A couple of months back, I had an MRI. There’s nothing particularly new there; I’ve long exhausted fingers and toes when it comes to toting up MRIs I’ve had over the past few decades. There’s something about physiological mysteries that make them a convenient tool for early investigation.
If you haven’t had an MRI before, there’re a couple of things you need to know: they’re expensive and they’re loud. So loud that they provide you with industrial strength headphones to soften the blows. The headphones are connected by a rubber hose that acts as a non-metallic conduit to a control room where the radiologist sits and calls the shots. It comes in handy for them to periodically ask you how you’re doing or, on the more deluxe models, pipe through music consistent with your genre of choice.
As I climbed aboard at 6:45 am on this particular morning (anticipating an extra half hour of sleep) the nurse asked if I was comfortable before pushing a button that fed me into the imaging tunnel, and heading out of the room.
Half way in, I felt the rubber tube of the headphone tightening around my neck. “No biggie,” I thought, “it’ll come loose soon enough.”
But it didn’t. It just kept getting tighter.
As I was getting close to the point of choking, I slid my arms up (in the tunnel, they feel pinned to your side) and, as they slipped passed my head, I grabbed the headphones and extended them above my head.
Now I’m laying horizontally with both arms behind my head holding the headphones. And I’m breathing easier. Pathetically, I call out: “Um, I may have a bit of a problem in here”.
It turns out that in the imaging room, no one can hear you scream.
While I was still calling out and waving my arms about, the MRI starts. They’re not being over-cautious by giving you those headphones; that machine is loud. Like a jackhammer squeezed into a port-a-loo.
For about 20-30 seconds I think nonchalantly: “This’ll be alright, just toughen up and guts it out. You’ll zone out to the noise soon enough.” I realised soon enough that the zoning would not be through adaptation but from permanent hearing loss. I probably need a better plan.
I called out again in case anyone was listening. Of course they’re not, who chooses to listen to a jackhammer?
Around this time, I have a little revelation. While one hand is holding the headphones behind my head, there’s something else back there in my other hand.
They’d given me a panic button. With my arms above my head, though, and my focus on avoiding strangulation, I’d forgotten that it had ever been given to me. I’d never needed to use it previously so it just seemed like a curious object akin to a perfume atomiser rather than a pathway to freedom.
I squeezed the atomiser. Everything went quite. The nurse rushed in and, before too long, the whole headphone fiasco was a memory.
As I headed back into the tunnel again without incident, I had the thought: “Sometimes our/my conversations with God can be a bit like someone using a panic button. In fact, sometimes we forget that we even have the ability to engage in a conversation with God at all”.
Rather than realise that we can easily run to God, walk with Him and talk with Him, we can sometimes leave it as a possibility of last resort. Or forget altogether.
One of the sons of Korah writes in Psalm 46 that: ‘God is our refuge and strength – a very present help in trouble’.
Though things get completely hectic, the Psalmist says, ‘God is our fortress. A safe place’.
It ends with the encouragement to ‘Be still and know that he is God’.
There are times when our tendency is to try everything else, get flustered and finally, perhaps at the end of our rope, pray a ‘panic button’ prayer of desperation.
God’s good news is that he responds to ‘panic button’ prayers of desperation. The better news still is that He wants a relationship with us where the conversation is constant. Daily, hourly, moment by moment.
He doesn’t want us to be strangled by work, world, people and stuff; He wants to walk and talk with us.
His method isn’t a panic button that he hands us and walks away from (like my friendly nurse did), nor is it an a room removed from us where He sits and calls the shots. It’s through the language of prayer. It’s a constant conversation that invites God into our circumstance and situation – all the stuff that brings us joy and tears us apart. Through prayer, he brings a Kingdom perspective that calms our soul and leads us beside still waters. Well, sometimes. Other times, He rocks our boat, stretches our faith and says, ‘get out of the boat in faith and walk on water’.
Wherever we find ourself in that conversation of prayer or non-prayer, we can draw closer to him with the knowledge that our Creator, who longs to be in communion with us, sent Jesus. He loves, died for us, rose again for us and says ‘I’ll never leave or forsake you”.
That’s really, really good news.