(updated) Learning today from Rachel Held EvansApril 30, 2019
Update: On Saturday, May 4, Rachel Held Evans passed from this life into life eternal. With her family and friends, I grieve. You need only Google her name to understand just how influential a woman she was. You have only to consider that her children are 3 and not yet 1 to realize just how awful a loss her death is. I pray for her husband, parents, kids and friends and I count her life a gift that will continue to bear fruit.
Here is what I wrote on April 30th:
We’ve only met once and only then briefly. We disagree on many things. But today, I am learning a lot from Rachel Held Evans as she continues in a medically induced coma. I am reminded that:
People are precious;
Health is fragile, relative and can change in an instant;
Medicine is still a practice;
We are not in control, feel powerless and want desperately to do something to help;
The burden to pray is real;
The future is unknown and the suspense is sometimes weighty; and
Life goes on (and we feel strangely guilty about that).
If you don’t know Rachel Held Evans she is a sister in Christ, wife, mother of two young kids and currently hospitalized in a medically induced coma as doctors seek to find the cause – and develop a treatment plan – for sudden seizures. That quest for answers continues as do the prayers of many – family, friends, followers and fans.
I have been under a conviction to pray ardently for Rachel, her family and the doctors involved. I have stood in my kitchen and drawn my husband into prayers while cooking dinner. I have slid from my chair to my knees in the middle of the day and I have awakened to pray in the middle of the night. I have never prayed for another person under the weight of conviction with which I now pray for a woman I know more by writings and reputation than actual relationship. It is strange – and yet seems perfectly normal and without question the right thing to do. I am praying with confidence that God intends to glorify Himself in and through all of this – even as I do not pretend to know the outcome. I am praying for a miracle even as acknowledge that her life – as my life – is in God’s hands.
As I have prayed, God has brought a number of truths into focus. I share them here as fodder for your own prayers.
People are precious
Whether or we agree or disagree at particular points of theological discourse, people – each person and every person – is precious in God’s sight. God knows Rachel. He formed her in her mother’s womb. She is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). God knows the number of hairs on her head (Matthew 10:30) and the number of the days allotted for her life (Job 14:5-7). God knows the same of you and me. People are precious.
Health is fragile, relative and can change in an instant
Accidents, natural disasters, unexplained illness, acts of violence by others – every day we learn of high school friends, neighbors, acquaintances and strangers whose life is cut short or radically changed. I remember answering the phone when I was 15 and learning that my dad, who was only 43, had died. I remember when John David died in a car accident. I remember what my sister sounded like trying to get the words out of her mouth that her youngest child had been diagnosed with leukemia. I remember the moment I learned that my cousin’s husband had died of Lassa fever on the mission field. I remember the friend who called to say, “There’s been an accident. You need to come home.” I remember learning that my best friend from Seminary had had a stroke and I remember the look in the doctor’s eyes when I told him I had suddenly developed double vision. Health is fragile, relative and can change in an instant.
Medicine is still a practice
Doctors are doing their best but the truth is, much remains a mystery. Even with all that we can see through various tests and imagining and diagnostic techniques, there are some things that only God yet knows. The limits of medicine remind us that we are finite and fallen and that we still need the Great Physician to help us discern and discover truth beyond our current limits.
We are not in control, feel powerless and want desperately to do something to help
I don’t know anything that makes me feel more vulnerable than the doctor’s office. Rarely do we feel so exposed in every way. But sitting alongside another hurting human who is suffering and for whom I can do nothing more than hold a hand and pray – there I feel most human. Most human in my finitude. Must human in my inadequacy. Most human in my desperation. Most human in my need for God to be God, show up and do what only God can do: heal.
The burden to pray is real
If you’ve experienced the spiritual burden of prayer for a particular person or place or situation then you know the burden to pray is real. If you are not familiar with the burden of prayer it is as if the Spirit has called you alongside to intercede – it is unexplainable other than to say it is a God-given persistent personal spiritual concern. At times it is accompanied with a sense of foreboding but it is always what I would call a holy concern. Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul each offer examples of faithful intercession for others and if you ask, you’ll find many Christians who have prayed under a burden for different concerns in different seasons.
The future is unknown and the suspense is sometimes weighty
The future is secure in Christ but between the already and the not yet lies the meantime – and here in the meantime the suspense of the unknown weighs upon us. Praying for Rachel has reminded me of just how utterly unknown tomorrow is. God alone knows the future and I must trust Him by faith to be faithful to His own good and gracious character. So, in light of the future which is unknown, I cling to the God who knows – and in Him I find peace in the midst of great travail and in the long shadows of the valleys through which we walk together in this life.
Life goes on (and we feel strangely guilty about that)
In the face of all this stands faith – and those who stand by faith stand by precious people whose health is fragile and who are subjected to the tests and attempts of many doctors to bring a cessation of symptoms and a restoration of health. We stand in faith acknowledging that God is sovereign, even when we do not understand what is going on and we appeal to Him as the Great Physician, Healer and source of all Hope to usher in the future filled with hope for this one for whom we pray. And as we wait and grieve, we do so in the confident hope of God’s mercy, goodness and grace acknowledging that life is a gift of God – and that which is His to give is also His to take unto Himself for His glory.
I have never had a seizure. I have never been in a medically induced coma. I do not know what Rachel is experiencing right now. I do know God and the power of miraculous healing. I expect Rachel to teach us much and I, for one, am not ashamed to admit that I am learning from her even now. The things about which we have disagreed pale in comparison to the shared confidence we have in Jesus Christ our Lord. Pray with me for Rachel today that God may yet choose to glorify Himself by healing her.
May 7th, a Mornings with Carmen listener in Kansas City wrote:
I was so touched by your message about Rachel Held Evans that I feel compelled to respond.
I met you …in Overland Park and at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church a few weeks back. At that time, Ann, my dear wife of 49 1/2 years, was in the last stages of a rare form of FTD dementia called primary progressive aphasia, and subsequently, the Lord called her home on March 18. My burden of prayer for and with Ann began 7 years ago with “Lord, somehow be glorified in this!”
In the days following Ann’s passing, the Lord reached into my grief and showed me how He had kept His promises as He brought Ann home. The attached devotional for Cornerstone reflects my thoughts and feelings in some detail, but the most surprising thing is how I feel closer to Ann now than ever before – she’s with Jesus eternally and I’m with Jesus eternally – her dementia clouds have all rolled away – she is her true smiling, amazing bearer of God’s image
My prayer for Rachel’s family and friends is that they allow the Holy Spirit to show them His faithful answers to prayers and her ultimate healing. That realization has meant everything to me. God must have something especially powerful in store for Rachel’s family, and especially her small children. I pray that is how He will glorify Himself as he protects them and nurtures them along the way.
To Barry and to all those who walk the valley with the Good Shepherd today, I say, Amen.