When is the last time you had a prayer that didn’t get answered the way you wanted it to?
The past few weeks I have toyed with the idea of a post about prayer. I hesitated to write one, because I have more questions than answers. But, then I figured maybe you do, too. Finally, I saw the above photo in my friend’s Facebook feed, and I knew I now had what I needed to express some of what I was thinking.
The note above was written by a first grade boy to the tooth fairy. What in the world would you do as a parent with such a request? Parents love to give their children good gifts. We love to see our children’s faces light up when given their hearts’ desires. One problem with this one, though…it is impossible to fulfill.
Oh, sure, you could find a way to fake it. A bag of glitter placed under the pillow with a note expressing how the dust only works on fairies might do the trick, but this wouldn’t be a true answer to the request. This little boy doesn’t just want fairy dust, he wants to fly.
I wonder how God feels when we ask for something that is by all accounts of nature impossible. You see, here is where I struggle: I know God can grant any request, but the greater question is will He?
I prayed with a young woman recently seeking healing for a chronic health condition. She is staring in the face of a possible lifetime of pain. Nightly, I pray for my uncle who is recovering from heart surgery. His body seems to be healing, but the future is still unknown. I can name countless other relatives I have prayed for who lost their struggle and have entered their eternal home. Prayers were fervently uttered, yet the outcome was not the one desired.
The mystery of prayer will always haunt me. Of all aspects of my faith, this is the one I struggle with the most. Yet, these are the elements I know to be true:
1) Most days God works within the boundaries of nature. Miracles wouldn’t be miracles if they happened all of the time. By definition a miracle is “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” Our bodies are finite. Diseases exist. We are broken. The mess in our lives often exists for a natural reason.
2) God has our greater good in mind. Our limited vision of what is good for us pales in comparison to the bigger picture. Just as a mother refuses to feed her child cupcakes for breakfast everyday, God says no to us because He looks out for our well being.
3) Our definition of an acceptable outcome is sometimes inaccurate. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “We want not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven, a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?'” God isn’t concerned with making us merely happy, or making us comfortable. He wants us to be holy. In other words, it is His job to shape our character. Sometimes that comes through pain.
4) Prayer changes us. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” I don’t know that I completely agree with this quote, because I think prayer alone can change circumstances, but I also know how it can change us. Through the act of trust we can gain a peace we would not otherwise have. We can receive clarity of direction. Greater courage just might come our way. And ultimately, our relationship with our Creator deepens as we seek to communicate with Him.
Sometimes God answers seemingly reasonable requests with a no, or at least a not now. Ultimately, we must trust that God knows what He is doing in our lives and that He is good in every essence.
Be bold in your requests. It certainly can’t hurt to ask for a bit of fairy dust now and then. You never know just when the answer might be, “Yes!”