Jerry Has No Taste: A Stranger Prays for Jerry’s Healing
I stopped at a coffee shop to complete some paperwork and make a few phone calls for work. As usual, I was chatty with the young woman behind the counter. She looked to be in her mid 20s. I found out she is a singer who just moved back in with her parents. She sings mainly at corporate events. I enjoy chatting with cashiers. At grocery stores, if they ask for my phone number to write on my check, I often say, “Are you going to call me later and ask me how the food tasted?” That usually gets a chuckle. When I was younger, I would sometimes say, “OK, here’s my number, but call before 5, or my wife will be home.” That usually got a chuckle or a stare.
Even though I can’t taste coffee much, I buy and drink some so I can use a cafe’s wifi. Muttering to myself, I reviewed the options, then said, “It doesn’t really matter since I can’t taste it anyway.” She looked at me puzzled, so I explained my condition. She expressed sympathy and said the same thing had happened to a former high school teacher of hers. I wished her luck in her singing career and took a seat. After her shift ended, she sat across the room at a table and stared intently at her smart phone and tapped away.
After I finished my work, I paused at her table on my way out to say the usual, “Have a good day.”
She said, “This may be strange to you, but I feel led to pray for your condition. Is that OK?”
At one stage in my life, I would have been very much like she was. I would have cheerily greeted a stranger with an offer of prayer, hoping to perhaps move them in the direction of my faith.
At another stage in my life, I would have been cynical and annoyed.
I said, “Sure, thank you,” and sat down.
She put her hand on mine and began with a familiar phrase, one that took me back to a secure place in my teens: “Father God, we just thank you….” She went on with some remarks about how good God is and said, “And right now, Father God, I ask that you heal—”
She looked up at me and said, “What’s your name?”
“We ask that you heal Jerry.” When she prayed for the healing of my taste and smell, she placed her hand on my nose for a few seconds.
After she finished, I thanked her again and told her if my smell and taste are restored, I would come back and tell her.
“That would be great,” she said.
Her prayer was earnest and warm, genuine, hopeful, full of care. It was a prayer that I would have prayed when I was in high school, when the magic of God’s life-determining presence was a believer’s prayer away. I had prayed for good parking places as well as healing of sickness, and most everything in between. I prayed for good grades on tests, for help making decisions, for direction when I got lost driving. Jesus was a friendly, comforting guide, a lifter of the down-hearted, a creator of smiles, an eternal generator of happiness. Nothing, nothing could go wrong with Jesus in my heart. Prayers were part motivational-speaker-uplift, part wizard’s wand.
Later on in life, I went through a hard cynical phase about Christianity, when I would have scoffed at this sweethearted young woman. What’s the point of sincere prayer when so many things don’t work out well? I detected a self-serving attitude in many prayers. I grew weary of the manipulation of charismatic leaders whose prayers seemed designed to boost their own egos and bank accounts. Mostly, though, my cynicism was inward, based on my own experiences, not that of others. I wasn’t prepared for all the reality that hit me. My faith didn’t allow much for failure or pain. So why bother?
When my father had a rough experience as pastor of a Baptist church, I took it hard, as I was planning on being a pastor myself at the time and had a rosy picture of what that would be like. My sweet little world didn’t include turf battles, conflicting egos, power struggles, and deceit. My faith excluded a big chunk of human nature.
By the time I began training to be a health care chaplain at an Atlanta hospital, I was on better terms with Jesus. I had come to accept that Christians and Christian communities can be chock full of contradictions and conflict, and the world won’t fall apart, that making one’s way through pain and sadness can be a spiritual experience. Health care chaplains deal with families and others praying for good outcomes every day, all day. We have a larger pool of prayer/outcomes than most people. One “miraculous” recovery doesn’t shift our universe, as it may for some. For every one of those, there are deaths, amputations, debilitations, and illnesses. The next day, there are more. In one case, I met two mothers of very ill daughters. The mothers met in the ICU waiting room, and both prayed fervently, hopefully, faithfully for healing. One of the two beloved daughters left the hospital healed, accompanied by her deliriously happy mother. The other mother trudged home bereft. At one point, she looked at me and sobbed, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
I still pray often, and when I pray for someone ill, I pray that he or she will recover, but I do not believe in a God who decides which mother goes home happy. Prayer pulls us together in mutual need; it connects us with a loving God and with the spiritual resources to cope with life; but it is not a magic formula that gives us what we want if we practice it in the right way.
As I drove away from the coffee shop, I peeled a banana (yes, while I was driving—sometimes I’m foolish), and you better believe I eyed that banana with hopefulness. I would have been thrilled for that woman’s prayer to have been followed by me once again enjoying the delightfully sweet and mellow taste of a fresh banana. The memory of that flavor rushed into my brain as I peeled it. I would have been happy to report this thrilling news to her, and she would, I’m sure, share this miracle with her faith friends. But the banana, like everything else I ate that day, had no flavor.
The memory of her prayer, her caring tone, her gentle eyes; these go with me. When two strangers meet and bond and show love, now that is a miracle.