"They" say that the older you are, the more folks you know who are dying or sick or having trouble. And I am at the point in life, 48 birthdays in, where I and lots of my friends are going through stuff. Not the easy stuff - your kid's getting a "C" in English or can't ride a bike yet. Which isn't easy stuff while you're in it. But it's stuff they grow out of, generally.
The stuff we are going through is the crappy, life-changing kind that means that the way you pictured your life before the stuff hit, yeah, that won't happen. And the reality is that we all go through it, some more publicly than others, and none of us will come out on the other side of it unscathed, for better or for worse. And there are many forms the stuff takes - parents' health going down hill, kids on drugs, girlfriends from hell, spouses who are failing in many forms, job loss, divorce...the list goes on from there, but it gets more and more depressing every time I think about it, so best stop listing.
I don't have solutions, many times, for my friends or for myself. We're wading together through the stuff, holding hands and trying to keep our heads above the muck, because some days it is all you can see.
But in the midst of the muck, I do know one thing, as I listen to them and seek their counsel for myself and my stuff, and it is this: you have to pray. There is nothing else. Pray like there's no tomorrow, which is risky to say given the recent Camping thing about the world ending, and yet not, because it could end tomorrow. Come, Lord Jesus, come. I won't come out of it unmarked, neither will they, but we can come through it marked as Christ's own.
Last week, while cleaning before company came over - or better said, trying to maintain the pretense that my life involves cleaning regularly - I read an article in Christianity Today magazine. I was cleaning, understand, just the kind that looks like reading. The article was about a guy who was dying and as he was, he was singing an old hymn. And the author talked about how she was praying the Jesus prayer - the one that goes: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Over and over again. Her thought being that, when old age robbed her of all else, that would be so deeply imprinted that it would still be there, on her lips.
And in God's providence, I read the article last week. Because this week has been filled with "stuff" dumped in my lap, and the Jesus prayer is what is rising to my lips. I don't know if that's what the author meant for me to read in the article, but what I read was that I should pray this prayer so often that it is what comes out of my soul when my body is not as under my control as it was before.
And that's what I'm trying to do now. Because the stuff is not in my control, my friends'stuff is not in their control, and it's got nothing to do with how we behaved or what we asked for or how we parented or anything. What is in our control is how we deal with it. And my vote is with prayer.
I hope that it is what will rise to my lips as I am dying. I'm very worried that all the opinions I've withheld from people who so badly needed to hear them (all the while being very, very proud of my self control - another thing to ask mercy for)will spill out. And, more worrying is the thought that some of those folks might be around caring for me to hear them.
Which brings me back to asking: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.