I had never witnessed death knocking at the door of someone’s life before. I was also very clueless as to how ugly and cruel death could be.
It all happened rather quickly. In a matter of a few months, we went from receiving the news of cancer, to gathering as a family to say goodbye. The trajectory of events was a bizarre one for me. To start, I was in complete denial of the gravity of the matter from the get-go. I reasoned that he was a strong man that would beat this monster in no time. I knew many people who had fought the same battle, and with the help of chemotherapy, they fought and killed off the alien-life-form in no time. If they could do it, so could he. This was a no brainer for me. Nevertheless, the announcement of this was still like a slap across my face, and “boy did it hurt.”….. So, I did what I knew to do best when faced with pain. I kept my distance. Yes, I know that it was a selfish of me, but at the time, I had the coping skills of a pet rock. Basically, they did not yet exist.
I remember getting the call from my mother telling me that I should probably go see him and pray for him. I had been ordained into the ministry just a few years earlier. For that point on, I was my father’s pride and joy. Perhaps I failed to live up to his expectations of taking over the family farm, but this was equally worthy of his praise. He was so proud that one of his kids was serving the Lord in ministry, and he told everyone about it. Hearing my mother’s request, I reluctantly took in deep breath of air, mustered up some energy, and drove to the hospital.
As I walked up to the room, I heard the sound of someone moaning from pain. Stepping into the room, I saw his sister-in-law walking around the room, and praying. “Be with him Jesus. There’s power in the blood. Hold him Lord,” she prayed with fervency. Despite being an ordained minister, I was scared to look at him. However, not even my deepest fears prepared me for what I would see. The strong man, that I grew up admiring as one of my personal heroes, lay confined to his bed and shriveled up in pain. My nephew lay there too, holding him, and trying to comfort him. But there’s no consoling anyone who is in that amount of pain and discomfort.
I don’t think he was ever aware of my presence. His condition was so far advanced that I’m not sure he even knew what was taking place. It was too much for me to take in all at once. I wanted to run far away, but I was frozen in horror and heartache. I wanted to rescue him from his suffering, but I knew better. I knew that I was powerless against this battle. As I stood there assessing what my eyes were seeing, his sister-in-law asked me if I would like to pray for him.
I don’t remember much after that. All I knew is that I placed my hand on his and nervously said a two-sentence prayer that didn’t have much significance. That very moment my sadness skyrocketed above any ounce of faith that I had in me. As soon as I was done praying, I excused myself, I ran home, packed my car, and drove 2 hours to the nearest campground that I knew of. I spent the night alone in my tent crying. I had failed my brother, I had failed my family, I had failed God. At a time that they needed me, I ran.
That night my brother’s suffering ended. However, my shame remained for years after.
My story from shame towards grace is one that I share quite often on this blog, and I encourage you to take some time to browse through this website to read about it. However, I’d like to use the next few moments to share with you 3 things that I have learned since that moment.
- It’s Ok to freak out.
The tradition that I was brought up in taught me that it was improper for a man to show any sign of weakness. When I saw my brother’s condition, I was unable to emotionally handle what I saw. I initially interpreted this as complete failure. Since then I’ve learned that my inability to handle a situation is the perfect place for God to demonstrate his grace and power. The moment that I feel like running away is an opportune time to run to the arms of God.
- God is bigger than my reaction
I’ve learned that God is not fazed by my over-dramatic response to pain, heartache, and stress. In fact, he meets me where I am and ushers in hope, healing, and encouragement. When I feel like I can’t go on, He carries me. When I feel small and powerless, he always manages to lift me up to safety.
- No prayer is ever wasted.
I am amazed at how Jesus never instructed his followers to pray perfect prayers. Instead he encouraged them to have mustard-seed-faith. As time has passed, I’ve discovered that some of my most powerful prayers have been prayed when I had no idea how to start praying. I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit helps me weak moments when I don’t even know how to start praying. In fact, the Holy Spirit prays for me in groanings that can’t be expressed through words. In other words, regardless of how inarticulate my prayer may sound… it is always heard… and God always answers.
Surprisingly enough, since losing my brother, I have had the privilege of being with many people while they are transitioning to eternal life. God, in His grace, has redeemed the fear I have and has blessed me with the ability to be present with others during a very significant part of their lives. I’m happy to report that I no longer feel the need to run. Instead, I feel the desire to be present. Present for God and present for others.
John Eli Garay
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