Recently, one of my children backed our car out of the garage using the Braille system. Hearing the all-too-familiar crunching sound, I went to the passenger door to examine the damage.
As I placed my hand on the door handle, I found myself praying a nonsensical prayer.
“Pull-ease God, just make it so I can open the door.”
I call the prayer nonsensical, because I knew no matter what I prayed, the damage already had happened. Prayed after the fact, it sounded as though I was hoping my prayer would change history.
However, while my prayer may have seemed futile, it also was a very human prayer. Prayers that come from our disappointments and hurt often will not make sense to the casual listeners. That’s because they’re done in a language of the heart that’s not easily translated.
A cancer patient once told me her prayers didn’t make sense. A few years prior, her obstetrician told her the lump he found in her breast was nothing to worry about. Two children later, she found herself in the third stage of cancer. Now, she wondered whether it was crazy to ask God to heal her in this advanced stage.
Knowing breast cancer in this stage was not good, I was tempted to spout the “chaplain answer,” the answer that would gush with god-speak. It was the kind of polished theological answer I once gave a classmate in college as she was expressing the hurt in her life. When I was finished, her only question was, “Did you get an ‘A’ in that class?”
So, to this very scared mom on our oncology unit, I admitted what I knew to be true: I knew nothing.
“I’m not sure that God is looking for dialogue from us that makes sense,” I said, “because I’m not sure we are expected to be doing sensible things at a moment like this.”
Looking for sensible words at a time like this is like looking for patterns in the wind. Sensible prayers are our attempt to find a formula or spell by which we try and make God do as we wish. We’ve invented all kinds of prayer systems, but in the end, the only thing that gets us through the hardest times are the prayers that resonate in our hearts.
When it comes to the language of prayer, God uses the human heart to be a sort of universal translator by which he is best able to hear us. The prayers we express at a time like this don’t always align with sensible theology.
Jesus suggested the best way to find alignment with spiritual things is to find a closet in which to pray. I love the way the message translates Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:6:
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
The gist of the teaching is: When it’s just you and God in the closet, you have no witnesses, you don’t care what your prayers sound like. The only thing that will matter is God hears you.
At the end of the day, whether it is hitting the garage wall with your car or hitting the wall of reality, our prayers rarely will make much human sense, but the prayers of a tearful heart always will find the ear of a loving God.