Monday, July 14, 2014

Unanswered prayer

O my Gosh! (That’s what He gets for not ‘answering prayer’—we change His name when we want to take it in vain, so we can have an alibi in case He’s been eavesdropping!)

I’m trying to think back to my childhood, to see if I can find an instance of unanswered prayer, so that I can fit in with the rest of God-jilted humanity—but I can’t really find any. Is it maybe because I never really asked Him for anything? Well, no.

There was the time, years and years ago—I was a young teenager, maybe high school freshman—when I was misled by a ‘faith healer’ on Christian television to believe ‘for a miracle’ for my sick mom. I stuffed an envelope with some hard-earned cash—I was a paperboy and made about twelve dollars a month—and wrote my prayer request on a piece of paper and mailed everything to this ‘minister.’

Nothing happened, of course, except mom didn’t die, not yet anyway. She was the most resilient invalid I have ever met, and a woman of very great faith, almost a victim of codependency on God, whom she never stopped talking to, day and night, but especially the latter. I’m afraid that I may have inherited her disposition with regards to this. I also never seem to stop talking to God, and like her, I’m also under the delusion that He talks back, and even that He sometimes initiates the conversation. Some people have told me I’m living in denial. My question for them has always been, ‘so who isn’t?’ 

But unanswered prayer? That time I wrote my request on a sheet of paper and mailed it in an envelope full of one dollar bills (maybe it just wasn’t enough, since I didn’t give all) to the faith healer, well, that doesn’t really count as an instance of unanswered prayer. Why not? I guess it’s because I didn’t go directly to Him, and ask. I mean, I was brought up in an environment where people who wanted God to do things didn’t ask Him directly. That would be too forward. You can’t be forward with God. He’s ahead of everyone.

Instead, you brought your requests to His mother. ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…’ Actually, I did say this prayer, yes, over and over again while fingering those black beads till some of them lost their finish, but even then, I didn’t have anything special I wanted from God, even through her. I was just happy to be alive, and not be on the wrong side of things.

Aha! That’s it, I guess. When I look back, though I went through some pretty nasty things and had some hair-raising experiences—actually, humiliating would be the better word—it just never occurred to me to ask God to ‘get me outta this mess!’ Even before I became obsessed with the bible and started actually talking to the Lord—when I was twenty-four years old, I finally noticed He’d been talking back to me since I was a child—it somehow seemed irreverent to ask Him for anything. It was as if to ask Him to change something in my life was tantamount to telling Him He didn’t know what He was doing to make things so difficult for me.

Even when I only believed in signs and didn’t know Him personally, it still seemed cheeky to put God on the spot, as if He were Someone you could corner.

But wait a minute! I just realized something! I go to church! I pray along with the ‘prayers of the people’ during worship services. ‘In peace, let us pray to the Lord…’ Yeah, that’s right. And I make the sign of the cross over myself when we come to petitions I especially want to add my ‘amen’ to, like ‘for an angel of peace, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask the Lord…’

And guess what! That’s an easy prayer to make, and even easier to get answered. I mean, like, when have I not been sent an angel of peace and a guardian of my soul and body? I wouldn’t be here writing this, if that were an unanswered prayer.

When has God not sent people to me and me to people—yes, I know, angels have wings, or are supposed to, but that is, to me, an unimportant detail—just when I needed it? He is, if I may say so, very careful too. He’s never too early or too late. That does keep you on your toes, I mean, me and mine. Could that be why we call Him in our better moments, not ‘Gosh!’ but the man-loving God?

Continuing along the same lines, I admit there are some things I’ve asked Him for—now that I think of it—that haven’t been answered, at least not yet.

‘For the completion of our lives in peace and repentance… for a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ…’

Well, what can I say? If anything were too much to ask, this is it, and yet I pray along with the others at church these very things. So, it’s true, maybe, that some prayer goes unanswered, but only if you take the short view. There are some things we ask for that require a certain amount of cooperation, and even action, on our part. At least, we might have to follow His instructions—which we might find if we ever opened a bible, read it, and took what He says there, seriously.

At most, well, what can I say? There are some things we ask Him that He can’t answer until we’re (gulp!) already dead. And what would be good about that? Well, hmm, I think I have an idea.

‘A good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ…’

Isn’t this going a bit too far? I mean, anyone can pray that, and who can tell if the prayer will be answered or not? I think, maybe only the one who really prays that prayer as if he or she really means it. That brings the subject to a close, for me anyway.

Unanswered prayer? Did we really pray, did we really ask the Lord for something in the first place? Or were we only mouthing the words? You see, as soon as we’ve opened up the discussion, though we might think we’ve put God in the hot seat, He’s already turned tables on us. As He spoke to the long-suffering patriarch Job, ‘Now it is my turn to ask questions and yours to inform me’ (Job 38:3 JB).

I think something happened to me when I accepted ‘the Lord as He is,’ casting aside all the (even well-intentioned but misguided) teachings about Him that circulated around me in my growing-up years, that made Him out to be a stingy, bossy, meddlesome, heavenly Tyrant who was always nosing around, looking for people who were having a moment of innocent (but filthy) pleasure so He could snuff it out for them and make them cringe.

That was the kind of God who loved to not answer prayer but hold you hostage to what He could do for you if He wanted, but probably wouldn’t. At least, not without a very great deal of effort on your part. And even then, if He granted your request, you’d better be darn thankful, or else He could take it back, like some television faith healer who warns, ‘don’t stop believing, or you’ll lose your healing!’

Yes, I tossed out a lot of misinformation and majestically incorrect notions when I accepted ‘the Lord as He is.’ I had never been taught to really pray, and so I had never known really what to pray for. This is where reading at first, and then praying eventually, the biblical Psalms helped me to become a pray-er, not just to say one.

There has to be a real person before a real conversation can take place, especially when talking to ‘Him who is’ and no better way to walk into His presence and become one, than reading first, and then praying, the Psalms. We learn to ask what they ask, and we find ourselves being answered.

By whom?
By the Lord, of course! And in a way that silences all our musings and speculations and questions.

Unanswered prayer?
Please, how could any real prayer go unanswered?
When we know Him, when we know that He knows everything about us, all our needs, not our imagined ones, but our real needs, how can we even consider that our prayers ever go unanswered?

Yes, saints and others have written volumes of apologetics regarding ‘unanswered prayer’ and despite their best intentions and our curiosity, the question (not the prayer) will remain forever unanswered.

Because you and I are the prayers,
and He alone is the answer.

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