February 19, 2015
I’m new to this blogging thing, so last week when I posted a blog entitled: “A Few Thoughts on Prayer…”, I was delighted when a number of people read it and commented on it. I was even more encouraged when someone took the time to blog an insightful and interesting response. (http://siouxsiesmusings.blogspot.com/)
The question in my previous blog was: “Should you ever pray for a parking space?”, which I answered with a “yes”—Just as you might communicate your need to a loved one riding in the car with you. The response blog offers a contrasting point of view, and comes from a source whose thoughtfulness and life experience clearly give her the credentials to weigh in on the subject with authority. She pointed out that asking God for every little thing seems like a failure to take responsibility for yourself, and might display an unwillingness to adjust to things as they are. A Buddhist understanding of suffering suggests that “being attached to an outcome is what leads to suffering.” Furthermore, if you’re strong and able bodied, why not walk—and leave the space close to the door for the elderly? And if you ask God for anything, ask to be made aware of the needs of those around you and the willingness to connect with them.
Regarding those final thoughts—leave the good spots for those who need them, and be aware of the needs of others—what can I say but, “Amen!” I think praying for that kind of awareness would certainly display a deeper understanding of God’s heart; and a real maturity of faith. And walking if you’re able to? Again, yes! I’m often amused by the people at our local fitness center who park as close to the door as possible, presumably to avoid the very exercise they are seeking. My agreement with these points leads me to attempt a clarification of my previous reflections.
First, let me confess: I don’t always pray for parking spaces. And when I do—which is usually when I’m late and frustrated—I seldom get them. In truth, nearly all my prayers are quick “thank-you’s” after the fact—when a spot appears in unlikely circumstances. Given what I believe, why this lack of prayer on my part? For me, personally, the reason is often unflattering: I’m simply too self-absorbed and distracted to include God in my day to day life and frustrations. So the question in my previous blog really should have read: “Should I ever pray for a parking space?” My answer is “yes,”—but there are excellent reasons why others might answer differently.
One reason springs to mind immediately: Parking spaces rank very low on the list of life’s problems. Nearly every person I know has enough pain in their lives to inspire dawn to dusk prayers about genuinely important things—namely, the brokenness in ourselves, our families, and our world. And most of that suffering seems curiously resistant to prayer—so we are led to harder prayers: God, if the world won’t change, change me—give me the faith and strength to endure and make me hungry for your will, not mine. I can imagine a truly mature person of faith who doesn’t pray for parking spaces simply because the need is trivial in the face of real problems; or because the one praying is so in tune with God’s heart they already know what prayers God wants them to pray—and a parking space is not on the list.
I am not that mature person. And this is my point: The issue for me is not about a list of prayers we should or shouldn’t pray; the issue is about shared life. Intimacy in relationships requires an honest sharing of your real self—and honestly, my real self sometimes wants a parking space. Is my desire like an irresponsible child whining for candy? Sometimes. But here I will stand by my original analogy: God can be thought of as a transcendently powerful, but thoroughly intimate loved one riding in your car.
Are there times your loved one says: Why not walk? Absolutely. My wife Karen and I shared that exact moment yesterday in large parking lot. Are there times when God would like me to grow up and stop whining? You bet—but thankfully, I believe God is willing to listen to me as I am; and values truth over appearances. Most important of all: Do I believe that God is really involved in my daily life at this level of detail? Yes, yes, and again, yes. I aspire to the condition described by Brother Lawrence who spoke of “practicing the Presence of God” in all things. Of course, the end of that practice is a person who is not constantly asking for selfish things, but is outwardly focused on adoring God and loving others. And I can imagine a relationship so advanced, no words are needed about minutiae like parking spaces because both parties are content to share a companionable silence. But I’m not there yet.
One final question drawn from the analogy: What do we do when we turn to the passenger seat and it’s empty? Every role model of faith that I know has experienced this: the apparent silence of God—sometimes for extended periods of time. And no one I know has a satisfying answer. But my heroes of the faith tell the same story: continue in prayer, and cling to the belief—against all appearances and experience—that we are beloved by God, who rejoices over our most tentative efforts to share our lives with him.