A Prayer That Changed My Life

It was the weekend of July 5-7, 2002. Six weeks earlier I had cardiac by-pass surgery and had gone to our home at Lake Junaluska for an expected routine recuperation. On July 5th crushing chest pains developed. Linda rushed me to the nearby Haywood County Hospital. I was then transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville.

All attempts to open the blocked Left Anterior Descending (LAD) artery failed. Doctors had warned that the surgery was necessary since the LAD was “the widow maker.” Now, it was totally blocked. Finally, the cardiologist was able to stent a small vein at the bottom of my heart and the pain ceased.

The weekend was spent in ICU with constant monitoring and tests. The future was uncertain. Would I survive? How much has the heart muscle been damaged? Will I be able to continue as an active bishop? More definitive prognosis had to wait.

With family and some friends keeping vigil, I spent the weekend contemplating an uncertain future, even the prospect of another attack and death. Unexpectedly, all assumptions and plans were called into question. Life hit a brick wall!

Sunday morning I was surrounded by family. We were mostly silent. No words seemed appropriate. Sadness prevailed. The grief of a lost preferred future had already set in. The gravity of the situation weighed heavily.

Suddenly, a knock came to the door. In walked my friend, David Lowes Watson! He was carrying a loaf of bread and a chalice! He had made his way from Nashville and through the corridors of Mission Hospital bearing Communion. What a welcomed sight!

With our permission, he proceeded with the familiar liturgy and the serving of the bread and juice. Then, this Wesley scholar and valued friend and colleague caught me surprise. He invited us to pray. And, in his distinctive British accent he prayed from memory the Wesley Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or trodden under foot for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

I began to feel very uncomfortable and almost wanted to ask David to stop. I wanted only half of the prayer answered:

“Put me to doing,” YES! “put me to suffering!” NO!
“Let me be employed for thee!” YES! “laid aside for thee!” NO!
“Exalted for thee!” YES! “trampled underfoot for thee.” NO!
“Let me be full!” YES!   “let me be empty.” NO!
“Let me have all things” at least life! YES!   “let me have nothing!” NO!

My discomfort exposed the limitations of my own commitment. I wanted a covenant on my terms. I wasn’t ready to pray:

“I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”

But I wanted to be able to do so! With David’s encouragement, I decided to make the prayer part of my daily devotions. Maybe I would come to embrace the whole prayer.

The news came Monday that there had been significant damage to the heart muscle. I would need longer recuperation and rehab. So, I was granted six months of medical leave from my episcopal duties.

Every day began with the Covenant Prayer, along with reading Psalms, primarily the laments. Ever so gradually, my discomfort was replaced with acceptance.

Uncertainty continued about the future.  It became evident that the pace and stress of the active episcopacy was too much for my weakened heart. Being laid aside from that position was necessary.

But new doors opened. I joined the faculty at Duke Divinity School and was “ranked” with a marvelous community of students and scholars. For seven years, I relished my new vocation!

Then we hit another brick wall. Linda was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia, a progressively debilitating disease.The Covenant Prayer again came to the forefront of my daily prayers. This petition was repeated several times daily:

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.”

Being laid aside from the full time faculty position followed. A move to South Carolina “ranked” us with family and subsequently with some of society’s most vulnerable citizens, those with dementia diseases.

Wesley’s Covenant Prayer continues to challenge and enrich my life. The future remains uncertain. Amid the uncertainty is the confidence that whatever circumstances emerge, I will be able to more faithfully affirm

“I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “A Prayer That Changed My Life

  1. Over and over again, Dr. Carder, you teach me what it is to be a pastor; you remind me what it is to be a beloved and claimed child of God. Grateful for the ministry you are doing among God’s beloved there in South Carolina and for the ministry you are doing through this blog that reaches those of us far flung!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. May God continue to bless you to be such a blessing to so many. I too ran into a widow-maker that was completely blocked about 8 years ago.
    For several years prior to that, I had made Father Wesley’s Covenant Prayer a part of my daily time with God.
    I was amazed how it immediately became so difficult to pray that prayer when I had to give more than lip-service to “put me to suffering” etc.
    Wesley’s Covenant Prayer continues to challenge and enrich my life also, as do you, bishop.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In class, I always felt that “story time with Bishop Carder” helped me to have a more concrete sense of how to make the dense theology practical. Thanks for continuing that with your blog. And, as always, you and Linda are in my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bishop Carder, how beautiful to read this blog post; your honesty, humility and faith shine in every word. I treasure the weight of your hands on my head as you ordained me and I treasure the example you have always been in my faith journey. You and Linda are in my prayers and I give thanks for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A few days ago I was listening on NPR to an interview of an author. The interviewer asked the author about a phrase in his book. “It’s a good expression about the character. How did you come up with that expression?” The reply was, “With a lot of editing.” I have thought lots of the time that most all you folk out there have written your “book of life” with practically no erasures or cross-outs and do-overs, while I am still using the eraser and staring at the blank area left. Your sharing of the editing, so to speak, in your life and the honest difficulties you have experienced in accepting these changes gives me strength to help me face the editing I need. The values you have expressed throughout your ministry have certainly given me strength. My prayers are with you each day, and many thanks for all these years of friendship and love.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing this powerful testimony about your source of strength and acceptance in the face of otherwise overwhelming adversities. May God and John Wesley sustain you always

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so much for your thoughts on this prayer! I always hesitate with each phrase, barely saying it aloud! I have missed receiving your blog(I was dropped somehow)! Blessings on you and dear Linda… you both continue in my thoughts and prayers and love. Ray and I moved in December from our historic and beloved home on Old Salem to a one-level townhouse! We miss it (only a few blocks away), but it’s the right choice. Blessings on you!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Martha! I appreciate your continuing prayers, thoughts, and love. I haven’t been as consistent in posting blogs as I would like but hope to do more writing. As you know so well, writing can be a means of reflection and therapy. Please know that I think of you and Ray often and always with profound gratitude for shared friendship.

      Like

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