I once went eleven days without food — only water. About two and a half years prior, my wife and life partner Lisa had been diagnosed with large b-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (DLBCL). She had gone through eleven rounds of chemotherapy which devastated her body. The doctors wanted to give her radiation to prolong her life supposedly. But she wasn’t really living life anymore. And thus, I fasted and prayed.
It wasn’t my first time to go without food and certainly wouldn’t be my last time to fast. But it was the most prolonged and most profound. In the evangelical church, there’s lots of talk about the “power of prayer.” Many denominations would tell you that “anything is possible – it’s just a matter of faith.”
I wanted my wife not to die. I wanted to not lose my investment of thirteen-plus years in a relationship. I wanted to not face life alone with a young daughter. Fear, fear, fear. I, I, I. Praying with no food.
When a person fasts, the first few days are the most challenging. After that, you get into a kind of euphoria, a lot like LSD in some ways. The mind is sharp, and the senses are near perfect. For example, you can smell food from super long distances. You can also be very attentive to the Divine.
Lisa thought I was only fasting for a week. So on day eight, she started asking me to eat. I was angry with God at the time, asking, “How much faith is enough?” so I kept going. I didn’t realize I was asking the wrong question.
I finally got my realization on day eleven. Lisa wasn’t my wife. She was Christ’s bride on loan to me. I didn’t make a thirteen-year investment in her. God allowed me to serve as her husband for thirteen years. It was her time to die. The selfishness of myself and others had prolonged it. I realized we had tortured her through eleven brutal rounds of chemo for us, for our egotism.
The great saint Ramakrishna tells a compelling story – “There was a monastery in a certain place. The monks residing there went out daily to beg for their food. One day a monk, while out for his alms, saw a landlord beating a man mercilessly. The compassionate monk stepped in and asked the landlord to stop. But the landlord was filled with anger and turned his wrath against the innocent monk. He beat the monk till he fell unconscious on the ground. Someone reported the matter to the monastery.
The monks ran to the spot and found their brother lying there. Four or five of them carried him back and laid him on a bed. He was still unconscious. The other monks sat around him, sad at heart; some were fanning him. Finally, someone suggested that he should be given a little milk to drink. When it was poured into his mouth, he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes and looked around. One of the monks said, ‘Let us see whether he is fully conscious and can recognize us.’ Shouting into his ear, he said,’ Revered sir, who is giving you milk?’ ‘Brother,’ replied the holy man in a low voice, ‘He who beat me is now giving me milk.’
The same person who gave Lisa to me is the same person who can take her back at will. The same person who blesses me moment-by-moment is also the loving parent letting me experience the results of my own actions (karma) so that I might grow.
When I told the doctor that we had decided not to pursue the radiation therapy, he got angry and said condescendingly, “If you don’t do the treatment, she’s likely to last less than thirty days!” She lived another nine months, dying on September 14th, 2003, at forty years old. Seven of those months were exceptionally good, with her having lots of energy to visit and encourage others. We finally stopped poisoning her! God apparently doesn’t give a shit about doctor’s timetables.
In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane right before his arrest and murder. What is He praying? (paraphrased in today’s language) “This shit seriously sucks! I’ve never wanted to do anything less in my life! If there is any way this can get done another way, please let that be your answer!” The scripture says Jesus gets so stressed out praying NOT to go to the cross that He starts sweating blood – a rare medical condition called hematohidrosis. Then after begging God over and over for it NOT to happen, He prays, “But whatever you want God, I’ll do it!”
Eleven days without food, and my wife died anyway. So what do I pray now when I feel like shit and chaos seems to be reigning? Sometimes I pray, “God, your methods seriously suck! You need to do this another way!” More and more, by Maharaj-ji’s grace, I remember Jesus and pray, “Thy will be done.”
After decades of praying, fasting, and meditating, I can tell you that the highest purpose of prayer is to get my mind in line with what God is doing. Never have I been successful at changing God’s purpose. Many times I have had success surrendering to what God desires.
Everything that has ever happened to me, whether I labelled it “good” or “bad,” was an intentional lesson given to me by the Universe. When I’ve capitulated to God’s plan, I’ve experienced peace and clarity as a result.
When I’ve fought the lessons, when I’ve prayed and fasted for God to do something different, the pain has intensified. Today, by grace, I’m able to see the challenges and difficulties of life as my teachers, as well as the blessings. “Thy will be done.”
Everybody is struggling with something – that’s the way this reality works. Whatever it is for you, try something different. Instead of begging God to change it, lean into it. Rather than petitioning God with your grand solutions, trust that you are already experiencing God’s highest and best right now, inside your strife. Thank God profusely for the things you wish weren’t there, and watch them transform! “Whatever you want God, – I’m grateful.”
The best prayer that can be prayed is the one that accepts what already is.
“Thy will be done.”