One of the scariest things that can happen to anyone is the 3am phone call. As your grandma always said, nothing good happens at 3am (at least, nothing I can write about in this PG-rated thought!) The 3am call is especially scary if you are a parent; nothing can make your heart race like that piercing sound ripping through the silence. Over the years, I have had a few (thankfully, not many) of those calls connected to my work in the church, and they were always tragic. Except for the first one. That one is the topic of today’s thought.
I was starting my 2nd year as the Student Pastor of Garnerville United Methodist Church, a small congregation (now deceased) in Rockland County, NY, where I grew up. I was also a newlywed, and we were navigating all the juggling in life. This call also happened on a Saturday night, which for us clergy types is the worst time of all. The phone rang and scared the daylights out of us, and when I answered, there was a man on the other end asking for the preacher. I didn’t know him, but I pulled myself together and asked what was wrong. He told me that he had lost a large sum of money in his house and wanted me to come over and pray with him. At first, I thought I was being pranked, but I quickly realized that he was serious. Pushing aside my anger, and knowing my Bible pretty well, I told him the story Jesus told about the woman who lost a coin and searched everywhere until she found it. I suggested he do the same, and I hung up. The next day was not pretty.
We tend to think of prayer as magic because that is how most are taught it is. Pray through the Virgin Mary or while holding a coin or when we see an ambulance (which I still do). Pray for an A when you haven’t studied. Pray the gay away (that doesn’t work). Pray that the touchdown pass is intercepted. And while we might laugh at the capricious nature of the ancient Norse gods, we have the same approach to our God. God will do a magic trick if we just pray hard enough, even when someone else’s prayers went unanswered. Our loved ones will make it off the airplane wreck if we just pray hard enough, even if 180 other passengers die. In many ways, prayer is like gambling; when it happens in our favor, we believe we are blessed. When it doesn’t, we keep trying. That is part of the recipe for addiction.
Again, I don’t know how or if prayer works, but I still do it. I try really hard to not pray for miracles or magical events. I try really hard to be clear that my prayers are not demands; they are me trying to understand and make it through the day. I do not believe my prayers help people heal, but I know they can make them feel better and more positive, which is sometimes what they need to get through their challenges. We can’t pray babies back to life, and we can’t pray gravity away. All we can do is hope that things will be okay. And pray for the strength to make it through if they aren’t. I will never tell you how to pray – that is up to you. For me, though, my daily prayers will be mostly about making it through the day and doing my best for others. And when I hear an ambulance siren. Can’t hurt.
Prayer – Thank You, God who hears and loves and weeps with us, for always being there, supporting each one of us in good times and bad. Amen.
Today’s art is “The Lord’s Prayer” by Michel Keck.