The lady in the scarf turned to me, not so much surprised as stricken.
“Not even when you had Gabriel?” she asked. “You didn’t pray then?”
The other people in the discussion group got quiet. Most of them — this was a church, after all — knew the sad story about me and my little boy, who had died only a couple of years before. My family had, for a time, been the pet project of the church ladies and their casseroles.
“No,” I said. “I never pray. I can’t see the point of it.”
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The lady’s eyes wavered behind her glasses, and I realized I had hurt her feelings. This good, staunch church lady, a friend of my mother’s, had probably prayed for Gabriel and me many times, and I seemed now to be saying she had wasted her time.
Well, she made a good assumption, that a mother will pray for her sick child. Mothers do that. But to me, prayer always felt like asking for things, and that didn’t seem right.
My folks raised us not to expect special favors. Mom never called our teachers to get us out of trouble; Dad didn’t ask the baseball coach to take my brother off the bench and put him in the game.
They trusted the people in charge to do their jobs.
That’s my model for God: I trust that God is doing God’s job. I don’t actually know what God’s job is, though, and that seems to be part of the trouble here. Omniscience, for example, that has to be on the job description, right? But if God is omniscient, then God already knew how sick Gabriel was, and telling God about it, over and over, seemed silly.
Or unknow-ability: If God was going to do what God was going to do anyway, what was the point of asking? The very God-ness of God seemed to invalidate the reasoning behind prayer.
I believe God made a bunch of stuff, set it spinning and watched, a little sad, a little delighted, as we came together and fell apart. God was watching when Gabriel was born, still and blue, and when the doctor did everything he knew to make Gabriel breathe again.
God watched Gabriel die, right next to me. I’m not saying God didn’t care; I’m saying a link is missing between what we think is supposed to happen to us and what God does and doesn’t do.
There’s a big mysterious gap right in there. It’s not a bad thing, that gap. But it’s hard to understand.
The lady in the scarf died some years ago. I never made the time to talk with her about prayer, and I wonder now if I was wrong about why she seemed so shocked.
Perhaps she found comfort in prayer and was surprised that I hadn’t tried it. Perhaps she used it as a way of letting go of her own will and consenting to God’s. I don’t know.
I still don’t pray, but I meditate. It has helped me become more patient, calmer, more focused. I don’t ask for anything, but I get a lot back.
Elizabeth Uppman is one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.