Once in a while, it becomes necessary to slam my SUV into the concrete columns of the employee-parking garage. Call it an unconscious urging I have to mark my territory.
As I explain to my teenage daughters, there are two reasons why this is a necessary ritual. First, it helps them to better realize that their father isn’t nearly as perfect as they seem to think he is. Second, I think it helps them to not feel so bad when this primal urging causes them to leave their own marks.
Last week I decided that it had been far too long since I had last reenacted this valuable object lesson. So on a very hot day, while moving my car to find better shade, I surrendered to my unconscious urging and backed my SUV into my old friend, the concrete column.
Unloading a litany of praise, I began to thank God, it was only concrete and not the car of a fellow employee. (OK, maybe praise wasn’t the first thing out of my mouth). Nevertheless, I shifted into forward and began to look for a cooler spot, where I could collapse into uncontrollable sobs in relative anonymity.
While fleeing from the scene, I was also praying. “Pull-ease God, don’t let there be so much damage that I’m unable to open the back door.” A door failure would necessitate an immediate fix whereas minor damage would allow repairs to be procrastinated and budgeted.
My prayer made no sense at all. I was praying that the results of an event might be changed after the event. I was asking that damage would not result in an event that had already occurred.
I was praying for good results, despite the fact that the results had already occurred. The results had occurred but they were, as of yet, unknown to me.
My prayerful request seemed most futile, but most human. My prayer had no way of changing the results of something that had already occurred. I was simply waiting for the moment in which I would find the cool parking spot and assess the damage. From this cool spot I would announce my praise of a merciful God or curse my own stupidity.
The infusion unit of the hospital is a place where patients come to pray that the results of their collision with a wall called cancer will somehow begin to change.
“What can I ask God for?” the cancer patient asked, echoing the sentiment of the question I had asked myself in the parking lot. Diagnosed years after her obstetrician told her the lump in her breast was nothing to worry about, she had proceeded to fill her home with children. Now, in the late stages of cancer, she was finding out what it was like to really hit the wall.
“Is it crazy to ask God to heal me even though my disease is so advanced?”
Knowing that breast cancer in this stage was never good, I was tempted to spout the “chaplain answer” – the answer that would gush with god-speak. It would be the kind of polished answer I once gave a girl in my college Greek class when she was expressing the hurt in her life.
When I was finished, my classmate’s only question was, “Did you get an “A” in that class?”
So, to this very scared mom in the infusion unit, I admitted what I knew to be true – which was to admit 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 supposed 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 – it is really looking for some kind of formula or spell by which we hope to make God do as we wish. We’ve invented all kinds of prayer systems from which has sprung a ‘proper dialogue,’ but in the end, the only thing that gets us though is our own prayers as they resonate in our hearts as being the right thing to say.
I’m not sure prayer need make human sense, because it seems to me that 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. The prayers we express at a time like this will always tend to be something that does not always align itself with sensible theology.
I find the best way to find alignment with God’s plan is to follow Jesus’ suggestion to find a closet. His suggestion was not just a way of scorning the self-inflated language of public prayer. His intent was to suggest that there is a place where one falls in private to effect a sort of heart transplant with his creator. This transplant begins to align the will of the creation with the creator.
Whether it is hitting the wall with your car or hitting the wall of reality, I somehow doubt if our prayers will ever make the grade or make much sense, but the prayers of a tearful heart will always find the ear of a loving God.