My friends are in pain. Family members have died. One has an incapacitating autoimmune disease. Another has breast cancer. Yet another has a confounding set of symptoms and no diagnosis.
More than I can count have depression.
One morning while I was praying for a friend who was going through an unusually painful flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis, I considered how fortunate I am that my own illnesses, though varied and occasionally painful, are not debilitating.
This isn’t fair. Why should I get off easy? Lord, take some of her pain and put it on me. I can take—
Have you ever had the Spirit just cut you off in the middle of a prayer? Just nope, you’re not allowed to pray that one.
The same Spirit who will intercede for us when we don’t know how to pray, will also tell us when our prayers are inappropriate.
The same God who says “my grace is sufficient for you” also says “my grace is sufficient for your friend.” When the pain can’t be taken away, God nevertheless gives us the fortitude to endure it. Or, as one of my friends put it recently, he carries you through it.
I believe very firmly that prayer is effective. Earlier this year, on a day I was scheduled to teach, I had a blistering headache. My headaches are frequent, related to my osteoarthritis—they start in my neck and work their way up to my head and into my shoulder and back. They usually rate a four or five on a scale of ten. I rarely let them keep me down, and I have several medications of varying power I can take singly or in combination for them. The problem is that when the headache goes to eleven, the drug combination that will knock it down to a manageable level also makes it unsafe for me to drive. So I couldn’t take that until after I got home from class.
I put a prayer request on Facebook requesting that I get enough relief to be able to teach. I put a hot pack on my neck and continued preparing for class. By the time I got to the church, I was still in pain, but it had come down from eleven to about maybe an eight. Several people there had seen my note and asked how I was doing. “Better.”
While I was teaching, in the midst of serving the church with my gift, I have no memory of pain.
Mind you, when I got home, the heavy hitters came out.
I fully believe that the prayers of my friends and the power of the Spirit got me through that evening. But I know God wouldn’t punish my friends by transferring my pain to them, just as he wouldn’t put their pain on me.
He took it on himself.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.— Romans 8:26 (NRSV)