In the third year of the reign of David Cameron, in the province of Oxfordshire, in the royal city of Didcot, I cried out to the Lord. With wailing and gnashing of teeth, I said unto to him: aargh. And unto him I also did cry out, more pointedly: these #*@%$ earplugs keep falling out!
I love my earplugs. Yes. Bow before my rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I sleep lightly. I’ve shared a bed with the same woman for 12 years, but if I hear her breathing while I sleep, I still tend to rocket upward like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction when she gets a needle of adrenaline plunged into her chest. Except I’m not as pretty, and I have work in the morning.
As I flailed about last night, trying to find the errant earplug before it found a new, semi-permanent home in my hair or stuck to the back of my pyjamas, I idly considered putting out a Twitter or Facebook appeal for prayer.
Guys. I keep losing earplugs. They’re super expensive. Plus, my wife keeps laughing at me when they stick to my bum. Please pray. #jesuisJonty
I didn’t. I hate enough Candy Crush inviters to have some limit on how annoying I allow myself to be online. But still. I’ve asked for prayer for tests I haven’t studied for and resolutions to problems I’ve created. I’ve prayed for God to give me a parking space, for victory in a meeting or to have a good time at a party. And I believe beyond reasonable doubt that God has answered those prayers.
I’ve never bought into the ‘you shouldn’t bother God with that unimportant stuff’ line, because:
- God does not have finite resources or attention, and
- These things are important to me.
I know that most of the things I worry about are not terribly important compared to Israel-Palestine, global inequality and Madonna falling down some stairs, and I should probably just take them as they come, but I also know God loves me. And I think that means He cares about my happiness.
Obviously He mainly cares about my wellbeing, which is not the same thing. But even then.
I recently had radiotherapy, and the prayers of others were so ridiculously important to me throughout it it’s almost pathetic. An old cancer had spread to my abdomen and the treatment, while truly on the light and easy to deal with side of the cancer treatment spectrum, made me feel sick and exhausted and generally horrible. I, my friends, my Christian and non-Christian family, and awesome people at my work prayed pretty hard for it to be okay. They prayer for my mental health and for it not to be as bad as it could have been. And I believe God answered those prayers, in His mercy.
But at some point He won’t. It may not be this year, it may not be this decade or have anything to do with cancer. But someday, I will have prayed to be spared and I won’t be. I’ll die. And whatever your theology of death’s place in the Fall, that casts prayer in a particular light.
ISIS prisoners pray not to be burned or beheaded. Parents of young black men in the States pray that they won’t get shot. The hungry in western Africa and the war-beset in central Africa pray and are prayed for, and they die.
So, what’s the point of praying? In fact, what’s the point of believing in God at all? Should we just pray because it’s the right thing to do, shouting our requests into the void in the hope of a ratio of answered to unanswered prayers that is at least statistically significant? Should we just thank God in all things, pretending that every terrible circumstance is somehow a blessing? Or should we shut our mouths because we are not God and have done nothing to earn a damn thing from Him?
Former Christians, never-believers and the still doggedly faithful all ask these questions at some point, I think.
They’ve all got their merits, I guess, but I still like to pray. I pray most days that the cancer won’t come back, that I will not die too soon and leave my wife alone. I pray before pretty much every party I go to, that it will be nice, that I won’t ruin it for anyone, that they will like me, and that I’ll have fun. I pray for my parents to stay alive, and for them to know that I love them, and that God loves them. And I try to pray in faith.
I don’t have faith that God will grant each one of these requests. But I believe that He loves me, that if it makes sense, He will answer ‘yes’, and that that will happen, if my requests aren’t too ridiculous, some of the time – which is a whole lot better than none of the time.
Our best-intentioned and most heartfelt petitions often fall into the ‘too ridiculous’ category. “Lord, let my family live forever and never suffer.” But my faith is not in the prayer, but in the one I’m praying to. I don’t believe as I used to that if I pray in Jesus’ name, God has to give me the things I ask for. But I believe that if He doesn’t, it is not because He is bad or impotent or lacks love for me. That is my faith. Beyond that, I’m at a loss.
But it’s nice to know that wherever I am, whatever prayers are answered or unanswered, He is with me. Close. Sticking to me, like a silicon earplug you cannot see, clinging to the back of your pyjamas, making your wife smile.