Prayer. We know prayer is good. But, if we’re honest, prayer is also a problem. Because it appears that God answers prayer about as frequently as Shaquille O’Neal makes free throws.
That being said, I have found that the following is absolutely true: When it comes to prayer, God will either work IT out – or God will work ME out – or BOTH.
Sometimes I pray and God answers that prayer in the way I had hoped – or in an even better way. God works IT out.
Or… sometimes God does not change an external situation. Sometimes God changes my internal orientation to it. God answers my prayer not by changing IT, but by changing ME. God does NOT work IT out. God works ME out instead so that I adapt or make peace with or grow beyond whatever IT is.
Or… sometimes God does BOTH. Sometimes God changes an external IT and God changes the internal ME. Sometimes IT gets better AND I get better, too. Like this week.
This week as I quarantined with Covid, I was feeling sorry for myself. First, I blamed myself for getting sick. Then I worried about falling behind. Then I was angry for being inconvenienced. And after cycling through all that, I finally found peace.
Guess what? Sometimes even if you are inoculated, boosted, and minding protocols, you still get sick. When I fretted about my lengthening to-do list, I remembered that God would help me. And guess what? The world did not stop just because I did. Finally, while nursing my “justified” anger at being inconvenienced, it just hit me that God was with me. And I found myself writing these words: “Whatever comes, O God, will be okay as long as I’m with you.”
The Catholic spiritual writer Richard Rohr says we never really live in the now because we are caught up in our ego’s constant commentary: I like this. I don’t like this. I do like this. Rohr says we are rarely, fully present in the moment because we are commenting on it rather than living in it.
When we allow the present moment to simply be what it is – in all its promise or all its pain — and when we accept it as it is, then we become fully present. And when we do that, Rohr says that is when we can discover the Full Presence of Christ, who stands with us and walks with us as our Fellow Sufferer and Savior.
When we are present to Christ’s Presence, everything changes. We are changed. We are not teleported out of our pain. Rather we are accompanied through pain by Christ, whose Presence transfigures the present moment and our pain and us as well.
Yes, there are things that must be fought in this world. Unjust suffering inflected on the weak, the innocent, and the marginalized must be opposed. Christ stands with us as we resist evil and work for what is just. In those situations, we shouldn’t surrender. But there are times when yielding to what is simply must happen. There is ordinary suffering that comes to us all in this good, but limited world. Human beings get sick. Loved ones don’t always make the best choices. We all age. All things pass. In this life, there is legitimate grief, inescapable pain, and necessary suffering that must be accepted. As we bear it, Christ is with us to bear us; to share our burdens and to love us through our midnights.
Even a wicked judge will do what is right if he is pestered to death. Given that, we can trust that our loving God is always and unfailingly going to take care of us. The Crucified God is with us to help us bear our pain and to lead us out of our Good Friday darkness so that we live in his Easter light.
So, don’t give up. Don’t yield to injustice that must be fought. But do yield to pain that must be faced. Yielding is not giving up. Yielding is giving things over to God. In either case – whether fighting injustice or facing pain — Christ is with you. Although most of us most of the time cannot see the entire journey ahead, we can know that our Savior is with us in this moment and in our suffering to transform IT or to transfigure YOU or to do BOTH. Count on that; lean into that; for as you do, the Answer you seek will become the Life you live.