BJ Miller: Loving What Is

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Is Asking the Antidote We Need?

As children most of us wrote to Santa Claus to ask for particular Christmas gifts. I’m not sure all of us asked our parents for the Jem doll, a 1980s version of Barbie except that her neck was extra thick to accommodate the double A batteries that made her ears light up. But we all wanted SOMETHING, and Santa would get it done.

A wonderful collection of these Christmas letters was assembled by Carl Anderson and Jim Walker Jr., and turned into a book called All I want for Christmas Is … Letters from Santa’s MailbagParents may be familiar with the lists that include Barbies and Paw Patrol stuffies, Legos and Hatchimals.

But there are some little ones who write this sort of letter:

Dear beloving Santa, I have some wishes that have never comed true and you are my last hope. Here are my wishes: I wish that my mom wont have seasers and have to go to the hospital again. I wish that my tored vane would stop bleeding. I don’t want toys I just want that for Christmas. Sincerely, Mary

Or

May I have a bike just like I have now but a 20 inch bike please. I wish that one day mommy and daddy will get married please. I wish to live in a house with a mommy and daddy please. I wish mommy and daddy quit fight. Karen.

Do we ever really stop asking for these magic solutions? A dear friend of our family visited a local hospital and noted prayer requests from a book kept in the chapel, that read:

Dear Lord. Although you are calling my mom to be with my dad, please let her be here with us for a while longer. We are not ready to give her up just yet. Her loving son. Harold.

And a few pages later in the same handwriting …

Dear Lord. I’m very sorry for the things I’ve said and done, so if you can forgive me please let my mother go in peace and find her family and friends in hevin. Forgive my spelling too. Your loving son. Harold.

Another soul wrote:

Please don’t take away my hero. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Save her. Please. Please. Please. Please. Save my mom. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Save Terri Lynn. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Save my mom. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. I’m sorry I didn’t keep my promise, but please don’t take my mom because of it. I’ll take her cancer! I will take her cancer!

What this friend read that day led him to become a hospital chaplain, serving as a spiritual care provider for people in their toughest moments.

There will come a time when your letters to Santa or prayers to God sound like these too. Life on this planet seems to be arranged so that everyone will be faced with such a moment, when all your money, luck, social position, or lifetime of hard work will mean nothing, and you will cry out to the Creator, desperate to throw yourself into God’s arms and ask that the laws of the universe be suspended, just this once, for the sake of the one you love. And whatever the result of your petition will be, you may find comfort in the desperate privilege of prayer.

The sad irony of suffering is that the experience of intense pain drives us inward, into our own dark realm of fears and recriminations. Where joy unites us, grief separates. It becomes impossible to ask for the help we need. (This is especially true for those who are raised to be junior Stoics and imitate Monty Python’s Black Knight, you remember the one… always assuring people when his arms were lopped off that it was “just a flesh wound.”)

We should not let that be our path… and perhaps asking is the antidote. Whether we open up to God in our despair or ask those around us for the help we need. Your friends and colleagues want the best for you—just as you would wish to help them—but they will usually not know what to do or say. Learn to ask, learn to be grateful. We are all on the same walk to Good Friday. We will all need help carrying our burden. And just maybe, someday, someone will surprise us with what we ask for. Especially that Jem doll. Mom or Dad, if you’re reading, I still sort of want that.

  • When my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 malignant melanoma in February 2012, I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t ask for anything. I was mute. I just thought that God probably knew my prayer, and I also knew that it was ridiculous to ask for a miracle. Biologically that wasn’t possible and I didn’t expect a cancer-cure version of the Virgin Birth. So I learned to ask for things that *were* possible: comfort, strength, peace. I also learned first to be thankful for the many blessings born of that horrible, horrible time. The friends; oh the friends. They did everything for us. Strangely, 18 months later when my father died, I *was* able to pray. I pray a lot now but I can’t go to church. The sermons seem irrelevant and the going there seems like a sham. Alas, we all have our crosses to bear. And I still want a Lite Brite.

  • Don’t understand your ways and purposes, Lord. Please give me faith to believe that you exist and are doing good.

  • Thank you, Kate! I’m crying into a tea towel in my kitchen right now. We are not alone, are we? We are all on that same walk to Good Friday. Thanks for these Christmas words in Lent. ❤️

  • Kate, thank you for your reflections on asking. I want to learn how to plead as those dear souls who found their way to the hospital chapel did.

  • Kate,
    Thanks for daring to present the option of accepting the brokenness while somehow trusting and hoping in God. Shockingly, in not wrestling away ambiguity there is a sense of being drawn deeper.
    Best regards,
    Karen

  • Kate, you’ve been one of my many supports as I travel the cancer road.
    My prayer? Help me remember to be grateful and to be humble.

  • I have survived cancer once. Now I am sitting in the waiting room to have biopsies again after having spent 12 days in the hospital. I am privileged to be able to pray and cry out to God, and praise Him too. My current mantra: I know God has me, I just wish He had me somewhere else! Thank you for your honesty, Kate!

  • If we don’t learn to slow down and be still in that moment of asking, we often don’t allow ourselves the grace to hear the answer. Thanks for reminding me of the gift that can be found in giving myself up to prayer.

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