But as supplication goes, praying for parking is, for those who pray, a mark of shame. It’s on par with praying that The Gap has the right size jeans or that your TiVo’s hard drive doesn’t crash during "Grey's Anatomy." It’s a prayer of tedium—for those too bored to pray for things that matter. It’s a prayer of luxury—for that blessed 1% whose wealth can put them in a car and give them cause to drive to the tony shopping district where parking is the only scarcity.
Worse, praying for parking is poor theology. In Philip Yancey’s new book on prayer, he quotes a philosophy professor on the subject: "If God can influence the course of events, then a God who is willing to cure colds and provide parking spaces but is not willing to prevent Auschwitz and Hiroshima is morally repugnant." The point is not what kind of god God is, but what kind of God we believe him to be, and what our prayers say about our vision of him. Can he intervene in a crowded shopping lot, but not in Darfur? Will he get me a space right next to handicapped parking, but not cure my father's cancer? Who wants to believe in such a God?
In this sense, the God who provides good parking is the God that Satan tempted Jesus to be in the wilderness. Jesus refused to turn rocks into bread and hurl himself from a cliff because he's not a magician; he’s not a Coke machine; he’s not available via remote control, anxious to address whatever tiny inconveniences we need shoved aside.
And it's not because small things don’t matter. God, like the devil, is in the details, and he’s compassionate enough and incredible enough to be concerned about the minutia of our lives. The whole point of the incarnation is that he’s suffered things big and small; he can sympathize with my father’s cancer as well as my ingrown toenail. But he does not provide a panacea, and indeed, the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of is one that often called for killing off creature comforts: take no tunic, sell your possessions, walk the extra mile. If Jesus admonished people to walk that additional mile, what would he say to those unwilling to walk 50 additional yards?
To pray for parking is to misunderstand what God does in our lives. Having spent my share of time in theological circles that emphasize God’s material blessing, I’ve heard many people mention their propensity for finding close-in parking as a sign of God’s favor. "There were no spaces to be found anywhere. And I just prayed, 'God, please provide a space for me,' and suddenly someone left the front row!" Such people mean that God really cares about them, and shows his affection by an ample parking provision. But if God really cares, wouldn't he want them to get the exercise that back-row parking requires?
I live in Colorado Springs, where parking is ample. To those who pray for parking, that may mean that God has poured his blessings upon all those in the Rocky Mountains. Even when my wife and I drive up to Denver for an evening and pull into the downtown streets, we’re not long in our search for parking—a meter spot here, several open and affordable pay lots there.
Ironically, our ample parking gives me one point of connection with those who bang heaven's doors for an empty space: I'm grateful to God that it's so easy to park here. But to my mind, there's a great deal of difference between praying for a parking space and being thankful for a parking space. For years, including our early years as parents, my wife and I lived in Boston. I'll take driving and parking in any major American metropolis over Boston any day—I adore and miss the place, but the streets are narrow and often unmarked, the city's geography is cramped and dense with people, buildings, and constant construction. I've circled, vulture-like, for parking in Boston for hours on end. Red Sox games (anything within a mile is a steal). Classes at BU (tuition + parking tickets). Film festivals (where I once worked as a shuttle driver and learned why cabbies are forever grumpy).
Shortly after the birth of our daughter, my wife and I moved into South Boston, where there are thousands of cars and oh, a handful of parking spaces—fewer on snow days. For two years, every time we went out for errands or a rare cheap date, we pulled our car out of its parking space with fear and trembling. Coming home, I’d pull up to the curb in front of our home, help wife, baby, bags of groceries pour onto the sidewalk, then commence with the search for parking. Circling, circling, circling. Cussing, fuming. And, okay, maybe just once or twice, praying. Half an hour later, I’d walk half a mile home.
If I prayed for parking then, I never felt it was worthy of prayer. If I prayed for it, it was out of a more general desperation—I was praying for a whole life change. The daily toil of parking blocks away from home was just one piece of a fairly miserable existence, a life with more stress and anxiety than we knew how to manage.
So if I'm grateful for parking now, it is because I'm grateful for a much healthier, sustainable existence. When I drive home at night, I pull down a leafy street with no sidewalks. I see the trees on my lot—aspen, oak, cottonwood, four types of pine—before I see my home. I turn left onto my street, and left again into my driveway. Not without fail, but often, I utter a prayer of thanks. Thank you, God, for this driveway. I love parking here.