When was the last time you prayed for nothing, nada, zero?
I can’t recall a time I did that. I can recall praying for something not to happen, and I can remember not praying, but I can’t remember a time I prayed for zero.
“Please, Lord, give ne nothing. Give me zero.”
Margaret Feinberg can.
In Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, Feinberg recounts how to respond to people who asked how they could pray for her. Prayer sustained her and her husband through her breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and surgeries, so she didn’t take the question as some trifling politeness Christians often ask in difficult situations like this. (When we don’t know what to say, we can always ask it.)
She began to answer the questions with “zero,” as in “zero cancer cells, zero complications, zero side effects, zero allergic reactions, zero suffering, zero medical errors, zero bad test results, zero sleepless nights, zero night terrors.”
Feinberg’s prayer was for zero. For nothing. But it was also everything.
But that might have not been the outcome. Zero might now have been the answer.
Feinberg turns to the book of Daniel (I’m finding Daniel in all kinds of places this week). And she finds an answer in the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three taken from Jerusalem with Daniel to be trained in Babylon. They would not worship the statue of gold erected by Nebuchadnezzar. The king had them taken to the furnace to be burned alive.
And they told the king that their God could deliver them from death in the furnace. But they acknowledge that this may not be the outcome. “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
But if not. That’s where Feinberg finds the joy – and the fight with joy.
Feinberg had to consider both a prayer answered with zero and a prayer answered with but if not. She had to be prepared for both, and she knew the cancer could be erased, or that it was still there. And while she may not have felt particularly brave as she dealt with all of the effects of chemotherapy, she was exactly that. Brave. Courageous. She had to stare both life and death in the face and be willing to say but if not.
Her lesson has both personal and corporate applications personal in how we deal with setbacks, debilitating illness, death of a loved one, or other personal tragedy. And corporate in what the church, the body of Christ, is becoming aware of in society.
Storm clouds are gathering for Christians and the church in Western culture. The storm may not break for a year, or for ten. But it is coming. We can pray for zero. But we have to consider if the answer is, instead, but if not.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we've been reading Fight Bak with Joy. To see more posts on this chapter, "When Nothing Means Everything," please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.