Monday, December 22, 2014

Faith Like a Child

By the time we got home this evening I had a throbbing headache. Not disabling, but definitely irritating. I knew what had caused it: a long, hard day, too little water, and too much coffee and pop. I knew how to fix it: water and, eventually, Tylenol. But before said Tylenol had time to take effect, I griped about the headache to my 5 year old son - probably as an excuse for why I wasn't giving him lots of patient, loving attention at bed time. Immediately, and in an almost resigned tone of voice, he says "Please God make Mommy's head not hurt." I patted him on the head and said "Thanks, James." Then I did a quick double take: my head had stopped hurting. Just like that, in between breaths. In direct response to the prayer of a child.
There is something frankly scary about this. Several things, actually.
I'm having trouble putting it into words, but I think perhaps I feel a little like the disciples when Jesus commanded the storm to stop. As the wind stopped, the disciples looked at each other in fear and said "What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

And me? I hadn't even thought to pray about my headache. It was just one of those minor inconveniences of life - one that was not only basically my fault, but also one that I had well under control as far as I was concerned.

But then there's this other thing that worries me: what to do when he gets the inevitable "No" from God. We had a church retreat at the beach back in November. I spent weeks leading up to it trying to prepare him for the reality of Oregon beaches in the winter, but he was having none of it: he was going to pray for good weather! That Saturday it rained in the morning, but at free time it cleared up beautifully. You could look up and down the beach and see the dark clouds to both north and south, but for several hours it was clear and dry and still on our little stretch of beach.  Last week we visited the beach again, and again James prayed for good weather. This time I knew to bring the sand toys, and sure enough, Saturday was one of the most beautiful days I've ever seen on that coast at any time of year.
December 13, 2014
And we joke about this - half in belief and amazement, and half because... well, God doesn't Really change the weather in response to a kid's request. Does He?!
Look, seriously, I can hold a nice scholarly conversation with you, peppered with examples from Job, the book of James, and etc. on just the sorts of prayers God always answers with a "yes," (hint: prayers for wisdom!), which sorts often get a "no," (hint: ones asked with wrong and selfish motives), how God is not a vending machine, and why a "no" or "wait" answer doesn't mean God doesn't love you, or that He isn't good. And really, who can say that a request for clear weather on a vacation weekend is not basically a selfish request?! What would happen if God always answered our prayers for good weather? Huh?
I honestly find myself wanting to explain to James that those days on the beach were "just one of those nice coincidences that happen from time to time. I'm glad you got them and are thankful for them but they would have happened with or without your prayers."
And then I wrench myself back with the words still inside, because I'm clearly missing the point. Jesus taught us to pray "Give us this day our daily bread." Does God give us our daily bread even when we don't pray for it? Yes, He practically always does. But He wants us to ask - and to thank Him for it when it is provided! (Aside: this has been a hard one for James too. He wonders how God is really responsible for getting us that food, when obviously it comes from the grocery store! Still working on that...)
God isn't Santa Clause. And maybe He Didn't rearrange the jet stream for James' pleasure. But the weather was beautiful, and because James prayed for it, many gave thanks for it who might otherwise have simply accepted it unthinkingly. Without James' prayer, I wouldn't have even brought God into the little issue of the headache. I'd have assigned credit to analgesics and moved on.

Some time back a speaker used was talking about King David. She pointed out that both He and Jonathan were cut from this same rare cloth in that they actually Believed God - that He was on their side and that He would fight for them. They took insane risks based on this belief (David with Goliath; Jonathan when he and his armor bearer took on a whole outpost of Philistines.) And God rewarded them - unlike their elders who were carefully playing it safe, doing the sensible thing, and basically freaking out in the face of their enemies' strength.

Right now, my little boy's prayers are being answered. He doesn't seem freaked out about this. He just assumes that this is how it works. The time for nuance - frankly, the time for Doubt - is later. Much later, I hope. In the meantime, I pray that God is building in him a faith much more like David's, like Jonathan's - and less, sadly, like my own safe, sensible faith. While I'm at it, I think I'll pray for my own faith too!

No comments: