A Mother's Prayer
The boy is dying. Anyone could see it. His skin yellow, his eyes sunken, his hands cold as ice.
The air in the room is stale, save the overwhelming scent of rubbing alcohol which occasionally wafts through the air. The lime green paint on the walls had faded, covered over by layers of dirt and grime. Cockroaches run free in the room, like antelope in the Serengeti, seemingly unaffected by the frequent foot traffic of doctors and nurses. The listless body of a young boy lies on a stiff hospital bed as a tangled web of intravenous lines knots its way up to a glass container of medicine. It is his only hope. Fever had set in, and the violent quakes which often accompany it had jarred the shell of the once vibrant child.
It all began a couple of weeks prior when symptoms of lethargy and nausea manifested. But now the situation had turned dire. The boy’s fever spiked to 107 degrees, leaving doctors to conclude it was simply a matter of time before death called for him. Internally, parasites had infiltrated the boy’s blood stream, having entered through a single bite of a malaria-ridden mosquito. For days he was in and out of consciousness. Now, however, he had slipped into a full coma and remained virtually unresponsive.
The wearied mother leans across the bed of her youngest son. It had been utter anguish for her and the boy’s father who had entered the West African country of Ivory Coast just months before, hoping to aid those stricken by a severe drought. She whispers a prayer, not the kind of prayer people are used to hearing with embellished verbiage and frivolous phrases.
This was a sort of guttural cry, a weeping from the deepest part of her soul. It was messy and rather human, tears and mucus and words all mingled together. But it was honest.
“Oh, God, take me instead. I’ll give my life for his. Take me instead. Take me instead.”
It is a bit difficult to conceive of - this kind of love which would voluntarily place itself in harm’s way in order to save another - but not too difficult for a mother to envision. The one who chose to give life to her child has a vested interest in ensuring his life will be preserved even if it means putting her own life at risk.
Such a love is illustrated in the life of Jochebed, the mother of Moses who, in defiance of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s orders, saved the boy from certain death first by hiding him and then by strategically locating him where he would be rescued by none other than the king’s daughter herself (Exodus 1-2).
But in a world rife with self-preservation, self-promotion, and self-interest, from where does such a love emanate?
Its origin can be found in the very character of God Himself. While scripture clearly states God is Holy (Isaiah 6:3) and thus must execute justice on sin (Romans 6:23), it also clearly teaches that God is love (I John 4:8). And by heavenly definition, love sacrifices itself for others. On the evening prior to his crucifixion, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), undoubtedly a prediction of what he would soon do on the cross for his followers. Heavenly love compelled him to do so.
And it was that same kind of love, one willing to take the place of another, which radiated from the broken heart of a mother in an African hospital room nearly thirty-six years ago.
How do I know?
I was there.
God heard the desperate prayer of my mom late one evening when almost imperceptibly my hand began to twitch. Soon my eyes would open, my fever would break, and I would regain full consciousness.
The doctors had warned that in cases of cerebral malaria such as mine severe brain damage was likely. And while the accuracy of that prognosis is still up for debate, what is undeniable is the power of self-sacrificing love.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
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