I am someone who prefers to be well-prepared for everything. Giving lectures, writing exams, warming up before swimming, and the list goes on. Then life sometimes comes along and hands you something that you have absolutely no control over. For the past two months, I have had to deal with two sudden deaths: one a good friend of mine since grade eight, the other a fellow staff at the college. Both of them were relatively young. Deaths are always difficult to face, regardless of whether it is anticipated or not; but the unexpected ones are especially devastating. Simply put, we are not ready for it.
Thorough preparations put me in a state of mind where I feel that I am ready for all the possible contingencies. I do not feel threatened by the unknown. It makes me feel safe. I think we all search for our safety nets, that something to hold onto when we are suddenly thrown into the stormy sea. Perhaps due to my scientific training, my first instinct is to turn to science. I am cognizant that I am not trying to dehumanize the situation by reducing death into a purely biological event; nevertheless, I want the scientific facts to give me some sense of what on earth just happened in the sudden deaths. Science makes sense, and it is a kind of safety net for me. But it ultimately falls short of expectations. Biology happens, but life is not just biology. I still feel the sting of lives that seem to have ended prematurely. I still need to mourn. I still need a safety net that guarantees more than scientific certainty. That is why I turn to prayer.
I don't think we turn to God in situations like these just to get answers. In fact, answers are perhaps the last thing that we need during this period of mourning. Don't give me the facts; just be with me. This is what God does best. He is with us even in those darkest moments when we feel alone. The best part is, God is always there. He is the peaceful current under the stormy waves. Those strong, painful jolts of grief come and go, but one Constant remains, and he has been there since the beginning. We don't need to be ready for tragedies; we just need to be ready to turn to God.
The example of Job from Scripture is a good example. Here was someone who had everything taken away from him in a flash. He was clearly not ready for it, but he was certainly more than ready to turn to the Lord. It could be a prayer of thanks, or a prayer of lament. It wasn't as if Job did not complain, but they were still prayers in the sense that they were all directed to God. Everything ceased around him, but his relationship with the Lord never ceased.
It seems to me that this is the only thing that we can prepare ourselves for: to go to the Lord regardless of whether burning questions are immediately answered or not. After all, he is the only surety that overwhelms all the other false absolutes. As Simon Peter says in the Gospel of John, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)