Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What prayer for an old man?

My dad had a heart attack last week.

If you're going to have a heart attack, it's best to have it in Oak Bay, where you're just a 3-iron shot away from Royal Jubilee Hospital -- one of the best ticker wards in the country. In fact, it was because of mom's heart attack in 1988 -- which happened while they were house-sitting for a friend in Esquimalt -- that they made the decision to sell their condo in West Vancouver and buy a place in Oak Bay. But that's another story.

Dad had a "significant" heart attack, and it reached the point last Wednesday where the medical team -- three earnest young doctors and a cardiologist -- discussed the situation with dad, Amelia, me and dad's neighbour Gail, and told us flat-out that there was a very real possibility that dad could take a bad turn. Noting the "do not resuscitate" instruction on his Living Will, they wanted to confirm that that was, indeed, dad's wish. It was.

Today, I've been informed that dad would likely be released from hospital in about a week and allowed to go home. On Monday, the nurse told us that his signs were definitely improving: his heart rate was stabilizing (although he'd had an irregular rhythm during the night, so they added a blood thinner to his medication); his blood pressure, while still on the low side, was climbing again; his kidneys, which had been failing, were making a comeback. There was definite cause for optimism on our part, and the fact that he was being moved out of Coronary Care into a "general" ward suggests the doctors think so, too.

Through it all, people have been praying. My circle of friends is very steeped in faith -- the faith for healing and also the faith that leads one to seek God in all circumstances, regardless of whether they "look good" at the time or not. My son Aidan, for example, is very much a word-faith type: speak the positive and expect the positive -- your words frame your world. On Wednesday, after the medical team had given us The Talk, Aidan declared confidently, "it's not his time yet".

Back in Vancouver from spending time with dad in Victoria, I spent time with the Lord. I felt I had to pray something, but what? Really: what do you pray when an 87-year-old man has a heart attack? If you believe we're generally allotted 70 years, anything beyond that is gravy and grace, so what if this is his time? Do I pray for healing and complete recovery and basically set myself against God's will? I'm praying for my will, but that's not what we're supposed to be praying for.

Aha! I thought: dad's worst fear is that he won't be able to go home again (while in hospital, he's talked of little besides going home and being in his garden and tending to his bees) and that he'll have to go into a "home" -- or should I say, retirement centre for seniors with healthy, active lifestyles?

Right: I'll pray for that. After all, dad's been so fiercely independent all his life, that going into a "home" would kill him -- pun intended. And that's where the Lord stepped in. "How do you know that's not My will?" And then He left me to think it over.

Why would it be God's will for dad to go into a retirement home? Perhaps to give him the chance to allow others to care for him. Perhaps to let him know that fierce independence is highly over-rated -- and leads to broken hips and nervous neighbours (and family members). Perhaps to let him know that it's Quite All Right to rely on others.

Or maybe God has something else up His sleeve. I got to thinking about Hezekiah, whose near-death experience is written up no fewer than three times in the Bible: 2 Kings 20, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 38-39 (which tells me there's a pretty significant "take-away" here). Having heard a prophecy that he was about to die, Hezekiah prayed that he would go on living; God heard his prayer and gave him another 15 years.

But Scripture also tells us that Hezekiah did not "render according to the benefits he received" and that God's anger came on him. Moreover, in his pride, Hezekiah showed off his worldly goods and treasures to total strangers from Babylon, and Isaiah prophesied that all of those goods would be carried off to -- where else? -- Babylon.

So somewhere along the line, Hezekiah blew it. He had been walking according to God's ways, and spoke of that in his prayer to live longer. But once granted that prayer, his "heart was lifted up" (2 Chr. 32:25), which is an expression meaning he was overtaken by pride, and he did not do ..... something in keeping with the Grace God had shown him.

What Hezekiah was supposed to do isn't clear, but we can see that God was keeping Hezekiah around for a reason, and that reason was not because He liked Hezekiah's face.

God has His reasons for keeping us all around and for the Grace He grants us in other ways. Do we render according to that benefit, or do we, like Hezekiah, become prideful and take our eyes off Him?

This evening, as I was walking in the West End, I saw a young woman nearly buy the farm before my eyes. She was engrossed in a conversation on her cell phone, and stepped off the curb right into the path of a car. Perhaps the car was further away than it appeared from my angle, but it certainly looked close. The car stopped and she continued crossing, hardly missing a beat in her phone call.

Does she have any inkling, I wonder, of the grace she had just been given? Or would she simply think -- if she thought about it at all -- that she was "lucky", and keep on with whatever she had been doing? God grants us grace of additional years more often than we might think. Do we take advantage of that grace to serve Him better?

So what prayer for an 87-year-old man? That he would receive the grace of additional years of life and then, having received that, seek the Lord for the reasons why he should get that grace and pursue them.

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