Sunday morning, July 2, 2018, started routinely. My husband and I decided to attend church with my dad, an hour and a half away.
Even though Dad was 92, he regularly drove himself to church. That Sunday, though, his car wasn’t at church when we arrived. An usher said the Sunday school teacher was concerned: Dad hadn’t answered his phone, and a classmate was thinking of going to investigate. My heart sank—he hadn’t answered the night before, either, but I hadn’t worried because it was past his usual bedtime. Speeding to his house, we found the door open and through the screen I saw my dad lying unconscious on the kitchen floor.
Miraculously, he survived his fall (which doctors suspected was caused by a light stroke). He was bruised but had no broken bones. After rehab, he wanted to return home, so I quit my job and hired helpers. However, after another fall and more trips to the ER, I was overwhelmed and his doctors recommended a long-term care facility. The paperwork and “what ifs” were staggering. I felt terribly alone and prayer, it seemed, bounced off the ceiling.
I was also angry. What purpose could God have in keeping Dad around to become increasingly frustrated by physical limitations? Although he settled into the nursing home and I was glad to have round-the-clock care for him, I also knew he had hoped never to be there.
One day when Dad had been at the nursing home for a few months, my son accompanied me to visit him. Luke was going through his own tough time: a recent college graduate, working a get-by job, he had fallen and broken his arm—not the easiest thing for a concert violinist. Dad noticed the arm sling and asked what had happened. Luke tried to make light of it, but it occurred to me we should ask Dad to pray for Luke’s upcoming surgery.
With Luke at Dad’s bedside, I said, “Dad, Luke needs surgery to help his arm heal properly. Would you pray?” A frail hand reached out to grasp Luke’s. As Dad prayed, the Holy Spirit’s presence was almost tangible. Powerful intercession poured from lips that only minutes earlier could barely say “Good morning.”
As he prayed, I began to recall the many times he had been faithful to pray, and his prayers had made a difference. There was the missionary who had narrowly escaped a terrible accident at precisely the time Dad was awakened in the night to pray. There was the cousin who woke from a coma as Dad interceded in prayer, allowing him to hear the gospel one more time from a hospital chaplain and accept Jesus. During layoffs at the factory where Dad worked, he called our family together to pray, and God provided.
I was starting to see Dad’s purpose for living wasn’t yet over. I made a point of sharing other prayer requests from family and friends, and a nurse told me that he had even offered to lead prayer for the residents’ meal. And a few days after Dad’s prayer for Luke, not only was Luke’s surgery successful but he received a good offer to move forward with his career.
A few weeks later, though, I again got the call, “We’re taking your dad to ER.” A cough had escalated into pneumonia. Sitting by the hospital bed, watching him struggle to breathe, I thought, “This is it,” and began texting grandkids. Not only was Dad feverish, he was hallucinating. His bed was a car; we were lost in a snowstorm with no place to stay; my deceased stepmother was with us and apparently I was driving. I listened helplessly as Dad cried out, “Can’t you find a hotel? We need to get out of this!”
The thought came, “Tell him to pray.”
“Seriously? The man is out of his mind!”
But leaning over the bed, I said, “I don’t know what to do, Dad. Why don’t you pray?”
Dad prayed. His prayer didn’t make much sense to me—he still thought we were lost and was praying for us to safely find shelter—but a calm presence filled the room. He settled down and slept. And I began to think. Even in such weakness, his prayer brought peace. His years of faithfully turning to God, regardless of circumstances, had become a comfort that did not depend on specific words or even cognitive reasoning.
Is God having trouble raising up a new generation to pray like that? What if my dad has to stick around when he’d like to move on to heaven, because I’m not stepping up to pray like I should?
I knew what I needed to do. I prayed. I asked God for renewed fervor and new sensitivity to his prompting, along with his perfect timing and provision for my dad.
I still don’t understand everything about prayer. I’m realizing prayer isn’t a vending machine where you put in the right words and out comes the candy. Rather, it’s a powerful connection to the One who knows all, sees all, and works all for good. Broken hearts, failing minds, or frail bodies don’t break that connection, and that’s why Jesus taught his followers to do it.
One thing’s for sure, Dad wouldn’t want me to worry about things. He would, however, want me to pray. Through decades of hardship and happiness, sunshine and shadow, prayer has kept his faith strong, and now, even as his body weakens, his prayers are powerful. As long as he has any strength, he will be praying. And when he’s gone, Lord, help me to follow his example and keep on praying.