How an Unanswered Prayer Can Reveal Our Capacity to Love
When I was little, I remember crawling under the covers of my bed, closing my eyes, and with the heavy burdens of life as an six year old child, speaking to God. “Dear God, can you put a lot of toys on my roof?” My mom was the one who taught me about prayer. She told me I could talk to God, ask Him for anything. All I had to do was believe. Wow, I thought, I’d finally have all of the transformers I wanted.
It was dusk out, the sun faint on the horizon. Moments prior, daylight savings walked into my bedroom and introduced itself as a childhood enemy, “Hi, I’m daylight. When you’re put to bed tonight, you’ll wonder what kind of trick your parents are trying to play on you. You’ll grow confused as to why you had to come inside, eat and take a bath early. And you’ll likely cry. No, you will cry. I bid you adieu.” It was no wonder I let imagination, the friendlier of the two, walk in and occupy the room soon after.
For the next thirty minutes I thought of the logistics required to answer my wholly righteous and theologically consistent prayer. I visualized the exact size of my roof and estimated how many toys it could uphold without any of them slipping off. I gave God a lot of credit, I knew He wasn’t sloppy. In fact, the only unknown was whether or not I’d hear the likely thunderous sound of toys descending from the anointed artery of heaven. I wondered if it would scare my parents. I was a thoughtful kid.
In a further effort to preoccupy my wandering mind from the bitterness of daylight thievery, I thought about the nature of God’s expedient strategy long enough to fall asleep. The next thing I remember is hearing my mom wake me up the following morning. Daybreak and I were sworn enemies, but like a dry bowl of cereal anticipating its first splash of cold milk, I had a new best friend. I was a child filled with hope.
I was confused why my mom didn’t mention a word about toys. Maybe she had no idea, I thought. After all, it was my prayer, the likelihood of anyone else being in on it were probably slim to none. It was possible that the toys made no sound, like I had anticipated. Either way, it only meant that I’d have the joy of seeing it for myself.
Somewhere in between breakfast and getting everyone loaded into the car, I began to doubt my prayer had been answered. I hadn’t ventured outside yet so I still left open the possibility I had all I ever wanted on the other side of our speckled white ceiling, but unlike the magnanimous joy spread throughout the air on Christmas morning, there was little to no fanfare. It was just me, little shorts, a tiny shirt, cereal, and Monday morning.
“It’s time to go to school,” I heard my mom say. I walked out of the front door of our house and straight to the car, where I knew I could see the landscape above the gable. With the eager anticipation of a child hyped up on imagination flavored mountain dew, I turned towards the dark, lonely, but beautifully shingled roof. The only thing I knew for sure was that it was present and in seemingly good shape. There it is, I thought.
The roof was darker than I had imagined. It took a nanosecond to recognize the absence of big plastic packages magnified the shingles in a remarkably unique way. A barren rooftop was not what I envisioned when I subscribed to the Transformers tagline “More Than Meets the Eye”. Instead of “Robots in Disguise”, I kept hoping for a newer, more domestic version of toys called “Shingles in Disguise”. There was nothing and I was grasping for air.
For the first time in my life I realized the limits of self-indulgence. An absence of toys on the roof didn’t lead me to believe there was also an absence of love from God. It just opened my eyes to my own selfishness. I couldn’t have written a book about it, but I understood it. I couldn’t have everything I wanted. Too much of a good thing was bad for me. Overdosing on candy causes great pain in the stomach. And toys don’t fall from heaven. These were the staples of a six year old me.
Today, things are much of the same. Every morning I get up and check the roof, hoping there was some break down in communication twenty four years ago that resulted in a delayed gratification. I’m kidding, of course, but I would be dishonest to suggest I didn’t sometimes supplant a prayer for toys with a prayer to get out of a speeding ticket, to be the ninth caller and win those concert tickets, or for the open seat in the middle of me and the person next to the aisle on an airplane to remain vacant. The truth is, however, when I wake up every morning and start thinking about me, I’ve failed. This is a fleeting truth I’ve been brought back to time and time again.
A lawyer once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law was. In other words, what do I have to do above all things? Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.”* Knowing that wasn’t enough for a feeble mind, he continued, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”**
If it were me, I would have stuck around, hoping to catch a phrase or two about toys landing on rooftops in the middle of the night. “Yesss Jesus, please continue,” I would have suggested. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Instead, my efforts (because they are often efforts – think of the people it’s difficult to love) need to be less about me and more about my love for God and other people. When they’re not, it’s easy to grow bitter at the circumstances of life. Your world then becomes about you and the gifts or earthly treasures you can be given instead of the love and effort you can give.
Cancer sucks, I hate it, but the things I’ve learned and focused on because of it do not. If through this, I can continue to grow in love for God and other people, then I’ve accomplished one of the most important lessons Jesus came to this earth and shared with us. No matter how unfortunate the circumstances you’re going through may appear, if you’re able see this truth you’ll better understand a world full of heartache and misery. You were created for a relationship with God. You were created with an unbelievable capacity to love other people, even when it’s tough. The rest of what we go through just gets in the way.