He walked into the room gasping and shuffling his feet. Toting his canister of oxygen behind him, Ralph slowly made it to the first open seat and sat down. His breathing was heavy and labored. All eyes were on him. Everyone knew Ralph was battling emphysema. Ralph knew his time was limited, and so did everyone in the bible study that Wednesday morning.
Rev. Ed started the morning with a prayer. The topic this Wednesday, Matthew 6. With Mathew 6 is the Lord’s Prayer verses 9–13. Rev. Ed spoke about the chapter line by line. The group was given a chance to comment or question along the way.
I don’t remember any of the questions or comments from that day save one from Ralph. After Rev. Ed read verse 9, Ralph took a deep breath and began speaking. “I have been fighting emphysema for a year now. I know I do not have much time, and what time I do have can be excruciating.” He paused and took another deep breath.
He went on, “What I have learned from my disease is that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. When the pain gets so bad, I can suffer, feeling sorry for myself and cursing God. Or I can admit that pain is just part of life, but I don’t have to suffer.
Many times I cannot utter any prayer because the pain is so great. In those times, I remember the Lord’s prayer as it is the perfect prayer for any situation, especially those when words are hard to come by. (Jesus said pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ “)
Ralph said, “the Lord’s Prayer praises God, asks God to bring the same peace and justice that exists in heaven to earth, and provide for our daily needs. We ask God not to tempt us but protect us from evil in this world. The prayer covers everything important. One can add a few words for family and friends if you want, but Jesus gave us this prayer that can roll off our lips in good times and in bad.”
Ralph transitioned a couple of months later. I used Ralph’s story many times as a pastor in the progressive churches. I used it because I do believe that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. When I find myself gripped by anxiety or challenges and life itself, and I want to through pity parties and suffer so everyone else suffers around me, I remember Ralph’s words. Pain is inevitable, but I do not have to suffer. I can choose to live differently.