Perhaps he believes his work is done. His wife gone, his goddaughter finally in love and happy.
But Sonja isn’t done loving him, nor are the rest of his brood. This man is a rock for them, against whom they have long leaned, into whose lap they have long laid their burdens, and in whom they have placed their faith. He is their Gibraltar, and the interpreter of God’s Word for the entire extended family.
This good man, for so many, has been their pillar. Perhaps he felt that in his belief in prayer, he could demonstrate the power of healing, even as his poor choices were causing great harm to his physical body. Only he knows. And his God.
While Sonja has formidable force of will, she cannot make her godfather take better care of herself. As with all those we love, we cannot do their work. At some point, all exhortations simply annoy. Interfere. At worse, they can make folks dig in their heels, in a pigheaded attempt to prove others wrong.
This is what makes Sonja so sad. She knows what her godfather has to do.
And she is helpless to do anything about it. So is God, in that sense. For we are given a body to care for so that we may live. For those who Believe, there are plenty of exhortations about how we might wish to treat what holds the sacred that we carry within us. I don’t have to be a Believer to understand the importance of valuing the physicality that we are lent this life to care for, in order that we might have a life in the first place, and then, to be of service to one another in the second place. It’s hard to be of service if we are eating ourselves sick.
The way I read it, the way I understand it, in this realm, the body is ours to use or abuse. When we respect it, and treat it well, we are thanking our Maker for the gift. If we don’t, well, I might posit that it’s like borrowing a brand-new book and giving it back dog-chewed, wet with coffee stains, the spine broken and pages missing. We will all age and diminish, but the way we do this is in and of itself a kind of prayer, a way of giving thanks to whatever Powers gave us life.
In the highest sense, her family can only offer what they have, and her godfather will do with it what he chooses. Including being sedentary, gaining far too much weight, and eating badly enough to cause him to be repeatedly hospitalized. And in the process, scaring the wits out of those who count on him and love him.
God can’t do anything about it either. No amount of prayer is going to change an outcome over which Sonja’s godfather has the greatest influence.
You can say that your Maker will save you all you like and glug bottle after bottle of Tequila, too. Unfortunately, the only likely outcome of that is also an early death. The real miracle is the choice not to drink in the first place.
I believe in the power of prayer, although it would be fair to say that how I do that and to Whom are fundamentally different from Sonja’s family. What I try to do is humble myself in the face of the Universe. Usually I’m asking for greater wisdom and the strength to deal with what lands on my plate. As for what I put on my plate, God can’t do much about that.
It pains me to see my beloved friend in pain. It’s worse knowing that this good and Godly man can choose, at any time, to take better care of himself, which would allow those who care deeply about him and depend a great deal on him to continue that relationship. I want to see him at future family gatherings. We all do.
If he prays for better discipline, to help him make better choices, that might well work. I sincerely hope it does.
That would indeed be a miracle. And I hope he, and all of Sonja’s family, get one.