Thursday, February 9, 2017

"That's what I get for praying"

Monday night I was exhausted in every way. Though so many good things have happened in the last couple years, the core issues that tore my family apart remain. Each day I have to put one foot in front of the other, as if those issues do not exist because I am powerless to stop them, and because God is silent. So, so silent. It's a challenge some days just to make food, to shower, to take care of my own broken body, to cope with feelings of grief that well up unexpectedly. Thinking of one more potential issue, one more thing broken, one more flood, or one more crisis makes me feel numb.

That Monday night in prayer, I pierced my usual bullet list of gratitude with an honest cry from my heart. In the midst of thanking God for all that was good, I asked for a reprieve from major problems, from the next shoe dropping, from the crisis that waits just around the corner so that afterward you say, "remember life before it happened?"

As I fell asleep, I knew it was not a surrender prayer but a prayer for mercy. For help. Maybe God would hear how tired I am of trying to pick up pieces and keep pushing forward.

The next morning, I laid in bed for a half hour after waking. I waited for the strength to face the day to seep into me as the fading shadow of sleep fled my mind and muscles. After I reluctantly threw the covers back, washed my face, and used the bathroom, I opened my phone to multiple missed calls and a text message no one wants to read - Your mom and dog have been in an accident on the highway caused by road rage.

I felt like George Bailey that day. A punch in the face after a heartfelt prayer. This is a feeling I've had before but rarely so acutely as this.

But before I could sink into more self-pity or draw back any further from God, I remembered how Clarence later corrected George's misinterpretation:

"Your lip's bleeding, George."
"Yeah, I got a bust in the jaw in answer to a prayer a little bit ago."
"Oh, no no no, George, I'm the answer to your prayer. That's why I was sent down here."

It's a mystery how God works in response to prayer. I'm convinced I know less about how prayer works than I ever thought I knew. But one thing I do know is that we can often misinterpret God's actions. What may seem like cruelty or silence or hardship may actually be unrelated or a mercy about to unfold. What may seem like silence in one key area may be in contrast to a plan or a flourishing garden of blessing in another area of life.

Elijah is the biblical counterpart to George Bailey. Like George, he worked hard to do the right thing all his life. He sacrificed, faced a powerful, evil foe, and triumphed. However, after that dedication and triumph, instead of being rewarded with relief, his very life was in jeopardy, and he ran away, angry, afraid, and deeply discouraged.

It seemed like God's answer to Elijah was the threat of being killed, but it wasn't. Just like in the movie, God's response to George is not the punch. Instead, Elijah receives from God rest, food, comfort, and gentle questions to get him to consider a bigger picture. So too, in the movie, George receives compassion, care, and gentle questions from Clarence to gain perspective.

So in response to the accident, I must resist the urge to get angry and bitter, narrowly viewing this hardship as some divine punishment. I genuinely don't know the ways in which God will work, but in the meantime, I will remember that this world is a broken place. I'm here for God to teach, to use, to be a light, not to be on vacation from all pain. If he can use an accident to shape me and teach me about prayer or get my attention, I need to listen. God is often at work in bigger ways behind the scenes than we can ever expect.

So if you are weary from working hard for the Lord, if you are dealing with silence from God or prayers that feel ignored or even punished, don't miss the gentle hand of Jesus reaching out to you in your pain. It may be through a man like Clarence. It may be in a verse of scripture or a call from a friend. It may be a million different things. But in some way through your discouragement, Jesus is saying: "Oh, no no no, I'm the answer to your prayer."

Thank you, Lord, for sparing my mom and dear dog on the highway despite the evil that lurks in the hearts of drivers who rage on the road. Thank you for encouraging me with a broader perspective. Help me to keep going in faith when life is hard and crises happen.