Saturday, June 11, 2011
Prayer and the Kingdom of the Worried Parent
I looked at his eyes and saw a reflection two thousand or hundreds of thousands of years old. I saw my reflection. I wore a similar look at another Ronald McDonald House not long before.
My son, right after turning one, had to go through seven hour brain and skull surgery to fix a genetic fault that left his brain pushing out his eye. I knew the fatigue that comes doing nothing but being at the hospital, the fatigue that comes from worry over the fear of death, not mine, but my son. Powerlessness describes what it means to be human, but we have gotten good at hiding this fact. My son’s biology had taught me this truth. After we came home, I felt the need to be with others going through the same pain. We went to serve out of my being with my own weakness.
I talk my church to serve dinner at Ronald McDonald House once a month. Since being a citizen of the Kingdom of sick children isolates parents, we were there to be with others. I wanted my church to offer an ear and a presence. We were not there simply to do for others, but to be with one another. We were transformed by the experience, but not without struggle.
The first few times we went to serve dinner, I found a problem. People want to help, but they found it easy to do for others. They wanted to cook the hot meal, served with a smile, but they wanted to wait to eat and eat among themselves. The path of a waiter, professionalism, makes for an easy childhood fort easy to defend, a good way to avoid being with another. I wanted them to eat with the parents, being with the parents and give the parents a place to put their story. Cook mac and cheese was easier. Hearing a story and being powerless to changed the outcome of the children left the church crew uncomfortable.
The first night we grilled brats and burgers. When the food came out, I went to call my wife to see how our son was doing. I came back to the crew in the kitchen, and the parents out at the tables. I scattered the crew out to sit with the worried parents, to enter into the Kingdom of sick children.
Hearing their stories of babies the size coke cans, stories of cancer, stories of mysterious aliments both scared the group and made them come alive. We slowly learned to share our own stories. Most of had stories of hurting children in the hospital. The families needed people to walk with them. Only be leading with our own stories could we learn to pray with them.
When I saw his eyes, I remember the days of praying at the hospital, doing nothing but looking at my son. I remember hating people call us brave, of saying that children were resilient, of listening between the words of doctors looking for clues to the fate of my son. Yes, I understood the temptation to punch some do-gooder in the mouth for wanting credit for serving some hot food.
“I hated those long days of doing nothing at the hospital. It’s exhausting.” I said to him.
“Yeah, it sucks.” He answered. He suddenly realized that I was a citizen of worried parent land. “What was wrong with you kid?”
We exchanged stories, the currency of love. I said I could not fathom what it was like to have a teenage son lose half his right leg. He said thanks. He said that the boy was getting good on his crutches. We prayed and then parted. I had to finish the stir-fried chicken. Food is important. For a moment we were with each other. For a moment our burdens were shared.
Later, my now two year toddler almost tripped his sixteen year old. His son, indeed, was quick and agile with his crutches. My son was singing the wheels on the bus, when he tried to hold the missing leg. I apologized for my son’s action. He said to think nothing of it. Two sons, two fathers painted the scene. Somehow love prayed for us when we couldn’t and then we could be with each other.