I have a confession to make: I often don’t know how to pray for “good” things to happen.
You would think that wouldn’t be an issue, right? I mean, most of the time the whole reason we pray is because we want something good to happen. Or at least something that’s good in our own minds. Someone is sick, so we pray for them to be healed. There is an opportunity in front of us, so we pray for it to go well. There is a difficult conversation that needs to happen so we pray that it can be done effectively. That seems simple enough. And yet, at least for me, it’s in praying for this kind of stuff that I get a little tongue-tied:
“God, I pray for her to feel better, though I want You to know that I know that it might not be the right thing for her to feel better. So before I ask, I want to make sure that I recognize that You’ve already given me enough. And I’m sorry to be asking for something else. And I recognize that this might be the best thing. So, I guess, either please help her feel better or please don’t. I guess.”
See how that works?
The deeper question, though, is why I feel like I must, when I talk to God, make sure that I have all this preamble. All these contingencies. Why do I feel as though I must specify each request? On the positive side, you could argue it’s because I want to help myself recognize my limitations in vision and wisdom. I want to make sure that I don’t assume that I know the right thing in every situation – that my idea of what is “good” might not actually be that good at all. You could say that such qualifying statements are an attempt to pray humbly to a God who knows me and every situation better than I do, and because He does, these statements put me in a position to receive whatever comes from the hand of God whether it matches my idea of what’s good and right or not.
You could say that. But at least for me, I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Instead, at least in my case, all this qualification is an attempt to protect myself. To guard my heart from disappointment. To not put all my eggs in one basket.
I am afraid to ask for something good because I am afraid it won’t happen. And when it doesn’t happen, I’m afraid that it’s going to hurt. Badly. So I protect. I guard. I hold back. And qualify. I hide behind a mask of spirituality the fear that ultimately I’m not going to get what I really want. So what do we do with that?
There are two choices that I see: Choice number 1 is that I bemoan the layers of sinfulness and confusion within my own heart. I complain, both to myself and to God, that I don’t know what the right thing to ask for us, and that I am fully aware that what I want might not be the best thing. If, I were to take this course of action, my prayers would be consumed with a self-focus masquerading as humility.
Or there’s choice number 2: Ask. Ask for the good things. Knock on the door of heaven and petition the heart of a loving Father. Ask without preamble and unashamedly for that which does not contradict the revealed will of God. Open myself up to the potential disappointment and then see that disappointment as an avenue for me to see the wisdom of God at work.
I think I’m going to try choice 2 for a while, and as I do, I’m going to remind myself again and again as I ask and ask that the gospel not only assures me that God is for me; it also makes up for what I cannot see in the depths of my own heart. The gospel promises not what’s good but what’s best, and promises the grace I need to discover what that is along the way.