Sunday, August 17, 2014

Prayer: Crumbs From the Master's Table

I’ve been struggling with the idea of prayer lately. The extent of my frustration with prayer came out late one night, when one of my children wasn’t sleeping well and I prayed the universal mother’s prayer of sleep-deprivation: “God, will you please just help my child sleep through the whole night. Even just this one time. Please. Please. I’m so tired.”

It’s a silly prayer, really. In the grand scheme of things that could be prayed for, praying for another person to sleep falls far beneath world peace, ending hunger, healing the sick, and about a million other things. But, even as I recognized the insignificance of my request, I got angry at the unlikelihood of it being answered. Because shouldn’t the fact that my request is so small make it that much easier for God to answer it? It would take just the smallest nanoparticle of God’s mercy for my child to sleep all night. And if it actually happened, I would have no explanation other than that my prayer was heard and answered, and I would recognize the miracle.

So yeah, I also know that God doesn’t really measure out his mercy in particles and pounds. But how does he measure it out? When does he answer prayer? And how do we know that something that happens, either positive or negative, is him answering a prayer?

In bible college, one of my roommates was the type to see God in every empty parking space, lost keys found, and canceled class. My skepticism would rise to the surface and I’d be asking, so if I don’t find an empty parking space when I need one in downtown Chicago, God doesn’t love me as much as he loves you? If I don’t find my lost keys right away, then God’s trying to chastise me for my irresponsibility? If my class isn’t canceled when I want it to be, it’s because it wasn’t God’s will? Because if you see God behind every positive thing, every moment of serendipity in your life, don’t you have to also see him behind every negative thing? And if every positive thing is because of some good you’ve done, staying in God’s will, then doesn’t every negative thing have to be because you’ve somehow messed something up and lost your way?

I’m aware of the need to have eyes to see…that disbelief in the divine precludes seeing the divine. But that doesn’t equate to indiscriminately declaring any happening around me to be an act of God. I’m not comfortable with the logic that claims that every good happening is from God, and every bad happening is the result of my personal sin. Remember Job? Remember how the rain falls on the just and unjust? Bad shit happens to good, innocent people. Really good stuff happens to evil people. It just doesn’t add up so nicely.

So where does that leave prayer? I’ve heard the argument that the purpose of prayer is really to change the person who is praying. That the act of putting myself in contact with the divine isn’t about what the divine can do for me, but how I can change to be more aligned with the divine. I get that, and to some extent I think that’s true. But if God really exists and cares about people, and if prayer really is communication between God and I, shouldn’t it be a two way street? And isn’t the soul of humanity’s calling on divinity to beg for the divinity to intercede in this messed up place we live in, to beg him to act? And don’t people who care, act?

This morning in church the pastor talked about the story in Matthew where a Canaanite woman approached Jesus and asked him to heal her sick daughter. Jesus points out that she, not being a Jew, is an outsider. She has not been invited to the table yet, so why should he serve her? She reminds him that even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. He acknowledges her faith and heals her daughter.

I feel like that outsider woman, begging to be allowed to have the crumbs that fall from the table above. Hoping that if and when I receive those crumbs, I’ll be able to recognize whose hand they came from. And hoping that if no crumbs ever fall, God still exists, still cares, still somehow acts in ways that I don’t see. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. 


michelle said...

What about the Refiner's fire? Have you ever heard the quote from Teresa of Avila, after being thrown from a horse into mud, "Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!" ? I struggle to see negative experiences solely as divine retribution: that you get them because you've done something wrong. If Teresa of Avila, a devout woman and Catholic saint, gets the hard knocks, too, maybe sometimes, though not always, the challenge, painful though it may be, is a sign you're doing something right? Let me know if you ever want to go for a walk!! I am with you on these mothering challenges...

michelle said...

Another way to say it: it's the "athletic training" side of love. To be thrown into situations that test and build patience, endurance, and resolve give us the strength to persevere in love where we might not otherwise been able to go on. Little by little, we can go a little further, love a little better. Too bad this doesn't happen by watching TV and drinking tea :) it's hard. Keep going! You're an awesome momma.