We can spend a lifetime struggling to understand how, or even if, our prayers are answered. We beg for the diagnosis not to be cancer. We silently cry for this pregnancy test to be positive. We scream out to God for her not to die today. We groan for the relationship to be restored. We bargain with God to fix it, whatever it may be, one more time. We struggle. Did God hear us? Did God answer us? Why did it turn out this way? Where is God?
We can spend a lifetime struggling with prayer.
A 402 mile bus ride drove my nine-year-old son, Timothy, to his knees. As dusk’s delicate fingers slowly pulled the curtain on Maundy Thursday, my son became sick. He was very sick. Tears welled up in his fearful eyes. Timothy looked frantically at me and pleaded, “Please pray!”
The charter bus swayed and lurched along I-85 South. Timothy rested limply in his seat and I kneeled on the floor. He and I forgot about the other children, their parents, and his teachers. I begged God to take away the headache and the nausea. I begged. The bus swayed and I prayed, “Please help Timothy not be scared, Jesus. Please make your face known to him right now.”
Maundy Thursday darkened. The bus swayed and lurched. Timothy’s nausea and pain intensified. Somewhere along I-85 South in Gaston County, Timothy’s prayer was not answered.
Or was it?
With his eyes closed and his little head resting against the bus’s window, Timothy whispered, “Before I threw up, I was not scared anymore. I just felt safe and that, no matter what happened to me, I would be O.K.”
Good Friday dawned, and health was restored to my son. Timothy and I spent the better part of that holy day reflecting on the sacred moment of prayerful struggle that happened in my son’s life a few hours earlier.
In a swaying bus on a dark Maundy Thursday evening, Timothy struggled with prayer. In his struggle, Timothy grasped what it was that makes prayer so powerful. He did not get what he wanted. The pulsing pain in Timothy’s head did not abate. The nausea would not loosen its grip on him. Timothy vomited, in a bag, on a charter bus filled with peers.
Timothy did not get from God what he asked (nor did Jesus on the first Maundy Thursday, for that matter). Timothy did get precisely what he needed – God’s peaceful presence.
Our model for prayer and the struggle with it is captured perfectly in Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:9-13, and especially in verse 11 – “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our good and gracious God gives us exactly what we need for each minute of the day, even when we are ignorant of our own needs.
What we need is God. We are given God.
Timothy got God’s yes! As the bus swayed and lurched along I-85 South, Timothy felt the powerful presence of the God who is with us. Timothy was not alone. We are never alone, for our God is with us.
The mind-boggling beauty of God’s presence with us is that God’s presence with us is God suffering with us. God does not merely carry us. God holds our hand and groans with our pains as we struggle along this swaying, lurching journey called life.
That is more powerful than a prayerful petition answered simply the way we want it to be.
Kheresa Harmon is married to Steve Harmon and they are the parents of a fourth-grader named Timothy. A graduate of Campbell University Divinity School, Kheresa serves as the Director of Admissions for the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University.