What are your Expectations of God? part 1
Late one evening, my 16-year-old son, Lincoln, pulled me aside, “Mama, I need to talk to you, if you are not too tired.”
He had that look on his face, the one that says something is weighing heavily on him. I stepped into our library with him and closed the door, shutting out the banter of his dad and siblings, foot thumps up and down stairs — noisy bedtime preparations.
I sat down with him face to face and waited. A war waged inside him, his mouth silently twisting, straining to sculpt muddled feelings into rational speech. Finally, the dam broke, tears and words burst forth, “I pray and ask God to help me be a better person, but all I get is cancer and genetic mutation and anger.”
It is painful, but I smile at my boy. I smile because he names his brother’s cancer as his own. Lincoln does not have cancer, though he does share DICER-1, a cancer-linked genetic mutation, with his Dad and 3 siblings. But he loves his older brother and hurts when his brother hurts. He is empathetic, thank you God. I smile because he names his struggle with God — no pretense for this boy. He is honest, thank you God. And I smile because I want him to see approval on my face. He is easy to approve, thank you God.
After that release, he is quiet, waiting on me. Perhaps he hopes I will give him an answer he has not gotten elsewhere, not from years of church sermons, Bible studies or “fellowshipping” with a Christian circle of family and friends here in the Bible Belt.
Any number of easy answers spring to mind, ones I’ve heard preachers and well-meaning Christians spout — “God is teaching you something” numbering among my least favorite lately. These careless dictums prove easy for the advisor-speaker, yet often dishearten the hearer-sufferer. I could not fob Lincoln off with “easy.” That would dishonor his pain and be less than truthful of me.
Instead, I give him my story, hoping he will find some wisdom in it.
I admitted my years of struggle with prayer — feeling empty, ignored and like God’s hated step-child. I told him how I quietly suffered while family and friends enjoyed lives they took for granted. How I wondered why God blessed others with good health while I struggled to get out of bed. How I dreamed of adopting children and giving generously but could not afford a doctor visit.
I unconsciously viewed prayer as an exchange with God. I give God something He wants — honor, reverence, worship, glory (whatever the heck that means — I’ll get back to you when I figure it out), and increase my chances of getting what I want. Prayer was a way to get God’s grace and favor by buttering him up with flattery and a show of gratitude.
I had even been advised that effective prayer follows the ACTS model. The believer prays in a particular order — expressing Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and last, Supplication. Follow these directions for the desired result. Praise God for being . . .well, God, confess your sins, show gratitude and finally at the very end, tack on what you are really concerned about, the thing that probably drove you to prayer in the first place. It felt very much like a dishonest game, one with canny strategy. Pray Supplication before adoring Him and risk God’s displeasure. Leave out gratitude, there goes your blessing. I am sure some people take comfort in praying this way, but it was not genuine for me.
Prayer was my testing ground for God — I ask and see if He delivers. Some Christians advised me to track my prayers and carefully record answers to those prayers. I tried. I think the idea was that my list would reveal hidden blessings (a word most people don’t use correctly) or blessings I had forgotten. But for me, the list tracked how many prayer requests I made and how silent God remained, with no apparent care for the continued suffering here.
Prayer was also a testing ground for ME. Based on all the times I didn’t get what I prayed for, it was too easy to conclude that I was not favored. God did not like or approve of me and withheld His blessings.
It took a long while, but I began to question my expectations of God. Where did my beliefs come from? How did I think God behaves and why? And finally, could my expectations be skewed? Was it possible that I knew even less than I thought?
Continue reading What are your Expectations of God? part 2