Not long after Hurricane Matthew passed over North Carolina, a pastor and his parishioners were standing on a bridge above rapidly rising waters. Over the radio, I heard their loud prayers: “Lord, do not bring this flood. Send this water away!” My immediate thought was that they should get off the bridge and head for higher ground.
But my next thought was of my own early experience with intense prayer. I was maybe six or seven, and I had purchased a raffle ticket for a puppy. Even today it is hard for me to imagine that anyone else wanted that puppy as much as I did. I prayed night and day; I bargained with God. I stayed by the phone the day of the drawing. In my view, granting my wish would cost God nothing and would guarantee my lifelong devotion. My ultimate disappointment did not so much destroy my faith as suggest for the first time that possibly the universe did not revolve around my wishes.
The problem is that now, as then, we are usually praying for the wrong things. We are, all of us, still praying for puppies of one sort or another. We are all praying for rivers to run uphill. Instead, we should be opening our hearts, asking God to come in and straighten things out. We should be asking for the strength and courage to handle life’s inevitable pain. We should pray that God will replace our pride, our stinginess, and our pettiness with humility, generosity, and magnanimity. We should ask God to toss out our suspicion, schadenfreude, and vindictiveness and give us trust and empathy. We should hope that God will take away our apathy and sloth and give us purpose and energy. Maybe we should simply be seeking the wisdom to know when to stand and fight and when to get off the bridge.
Appointed readings for today: Isaiah 58:1-9, Psalm 51:1-10, Matthew 9:10-17