The other day I was weeding the garden and I found two $1 bills stirring in the breeze, caught under the potato plants like fidgety birds. Immediately I knew whose they were: our youngest daughter, 3-year-old Abra, had been carrying those things around with her all morning. She must have left them in the garden when she had been banished there with her older siblings to remove potato bugs from our potato plants.
I shook my head and smiled. $2. No big deal. But I certainly wouldn’t be giving her a $50 bill to tote around anytime soon.
Then I wondered, Is that why God doesn’t give me money? Is it because I would be irresponsible with it? I quickly realized this was my works-based, Anabaptist doppelganger making an appearance. Plenty of irresponsible people are rich. Plenty of frugal, responsible people don’t have two dollar bills to rub together.
Yet so many people ask God for more money. Why aren’t those prayers answered?
* * * * *
Sometimes we get what we ask for; other times we do not. Some people explain this by pointing out how strong (or not) the asker’s faith is. Other people simply believe that if you ask for something that happens to fall within the will of God, then you get what you asked for. Still others think you have to want it badly enough, or pray often enough, or be pure enough.
So much confusion regarding prayer requests. So much legalism and bad theology.
I think the problem with prayers is not found in the asking – the problem with prayers is when it becomes only about asking. Recently I posted about my daughter Lucy’s confusion that, even though she prayed every night, God was not healing her terribly itchy bumps. My friend Jason had an interesting comment:
This is part of a huge paradigmatic problem in evangelical Christianity if you ask me and I also believe it is changing. So what should we tell our children? I guess not leading them to believe that a prayer is like a request to mom or dad for something but more like when mom or dad holds your hand.
Wow. I suddenly realized that in so many ways I was teaching my kids that God is that person in the sky you only go to when something is wrong and you want it fixed. While I will always encourage them to pray, about anything, for anything, I want to somehow convey this message that Jason is talking about – prayer is more about connecting with the peace and grace and joy that God has to offer, whatever the circumstances, even through the circumstances, than it is about creating a checklist and making sure you mention everything before falling asleep.
* * * * *
Remember my daughter Lucy’s itchy bumps she was praying for? Remember her question that night, while Maile was putting cream on her bumps?
“Momma, why isn’t God healing my bumps? We pray for them every night.”
They’re gone now, the bumps. They hung around much longer than any of us wanted. And I feel like I missed an opportunity to teach her about the true meaning of prayer. Next time it won’t only be about the request – next time it will be more like holding God’s hand.
* * * * *
What do you think about prayer requests?