I knelt on the tile floor of our hotel room at the Ronald McDonald house a few blocks from the hospital. “Dear God, please save my son. Dear God, please save my son.” I didn’t know what else to pray—or do.
Weeks before, doctors whisked away my first-born from the operating room after an emergency C-section. I waited in post-op for the nurses to bring him in.
Instead, a guy in green scrubs appeared and said words I don’t remember, then left me with a barren womb and empty arms. They needed to transfer my baby Kavin to another hospital.
I felt sideswiped by God.
Almost a decade earlier, I left a promising career in corporate America to serve in vocational ministry and was willing to do whatever he asked. But this? Really?
My faith started to numb like my legs that lay motionless from anesthesia. Who was this God I claimed to worship that permits my baby to suffer? No. I cannot follow God in this.
Mentally stepping in the non-God direction startled me with anxiety. I turned back and imagined myself placing my forehead in the middle of God’s chest, his arms wrapped around me, while pounding the sides of my fists against him. I hate this, God. I hate this, God. Why would you let this happen?
He held me. And I wept.
In the minutes, days, weeks that followed, prayer became my breath. Kavin’s diaphragm pushed his intestines into his lung cavity, leaving him with a fifty-fifty chance of survival. I couldn’t fix, heal, hold, nurse, or comfort my baby. All I could do was pray—and pump breast milk like a dairy cow.
On one such occasion, as I sat like a human heifer in the NICU pump room, I relinquished control and sang in lowing tune, “I surrender all. I surrender all. All to you my precious savior, I surrender all.” And then I prayed again for God to save my son.
In the darkness of repeated desperate prayers, I wondered how God listens. Does he categorize them or just soak them all in? How was God hearing the cries of my soul, the pages upon pages of journaled petitions, the hundreds of Facebook messages of praying friends?
Dr. Constable in his work Talking to God wrote, “God never rebukes the sincere questions of believers when they struggle to trust Him.” Praying in uncertain hope for my son’s healing became an act of struggled trust.
Even though the details of how prayer functions lay in misted mystery—glimpses of its power showed up in concrete details. Like my mentor texting a friend to pray for Kavin—and that friend seeing the text while holding onto Kavin’s bed in the ambulance as his nurse. Or the psalm I read during one of my knees-on-tile prayer sessions seen tattooed on someone’s arm the next day. Or the name of Kavin’s nurse on the morning of scheduled surgery: Grace.
They scheduled surgery for ten days after birth. My husband and I believed God would heal him. So we ordered one last x-ray on the morning of surgery, hoping to witness a miracle. The black and white image showed the fussy looped mess in his chest.
Was our faith too weak? I don’t think so. I really believed the x-ray would show God healed Kavin miraculously. But even in the Gospels, Jesus chose not to heal everyone everywhere. Jesus stopped here and there to heal people, but there probably remained many who believed he could heal—left unhealed.
I believe he heard our prayers. I believe God healed my son through the many prayers offered in faith by using medical professionals and divine aide. But the healing came slowly—actually nine years later, the healing is still in process as we shuffle from doctor to doctor, grasping at strings of possibilities.
As we walked out of the NICU one day and one month after his birth, a nurse ran up to me and said, “I will miss you guys. Your prayers really worked.”
I looked at her, smiled, and said, “It’s not our prayers that healed him, it’s who we pray to. We pray to Jesus.” I know, I sounded like a cheesy Christian movie, but I actually said that.
Maybe I over-simplified. She probably saw many babies prayed for in Jesus’s name who died. Maybe prayer is more mystery than precision after all, but her confidence that prayer saved our son grew my faith—in prayer and in God—and helped me embrace the mystery.
Cover photo by Andrew Neel.