For my whole life, I thought I believed in God. Then my mother got a death sentence… cancer. I didn’t pray for her recovery although I knew others did, they told me so. Personally I felt that if I was to ask God for a favor, shouldn’t it be larger in scope like “Can you please cure cancer in general?” or even “Can you please cure all diseases and afflictions, medical and otherwise like greed and corruption so poverty and hunger will cease to exist, and please, God, while you’re at it, can you just prevent all suffering across the board? You are God, so is it really too much to ask?”
Apparently so, and that’s why I didn’t bother with praying, but I still believed, in God that is.
The sicker my mom got, the closer she was to her death, the more that clergy visited. It was my aunt’s idea, a long-time church-goer, and I agreed, because I believed they would bring comfort.
They did not. Instead they each made my mother cry when they insisted she accept Jesus as her personal savior in order to secure admission into Heaven. My mother didn’t want to die and they were reminding her that she was about to.
One of these clergy left me with some advice, “Don’t blame Jesus.” Five years later I still don’t understand what she meant.
After my mother took her last breath, none of these clergy returned. I expected with the knowledge of my family’s loss that there would be an outpouring of comfort from those who I believed were supposed to be administering it. This was not the case.
The people who assured me that I was in their prayers never came around. In fact it was the people who didn’t pray (at least to Jesus), who couldn’t pray, who never mentioned praying that comforted me the most.
Among those was a stranger, an Orthodox Jew on a subway train who got my attention, addressed my eyes and said quietly, reverently, “Things will get better.”
It was my sister who, despite a diagnosis of “profoundly mentally retarded”,
extended her delicate hand to mine one grim afternoon and allowed me to break down and sob, convulse really, until there was nothing left to do but be still.
It was an estranged neighbor who after witnessing that white van haul off my mother’s body, continues to come around weekly just to check in.
And it was my father, who learned Photoshop by cutting and pasting pictures of my beautiful mother near the Eifel Tower, on white sandy beaches, shopping in colorful foreign bazaars and said, “Look at all the places she’s going!”
It was the grace of small offerings that consoled me and diminished any bitterness that threatened to engulf my spirit.
I once believed in God, but now I believe in grace and if in the future I find that God is a part of grace then I will again believe in him too.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.