This post is the continuation of yesterday’s post about prayer. You can read Part 1 here.
I think about the last time I prayed prostrate. Almost two years ago. My friends Angie and Todd had learned a few days before that their unborn baby was sick. Doctors that a miracle was necessary if their little girl had any chance of reaching full term. A couple mornings after she learned the news, I called Angie. I didn’t know what to say except to tell her that I was here if she needed me. She already knew that. But I needed to tell her anyway. The two of us cried. She shared. I listened. After I hung up the phone, I got down on my face and wept. At one point, I beat my fists against the carpet. And then I yelled at God for more than a half hour. I was too angry to breathe correctly or imagine solitude and peace or even healing; all I could do was ache and cry and yell to God aloud what I thought about his crappy “perfect will.”
I wasn’t exactly proud of myself. But I’d spent a lot of years approaching the throne of God passive aggressively, and in my mind, that’s dishonest and self-manipulating. Especially when you’re talking to God, an entity that knows my thoughts and yet never talks back.
For three-and-a-half months, I prayed three times a day for God to heal Angie and Todd’s baby. Seven months into her pregnancy doctors performed a Cesarean section and delivered little Audrey. She lived for two hours, long enough for Angie and Todd to hold her, fall in love with her, and say goodbye.
Maybe I don’t want God to send me two hundred dollars, I think. Maybe I’m being selfish for even asking.
But here I am praying. I think sometimes I pray because it gives me something to look forward to. Sometimes it helps me own the questions that I have about God. Sometimes praying helps me hope. And sometimes it just gets my hopes up.
I push up from the floor because the carpet is beginning to chafe my chin. I sit with my legs crossed and listen. I listen. The HVAC system kicks back on. I begin to wonder what God is thinking. I wonder if he heard my prayer. It’s probably being processed, I think. And then I smile because sometimes I picture Heaven being like Santa’s workshop. God is healthier looking than Santa, of course. And the angels aren’t all short squeaky craftsmen. I picture God hollering to an angel, “Another American is requesting money.” He hands my prayer request to the angel. “Check his credit history and then get back to me.”
Right before I stand up, I ask God to help me have faith. And as soon as the question falls out of my mouth, a flash of doubt enters my brain. I’m pretty sure it’s doubt. Or is it wisdom? It could be wisdom. In my experience, wisdom and doubt look a lot alike sometimes, one of the many reasons why faith is so complicated.
“So which is it, God?” I say. “Wisdom or doubt?”
If God is trying answer me, I don’t hear him. I shake my head and begin searching the sofa cushions for my iPhone. When I find it, I pick it up and hold it in both hands.
“Are you going to answer me, God?”
I tell myself to have faith. I wait fifteen seconds and then I begin searching my contacts. “Fine,” I say, “I’m calling Mom and Dad and getting them to send me the money.”
As I push the words “Mom and Dad” on my phone, I offer God one last chance. “If I’m not supposed to call my parents, then don’t let this call connect.”
I hold the phone to my ear and wait for the first ring. A few seconds go by and I don’t hear anything. I look at my phone. It appears to still be trying to connect. I put it back to my ear.
“I have AT&T, God, so we might need to do a best out of three.”
But then it rings. My parents agree to overnight me a check for two hundred dollars. I call Jessica at work and tell her the good news. I hear tears in her voice.
“Aw, Baby, why are you crying?”
“Because God is so good to us.”
That isn’t a cliché. Not to Jessica. She believes it. However, I want to believe it. But sometimes the goodness of God comes down to an individual’s perspective. And my perspective is different than my wife’s. I believe with all of my heart that our life is good, that time and change and choices have a way of healing our hardships or at the very least, making us forget about them. I believe that God is good. My struggle comes with suggesting that God caused the things in my life to be good. Believing that forces me to also believe that the God who I believe is capable of (filling in the blank) sometimes doesn’t (fill in the blank). Some of my friends say I’m overthinking all of this. And perhaps they’re right. Still, I worry about what saying “God is so good to us” aloud suggests about other people’s situations—you know, the ones that really aren’t good.
I don’t struggle believing that God is able. I don’t struggle believing that God is good. However, believing in a God that is able but also willing to sometimes do nothing has consequences. And it’s easy to ignore those consequences when you’re the one saying, “God is so good to us.”
“Anyway,” I say to Jessica, “As long as the post office delivers the check on time, we’re good.”
“Oh, honey,” she says, “Do you think we should trust the mail to get it here on time?”
“I don’t know. Should I?”
“Maybe you should call your parents and just ask them if they’d be willing to FedEx it.”
“Okay. I can do that.”
“I’d just hate for it to get lost in the mail. Or arrive late, you know? That wouldn’t be good.”
True, I think, but it could be God.