Within two months of our wedding, I got mono, which (prior to COVID-19) I would have described as the worst and longest flu you can imagine. For two weeks, Paul did everything for me because I was helplessly sick, with throat glands so swollen that just swallowing my own spit made me cry out in pain and shed tears. (I was blessed, by the way. Most people who get mono spend months in recovery.) All those newlywed expressions of delight in one another were unromantically swept aside in favor of midnight vomit-cleaning, the constant stink of feverish sweat, and my need to have Paul help me with the least little thing. We learned to pray together, not out of joyous bursts of spirituality, but out of physical and emotional exhaustion.
The mono virus at last retreated, but it triggered something worse in its wake: a mysterious condition that it would take eight specialists and a year to eventually diagnose as a Functional Neurological Disorder, sometimes called conversion disorder. I developed increasingly violent convulsive episodes. A fifteen minute episode could take me a day to recover from, and when I had multiple episodes in a day--well, I didn't get much done. These episodes were increasingly followed by periods of partial or full paralysis, during which I could only communicate with Paul by blinking--once for "yes," twice for "no." And then there was the pain, so intense that if Paul so much as put his arm around me, my whole body seized. Given my uncertain medical future, my employer and I agreed to separate. This was around the same time that I became so ill, Paul began to fear I might never recover and I lost almost all memory of two full weeks.
And yet, when I started to seize for the third time at night and Paul roused himself from sleep to hold me through the episode, he kept whispering, "If this is given to us for no other reason than to pray, then it's worth it."
You might think that that would be a moment I wanted to slap him. But I never did. His grief for me was so deep and his helplessness so real. He was made to be my protector, but the best he could do was bring my need to our Father and petition for my recovery. For the believer, there is a confidence in the midst of deep trial, a confidence that prizes spiritual treasure over physical relief. If Paul and I had to suffer this condition together--me in body and he in spirit--then we dared not miss the glimpses of God that we might see within it. So we spent those long nights in prayer, interspersed by the soft singing of worship songs and the unpredictable convulsions of my body.
When we finally had a name for my condition--Functional Neurological Disorder or (the older term) conversion disorder--there were still many unanswered questions. What caused it? Anything from an undiagnosed autoimmune or neurological condition to a severe PTSD response to past trauma. Would I ever be cured of it? Uncertain. What was the long-term prognosis? Impossible to know. Were there any medications that could help? Unknown. Could we have children safely? Who could say?
We were driven to prayer like shipwrecked sailors upon wreckage. The medical community was doing their best to help, but they weren't the God who had made my body. Only He could give us these answers and we had to keep praying until we learned what we needed to know.
Some of the answers came slowly, like the ability to manage my condition solely through lifestyle choices, no medication. Bit by bit, I learned how to read the signs of my body and respond preemptively to my triggers.
Some of the answers came all at once, like the day when Paul and I realized that, for both of us, the fear of childbearing was gone. We were able to move forward with planning pregnancy, despite the unknown risks to my health. This did not mean that we stopped praying. If anything, we prayed more fervently. As I type this, I'm 32 weeks pregnant with our precious, much-prayed-for daughter, and my disorder has been of very little concern through this whole experience. I'm in awe of God's provision of health to me and our little one.
This is a long introduction to my prayer life, but I wanted to share it because it highlights three important realities.
First, God answers prayer. It's not a "Well, I hope maybe God will listen." It's the petition of a child to a loving Father who, in His wisdom, knows exactly what answer and what timing is most beneficial to His child.
Secondly, we often do not pray until we have a pressing need or a consuming desire at the forefront of our minds. It is therefore God's kindness that He permits desperate times in the lives of His children, so that we don't live in our deceptively complacent little bubbles, in which we can handle whatever comes along and don't need Dad's help. Because He knows that fullness of joy and protection are impossible without close communion with Him, He shakes us out of our spiritual apathy into an acknowledgement of our continual and foundational need for Him.
Third, we are very poor learners. As soon as the initial danger is past or the fear subsides, we go right back to our self-sufficient lifestyles. We might ride on the spiritual high for a little while, convincing ourselves that this time, the lessons will stick, but we almost always slide back into our default mode of making our relationship with the Lord a mundane discipline, rather than the pursuit and passion of our souls. We become Christ's housekeeper and not His bride.
You would think that, after all that drama in the first year of our marriage, Paul and I would be experts in prayer.
But the reality is that we revert to the exact same default setting that Adam and Eve chose in the garden--trusting our own judgment and taking action on our own, without fully acknowledging the authority and the relational intimacy of our Father.
That is why, even though the Lord has used our physical struggles to prompt us to pray, He has also used other means to force us into communion with Him.
Like this virus.
The coronavirus has injected new urgency into the necessity of prayer. People are dying. People are losing their livelihoods. People are losing the ability to care for their families. People are struggling with depression and anxiety. People are trapped in abusive situations. People are in conflict with one another over the wisest way to respond to the virus. We need the Lord's intervention desperately.
Now is the time to learn how to pray.
Stay tuned for the next chapter, in which I talk about the things I've learned about prayer over the last few years.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.