Spiritual Journey: Risky Prayer & Coercive Modesty ~ BitterSweetLife

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Spiritual Journey: Risky Prayer & Coercive Modesty

No Keys...Know Humility

Locked outside as the sun set...

Yesterday I prayed that God would send someone to let me back into my apartment. I was walking out the door to go talk about life and God with my friend Scott when I noticed that Lindsay had apparently taken both sets of keys with her. I looked around the apartment blankly. Then I put on my jacket, closed the door gingerly behind me and left on my spiritual journey.

On my way downstairs I asked God to direct a resident my way on the return trip. I couldn’t lock the door to our apartment, but the deadbolt on our building’s entry would click into place behind me. When I reached the foyer, I decided to hedge my bet; in a highly irresponsible fit of self preservation, I wedged a camping gear magazine inside the door so it didn’t fully close.


I figured someone would probably pick up the magazine and throw it out anyway—our building gets a fair amount of foot traffic. But you never know. I’d been thinking about prayer recently, so I figured that in the case of someone tossing my doorstop, God might well answer my prayer for a key-carrying neighbor.

Fairly confident in this physical/spiritual combo, I spent the next hour and a half hanging out with Scott, one of those rare engineer types who also has a sense of humor. We talked about humility, and God’s will, and prayer, and then we prayed. Afterwards, eager to put my previous prayer-suppositions to the test, I took off and walked the two blocks back to my building. It was raining. The temperature had dropped.

I walked inside the foyer, slightly wet. Someone had swiped my magazine/door stop, but this was not very surprising. I looked around the foyer thoughtfully. I looked outside, down the street. I leaned on the wall and waited for a few minutes. I dialed my own apartment number to see if Lindsay had come home an hour early—she hadn’t. I said to God, Well...

Then I sighed and started dialing numbers. The first two didn’t work, but on the third try, an apartment on the third floor, I think, someone picked up. I knew how she probably felt, because someone had called our place once and asked me to let her in. She’d sounded phony, so I turned her down. Then she called back, crying, so I let her in. After that, I let anyone in who called us.

When the woman in the third floor loft picked up, I said-

“Hi, I live in apartment 202 and I’ve locked myself out. Could you buzz me in?”
“Oh, ok.”

A pause. Then the door buzzed and I opened it. I was in.

As I walked upstairs, I wondered how to respond to God’s defiance of my wishes. The answer came to me something like this. Humility—you were just talking about it. Now I want you to have it.

On every step of the spiritual journey, accomplishing anything really valuable will not ultimately depend on my crafty thinking or strategic timing. It will hinge on my dialing up an unseen voice, and pleading with him to let me in. Modesty is thrust upon us. The only other option is breaking windows.

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Camille said...

God could just do his job... saving the world, giving us our way. He could plod day after day, going through his routine, eon after eon. But he doesn't. Life is full of twists and turns.... thanks for sharing... and good story.

Anonymous said...

The night of living dangerously.

Hey, your titles are missing on your post pages.

Brood Mode said...

maybe god didn't give u what u ASKED for, instead gave u ideas to get what u WANTED

tim said...

She’d sounded phony, so I turned her down. Then she called back, crying, so I let her in. After that, I let anyone in who called us.

It's so hard to capture those beautifully important moments of change, of transition; even when captured they remain elusive, yet they have resonance.

Ariel said...

I also am very appreciative of God's interventionist policies, Camille. His next exploit is always just around the corner.

Bagel, thanks for the heads-up. I fixed it. I think. This is what happens when a guy with an English major starts playing with HTML.

Brood Mode...I think you're on the right track. I read your comment a couple times. Here's what I think: God didn't give me what he asked for. But he did give me what I asked for. He sent me both what I wanted and what I didn't. I'm sure that clarifies everything.

Or not: My prayers were, in fact, mutually exclusive yesterday, as I prayed for humility and hoped for an ego-preserving solution... God "answered" the prayer he was more concerned with. He gave me the nudge to start dialing strange numbers, which is exactly what I hadn't wanted to do. But it was a modesty-causing act...as I knew from experience.

Prayer is funny that way. It can wrest control away from you and take on a life of its own, thank God.

Tim, you're exactly right. Sometimes all I hope to do is erect a trail marker or something - this thing happened at spot x on the spiritual journey. It's relief when the account contains a kind of "resonance."

Anonymous said...

Isn't it possible that God didn't answer your prayer was because you didn't fully trust Him? You put the book in the door. It was like you said "God's heart isn't good. I can't trust him with this so I better take care of it myself."

I wonder what would have happened if you didn't have that small doubt that He'd come through for you.

Great posts. Keep them coming.


Ariel said...

Isn't it possible that God didn't answer your prayer was because you didn't fully trust Him?

That is a distinct possibility, and such a reading is definitely allowed by the original text. ;)

You have a good eye, Rick.

Camille said...

having been raised in the church, I bristle whenever I hear the line "you didn't get what you asked for because you doubted." Or conversely, it can also be stated thus, "you didn't get what you wanted because you didn't have enough faith." Though at this moment I am not sure exactly why that idea is so irritating. More later... :)

R. Sherman said...

One of the things that always bothers me about praying for a specific result is the problem of "tempting" God, without regard to his will for our lives. I believe in the power of prayer and I believe that God hears us. As Camille points out, the idea of a lack of faith being the reason for a "No" from God, fails to acknowledge his sovereignity in the world and in our lives as Christians. I say "Thy will be done" is the best prayer there is.

Ariel said...

I bristle whenever I hear the line "you didn't get what you asked for because you doubted."

There is some of this tendency in me as well, Camille... despite the fact that it is sometimes the truth (James writes about it). I guess the hang-up is that it seems very hard for me to say with certainty that so-and-so did not exercise enough faith in her prayer, and therefore she missed out on God's answer.

Suppose so-and-so had plenty of faith but her request did not correspond with God's will? In this case, it's all to her credit that she prayed about the issue, even though God's answer did not come as she envisioned it.

I very strongly support the practice of speaking our hearts to God - and then sincerely qualifying our requests with the statement, "if it is your will" (James writes about this too).

In this way, we can lift our concerns to God as he invites us to and still maintain a heart of trust, as R. Sherman suggests.

Thanks for the thoughts; I think this issue is a sticky one for a lot of people. Maybe we should agree to blog more about this?


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife