Night Prayers

I want to tell you about a man named Frank. I met him one afternoon during my rounds as a chaplain. He was in his mid-60s, recently retired from a sizeable farm in an outlying area. He’d spent years respecting Mother Nature’s patterns while enduring Congress’ whims through booms and busts in growing corn and soybeans and raising cattle.

Our friendly conversations were about his farm and family, two topics that were inseparable to him. He liked sports and we hashed over the local team’s every decision made during the previous Sunday’s game. Since it was my job to be with people where they were, we never talked about faith or God because that wasn’t a prominent part of his life. He didn’t have any issues with God, it’s just that he had been busy farming and raising a family to connect to his Creator.

The test results didn’t put together a good picture. Veins in one of his lower legs were causing serious problems, problems that had been ignored far too long. Doctors recommended surgery with the grim possibility of amputation. The final decision couldn’t be made until the doctor was operating. Frank wouldn’t know whether he’d have all or any of his leg until he woke up from the anesthesia. For a man who’d been physically active his entire life, the chance of having that taken away was a crippling crisis.

When I saw Frank’s name on the operating room schedule for the following day, I stopped by his room. Our earlier talks about family, farming and football helped him bring up the topic of faith and his need for it at that moment. He was asking a lot of questions for which there were no answers. He didn’t know how to consent to surgery when it meant the end of life as he’d always known it. He wasn’t a praying man, he said. Would I help him out by praying for him?

I prayed on Frank’s behalf that afternoon, offering to God what he wanted to say but didn’t think he knew how or if he even had the right to ask. As I left his room that afternoon, I asked him if I could come back later that night. I was doing a 36-hour shift and would be the house chaplain over night. He seemed to like the idea and said to stop back at any time, that I’d know where to find him.

It was near midnight before I had the chance again to see him again. As expected, the television was on. He was awake and restless. He gestured for me to sit beside him and we talked for awhile about his surgery and what the range of possibilities might mean for him. There were long pauses as Frank mentally rehearsed a different sort of life from the one he’d known.

He asked me to pray for him again, taking my hand like a man drowning in overwhelming emotions. I’d barely uttered an opening to our prayer when Frank took over. With boldness born of urgency, he poured out a lifetime of prayers in that single instance. He didn’t ask “why me?” Rather, he asked for help in living out “how?” From the depths of his being he cried out that he wanted what God wanted, even if that meant losing all or part of his leg. It was a prayer that moved us into the holy of holies. When Frank had said everything to God that he needed to say, he lay back against the hospital bed. His face was bright, his eyes sparkled. He was filled with visible, profound peace.

The next morning I saw him in the holding area just before his surgery. He motioned for me to come over to the gurney. After introducing me to his wife and adult children, he reached out for my hand and thanked me for praying for him earlier because he could accept whatever happened that day. That unmistakable peace he had at midnight remained through the early morning hours. I reminded him that it was his prayer, in the dark night of crisis, that had been answered.

This would be a nicer story if I could say that the doctors were able to spare Frank’s leg. They could not. He lost the lower half of his right leg. He remained in the hospital for a couple of weeks while his leg healed. He was fitted with a prosthesis and learned to get around well. Although he had hard moments in adjusting, he not only coped with the situation, but seemed to thrive in the midst of it.

What he never lost was a deep well of peace that he discovered had been with him throughout his life. It was a treasure hidden in the middle of the night.

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