I Will if I Have To, but Please Don't Ask Me (My Gethsemane)
by Catherine Fournier
It was a very ordinary early spring morning. The sun was shining, ice was beginning to melt off the roof, birds were beginning to sing again, but I was not having a good day. For one thing, Robert was in the living room watching 'The Return of the Jedi' for the 57th time. I thought I'd scream.
I'd been in my office all morning, in housecoat and no slippers, searching for a manuscript. The only copy of a story no less, lost. I worried away the night about it and went through my morning routine with more than half my mind on the chaos of paper in the office. At 11:30, I finally admitted defeat and climbed into the shower. The phone rang. I thought about screaming.
It was Peter. His calling in the middle of the day had become unusual. At one time we spoke everyday at lunch, but his recent promotion to a managerial position and two business trips in the last month had swallowed his moments of free time, and much of our weekends too. I missed the moment to moment contact that is so important between spouses and so necessary to the running of a large family, but we had carefully considered this promotion and were confident that the workload would reduce to manageable proportions within a year. Peter felt guilty enough being away from his family so much, I thought I should not increase his guilt by saying that I found it difficult without him. I let him take care of himself and his workload, while I ran the house and took care of the family.
So, even though I was dripping wet with shampoo was running down my face, I was glad he called.
The background noises are unusual, I thought in the instant before he spoke, is he calling from a meeting that I didn't know about?
'Hi, Cat' he said, 'Do you know where I am?' His voice was curiously flat and...hurt.
Should I know where he is? I wondered, Oh gosh! Was I supposed to meet him?
'No, you sound like you're in a lobby somewhere, what's up?' I asked.
'I'm at the hospital,' he said, voice still flat and expressionless, 'they think I've had a heart attack.'
A great ringing silence suddenly descended over some vital portion of my brain. The sun is shining, water is running down my back, Han Solo is yelling something to Chewbacca, and my husband has just told me that he may be near death.
Don't sound upset, I think, he needs me not to be upset.
'Where are you?' I asked, in the same curiously flat unemotional tone he used, I realized.
'The Queensway Carleton. Look, I have to go now,' he answered, with a slight upward quaver. The phone rattled, I heard the rustle of clothing, then a nurse's voice;
'Are you finished now, Mr. Fournier? Can I help you back?' and the phone line cut off.
Now I am frightened.
My husband, no, my life, my world, who has always been so strong, capable, and dependable, is suddenly so sick, he needs a nurse's help to get up from a chair.
Be calm, cope, be calm, cope.
No, I can't, I need help. Who can I turn to?
I called a friend at her workplace, and shook and cried. She said she'd drive out to Arnprior, and drive me in to the hospital.
I called another friend, shook and cried again. She offered to take the kids for as long as necessary.
I called the school, managed not to cry, arranged for the kids to go to her home from school.
Have I thought of everything?...No.
I called Madonna House, talked to Father Bob, shook and cried, blurted out what I had been trying not to think, 'He can't die! He can't leave me now!'
Yes, he can.
I asked for prayers, and asked that word be spread for prayers.
Still dazed and numb, my mind moved so slowly. Moving automatically, I packed children's pajamas and clothes, dressed Robert, dressed myself. One thing at a time. I got into the car to drop Robert and bags of clothes at Teri's house.
I drove for a long time before my brain caught up with my body. Only then, did I think of praying myself. I began, automatically;
'Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Will be Done...'
Thy will be done, Lord? Even this?
My life is in Your Hands, Lord, and so is Peter's. I know that. No buts. I can't beg you to spare his life. Iif you want him now, I can't argue.
Can you really ask me to live the rest of my life without Peter? Do you really think I can? I don't.
God, I will if I have to, but please don't ask me to.
Is this how Christ felt?
There are moments in everyone's life remembered forever with great clarity. I remember grasping the concept of reading, I remember the moment I knew I loved Peter, I remember the first step of my conversion when I recognized my own sinfulness, and I remember my 'Gethsemane moment'. It seemed to be endless. In a sense it is.
I was terribly afraid, afraid for myself, afraid for the children (I wouldn't raise them very well on my own), afraid Peter would die before I could get to him, that we wouldn't have a chance to say 'Goodbye, see you later.' I wasn't afraid for Peter, there was nothing to be afraid of, for him.
I was in incredible pain, the indescribable pain of heartbreak and loss. I could hardly breathe. This man had been part of my life since I was 15 years old, my friend, my mentor, my helpmate, my love. How could I go on with my heart and my right arm missing?
I also felt ashamed. I have been so busy with the house, with the children, with feeling lonely and sorry for myself, that I hadn't seen anything wrong with Peter. How could I love him and not see this coming? How could I have neglected him and taken him for granted so? I just always thought he'd be there. Had Peter gotten sick because I had relied on him past his endurance? Had I made Peter the center of my life instead of God? What a terrible burden to lay on him. Was this why God was taking him from me?
Yet I was calm, calm that whatever happened was meant to happen, that whatever happened all I had to do was 'the next thing.'
Even if the next thing is...?
In the years since my conversion, God has taught me over and over again that my life is not in my control. Car accidents, children's illnesses, children's accidents, financial chaos, extended family problems, each time I have only found peacefulness when I (slowly and reluctantly) handed over portions of my life into God's hands.
'You want the kids? Well, they are Your children after all. OK God, I place my children in Your hands.'
'You can see the whole picture, Lord, I can't. I will trust you that our money will turn out all right.'
But I always, even when I didn't realize that I was doing so, kept part of myself back. Out of fear, I guess, at what might happen if I let God 'make the decisions'. Who knew what He might ask me to accept?
This, for one thing.
I learned that day that control of your life is an illusion. What I thought of as 'control' was a white knuckled grip on something too large for me to grasp. Only God's hands are strong enough to steer a safe course. Nothing and no one could 'always be there' except God. Nothing and no one could take care of me and love me forever except God.
Only at that moment, when I recognized the illusion of control I had been maintaining, the assumptions I had been making, could I finally and truly place all of my life, all of myself, all my hopes, prayers, plans, everything into God's hands, trusting His guidance and grace.
Before this 'Gethsemane moment', this moment of:
I will, Lord, if you ask it of me. But if you can, please don't ask me.
trust of God seemed a perilous and risky thing. But at that moment of choice and surrender and since, I have found that trust in God and all He promises is the only certain thing in an uncertain life.
I am sure that everyone has such moments in their life. Maybe there are many moments in every life, or maybe every moment is the moment. It does seem to me though, that facing a moment of clear and unavoidable choice is inevitable. Life is so full of choices; mishap, adventure, love, or intellect will eventually lead us to the only real choice, to accept or reject the reality of God's Will in our life.
The Happy Ending:
As you may have guessed, Peter did not die. He hadn't had a heart attack, but in the words of the doctors in the emergency ward, 'a darn good imitation' brought on by overwork and stress. He spent five days in the hospital, two weeks at home and two months working half time before he returned to a full time schedule. It took about a year for a complete recovery, a year of adjustment for both of us. We both needed to learn to admit that we couldn't 'do it all.', to give up the illusion of control and give our lives over to God. And to rely on each other - the spouse and helpmate God had given us - more.
Peter promised to tell me when he was feeling stressed, and I promised to take better care of him.
A promise which I promptly broke. About six months later Robert, our youngest child, was badly scalded with hot tea, suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 10% of his body. Two days later, our oldest boy Andrew, hugged his father too hard and cracked two of his ribs. Totally focused on my bandaged baby, I left the poor wounded shallowly breathing man to take care of himself. He even had to drive himself to the emergency department.
It's always something new, and it's always the same thing.
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