I have a relative, a sweet lady, really, who is forever asking for prayers. And so, being basically a people-person, and a long-time appeaser of others’ needs, I nod my agreement and promise I will, I will. I will pray for you. I promise. But to be honest, I have to own up to a certain forgetfulness and hesitation to get involved in her self-generated—her “selfie”—prayer requests because the whole deal is pretty confusing. You see, the trouble, for me, is that her needs, her requests, are that she be “restored” to a prior financial and marital status, the loss of which she can’t accept. She calls it bad Karma: Their successful family business went belly up, and the ex-husband has re-married and settled down with someone else. Since there is no such thing as Karma, dear folks—or even good or bad luck—we have to deal with fact, logic and truth. In the words of today’s youngsters and millennials, for my lovely relative, sadly, “That ship has sailed.” As Dana Carvey, portraying the late President George Bush would say to her if his skit were again on Saturday Night Live (and if SNL had not become an utter trash pit): Not gonna happen. Still, she, focusing only on herself, insists that God simply must bless her by restoring her to her old life.
Somewhere along the way, despite numerous other losses in her life, this often-cheerful lady has slipped ever so predictably into a prosperity kind of faith which is based on the idea that big things, much deserved, are soon going to be released once more into her empty hands. And perhaps she is right. I, however, on the other hand, come from a different school of thought, more austere, often guilt-ridden. I am certainly never as light-hearted as she, and I admit, yes, I am turning into an old grouch. I feel like saying to her, “Don’t be silly. I am tired. We have been through this before, one thousand times.” Instead I agree to pray for her, the real her, because, indeed, in fact, our Lord has told us to ask for what we want, and I want the best for her, and he did promise that when we ask, we will receive; he even scolded us a little and said that we don’t receive because we don’t ask—often enough or bountifully enough, I imagine. He went on to describe that poor old woman in the New Testament who kept knocking and knocking at the judge’s door, bothering him until she won justice from him. Our Lord assured us his father is good and kind and would not give a stone or a snake when we ask for sustenance. But it seems that in the asking, in prayer, things often go haywire and it may be because we are skipping the part where, at least for a spiritual moment of indeterminate length, we need to pause for a period of deep surrender of our wills, our wishes, our emotions, our very selves, and proclaim total acceptance, like giving over control—something, we might say—and I am not kidding—like when you order from AMAZON.
Now I don’t really like Amazon, Google, Walmart or even sometimes our stalwart and often only grocery store in the neighborhood, HEB. But they usually do a good job in providing our needs and wants. Of course, when you go to Amazon, for instance, to shop, you can’t actually see or touch or squeeze what they have or examine what you might get, and you can only purchase what they do have, and not what they don’t have. Thus, you accept and surrender to their product choices. In that way, you do give yourself to them, to their will, their power. You put your money, your credit information, your faith, on the line. You push the right button, and it is done. Bow your head in surrender. It’s all in the hands of Amazon. Now, as in prayer, you can only wait in hope and expectation, no real guarantee; you float, dependent on the workers in the Amazon warehouse, and as time passes, the boss of this whole situation is likely one unknown but friendly delivery driver and then, and then, you have only your own hope that front porch thieves don’t run off with your packages before you get home and check to see—oh, great happiness—you got exactly or mostly what you wanted.
We surrender to and give our acceptance to Amazon. And it works, we can see, if you have been struggling with prayer, with the idea of prayer—how to pray—that this shop-online ritual is not unlike actual real episodes of prayer. Everywhere there are limits, determined by natural law, logic, truth, possibilities and impossibilities. We can’t ask for a married ex-husband to throw over a new family and return, can’t ask for a burned building to be un-burned, can’t ask Amazon for the moon or for free stuff. We really may only pray for the possibility of goodness. We ask then, not just for our selfie selves, but for all mankind, for mothers, babies born today, for those who will see life end for them today, for love and help for all—for the warehouse workers, the delivery truck drivers, even the porch thieves. Pray for those in public life, for those tempted today to commit adultery, to break hearts and bodies. And when we do this, we may or may not receive exactly what our own spirit longs for, but we become different, stronger, perhaps not perpetually cheerful, but we advance beyond unreasonable unreal demands for ourselves, and begin to give over to what is simple, workable, to what will be and we see more clearly how we belong so nicely in the here and now.