A Dying Brother-in-Law and My Thoughts

I have been thinking about suffering, prayer and death.

There is a part of me that has wrestled with how to pray for Delane. More and more I have just settled on “Save Delane” and let God work out what that means for Delane. I know what I wanted. I asked for it. But is what I wanted (restoration of health, restoration to his wife and children, to his family and work) the sort of salvation God is working out for Delane? Is Delane a co-worker in this? I don’t know the answers to these questions. So I just pray on my prayer rope that the Lord would have mercy on Delane, and through the intercessions of the most holy Theotokos, St. John the Wonderworker, St. Herman and St. Spyridon (whose feastday it was Sunday), Blessed Seraphim, and all the saints, that God would save Delane.

But the prayer I want answered is one that has involved more physical suffering for Delane. There is no one on whom I would wish Delane’s plight these past three and a half years. And yet, his family loves him, his wife and children need him, and we don’t want to let him go. But thus far, short of full restoration to health, our prayers have meant daily suffering for Delane.

Mind you, my wife and I are Christians. So we reject any and all pagan notions that any suffering is an unmitigated evil. But neither do we ask for it, nor embrace it apart from the permissive will of God. It is necessary for us to be brought to salvation through suffering. Why this is so will remain a mystery to us, at least until the Parousia, if not beyond. It is a terrible mystery, to be sure. And so we plead God’s mercy and grace, even as we recognize that in this awful darkness God’s good will cannot be frustrated from bringing good from evil.

It seems less clear in suffering than it is at other more blessed times, that God’s wisdom, goodness and power are so great that all things work together for the good of those who love him. Providence is for the Christian a blessed hope, an interpretive key, and the paradigm for faith. Still, we see through a glass darkly, and can only rest in the faith of Christ and his Church at these times. God knows my own faith is not enough.

But most of all I am thinking about dying. Delane’s death, yes, but mostly my own. I spoke with my priest about this on the drive back home last night. (What else would you speak with your priest about on the Ohio turnpike in a snowstorm?) I do not want to die outside the Orthodox Church, nor without having brought my family with me into the Church. Memento mori. It is a time-tested discipline. But not an easy one. It is too easy to say that one must live as though the next step would lead one into eternity. It is unutterably hard to do it.

“Batter my heart, three-personed God,” sings Donne. But I would rather God flirt–a playful, carefree “shave-and-a-haircut” suits my fancy much better. I’m with Eliot: “Humankind cannot bear much reality.” But here’s the reality: I’m not even guaranteed this moment. This now is not eternal. And each future moment may be the silent harbinger of my end, a now that will bring to cessation all my nows. Only God knows. “Teach me to number aright my days,” is the plea.

I’m tired and sleepy. I have a final exams and papers to grade. My wife is sick. Her brother is dying. And I’m confronted once again with the utter inability of human wisdom to confront death.

Pray for me a sinner.