What do you think happens to all the audacious prayers you prayed in your reckless overconfidence? Especially the ones you abandoned when it appeared that God didn’t hear you, what happened to those?
Are they kept somewhere, gathering heaven dust? Or are they looked after by your guardian angel like little seeds in a greenhouse whose time hasn’t come yet? (But they are not dead. They are just developing a root system.)
Or maybe they sit in a celestial bank gaining interest, which God will repay. But like a good businessman who knows the market, it’s all about timing.
I can’t believe they are just gone. If what was prayed for was an ultimate good and your intention was true and right and well-ordered, I can’t believe that God just casts aside those hopes or responds with radio silence. Even if the answer was not affirmative to the request, it has to be because there is something better and not something worse or worse yet—nothing at all. To think that God lets the prayers just languish somewhere is inconsistent with the God l love.
He’s a good God. Jesus says if I ask for bread he won’t give me a stone. If I ask for a fish, he won’t give me a snake. But what of these stones and snakes I have? Can I exchange them for bread and fish? Beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit?
When I was pregnant with my eighth child I was going through a very challenging time—as I was for most, if not all of my marriage—and I struggled hard with fear. But, also it was an amazingly fruitful time, spiritually. I was finding Jesus hidden in a tiny white Host in a Tabernacle waiting to be adored. I would dream of things I had no way of knowing. My senses were alive and I would see things I had no way of seeing. Some were pleasant. Some not so pleasant. I wrestled with fear every day. And somehow I found the courage to pray audacious prayers.
In the few days before I went into labor my four year old daughter fell off a play structure in the backyard and injured her elbow. It wasn’t getting better with ice and a wrap, so we took her to the doctor. It was not broken, but pretty severely sprained. How to get a four year old to stop using her elbow and give it rest? She was clearly in pain though. The night I went into labor I dreamed that I went to heaven and audaciously asked God for a new elbow for Saraa. He took me to his “storehouse of creative miracles.” It was just filled with things and random stuff and body parts for which no one had dared ask. Then he gave me an elbow. I know that sounds crazy that God gave me an elbow from heaven. But, in the language of dreams and symbols and the miraculous, why not? Thing was, I had to carry it back to earth. And it was so heavy I didn’t think I could carry it down through the atmosphere. It was painful almost to hang onto it, but I remember the feeling of near panic that I could not lose it along the way! My daughter needed it! And I woke up literally feeling pinned to the bed with the heaviness of the 4 year old’s elbow I carried. Like how time is different in Narnia, I think weight is different in heaven.
She got better, almost immediately.
I think about that storehouse sometimes. If it really exists, is there stuff there meant for me? Things God would be willing to give, but I never had the gumption to ask.
Gathering Up or Scattering
The place of hope (that does not disappoint) is that place between unanswered prayers and prayers unprayed. The tension between longing and fear. The vulnerability that exists between disappointment and timidity. I live there. I have a little cottage in the middle and a well worn path between all my unanswered prayers and the ones I haven’t yet dared to pray. Once in a while when I am feeling very audacious, I place some of those unprayed in my basket and walk them through hope and set them in the place of unanswered.
Maybe God doesn’t gather up the prayers. Maybe I scatter them like seeds as I tread that well worn path. Perhaps he gathers up the harvest.
Maybe he is actually the harvest. And maybe I need to gather him up.
And maybe I need to hold the prayers a little more loosely because nothing is really mine and love does not make demands.
“You will not lose your balance God. Even the one who loves you and can make out your face in the dark and lift his light near your breath does not possess you. And if one were to seize you by praying hard: You are the guest who will depart…
“But the path to you is terribly far and hid since for so long no one has walked on it. You are alone. You are solitude, my love, walking amidst deep and distant lots.” (Rilke)
How He Gathers Up
He invites. He never forces, coerces, imposes. He welcomes. Is it a scandal to think of God longing?
Jesus weeping over Jerusalem said to those who killed and drove out all his messengers, “I have longed to gather you up like a hen gathers her chicks. But you were not willing.”
What if just once I was willing to be gathered. As I went out scattering my prayers and looking for Jesus, what if he gathered me up, including my prayers unprayed and my prayers unanswered and showed me that he was both the prayer and the answer?