I was talking to my 4-year-old about God and she said, “I don’t like God.”
Surprised, I asked why.
She replied, “All He does is help us.”
Confused, since that seems pretty good to me, I inquired further, “What do you mean? What’s wrong with helping?”
She hesitated, “You won’t like it but I want God to make you buy me more stufties!
I laughed because why would I dislike that? Everyone wants that for a God. The God of the lottery and cancer and football teams and stoplights. If we only pray hard enough and well enough, we are safe. Or we are better than safe — we are prosperous. We are examples of what God can do! Money, fame, fortune, love, marriage, children, health, stuffed animals.
We don’t always have a crisis to see how much we demand from God, but often it is in a crisis that we watch these demands fall short. God only helps us and that sucks.
I remember my son’s first year of life — he never slept and to get him to nap meant 45 minutes of crying while I rocked him. We tried every method available to parents. I also prayed. I prayed all the time because when a person is up every 45 minutes to 2 hours every night for 300 days, they start to shake and stop blinking.
I prayed God would make my son sleep: “You’re all powerful! You can do this! Why won’t You do this? I’m falling apart. No one understands but You how hard this is. I’m all alone with a tiny crying, sleepless baby.”
After weeks of vehement prayer and growing anger at God, I realized I was praying for the wrong thing. I was trying to bend God’s will to my very reasonable will. I began to pray for acceptance and the strength to keep going.
I persevered, and eventually, he slept. I also told others what was going on and was given human help in form of friends who rocked him down for me so I could get a breather. God didn’t “fix” my son’s sleep. God strengthened me enough to ask for and accept help and to stop fighting my situation.
I have found myself in extraordinarily heartbreaking situations since that day over six years ago, and though it may take me days or weeks to be willing to pray for acceptance rather than the outcome I want, I know I must if I want to keep my faith.
There is a grave danger in thinking God owes us anything beyond the ability to do His work well. We lose faith because God is not Santa Claus waiting for us to do good so he can reward us with presents. When we don’t get what we want, which is often, God must not exist. The minute something bad happens it’s proof God doesn’t really love us or care about the world. He’s all-powerful but does nothing. Faith becomes about getting rather than doing. “I get what I want” or “You don’t exist” — even if every moment of living and the very teachings of our faith points to the gray areas.
If we don’t lose faith, the other danger we run into is we have to find the “reason” God didn’t reward the prayers: we have to blame the victims. Cancer? Didn’t pray enough. Rape? Didn’t dress modestly enough. Hurricane? Didn’t follow God’s laws as a region. When I create a group of people who are saved through prayer, I create another group who are not. I have separated myself from God’s people. I have, in essence, cast the first the stone and made a hierarchy of sin. There are the people who don’t experience bad things because they are “good enough” and the people who experience bad things because they are “not good.” The bad sinners and the not so bad sinners, which is nothing like faith at all.
When someone asks me to pray for a specific outcome “the MRI is clear” “my child survives” “my husband comes home”, I don’t. I pray for my friend to have the strength to accept whatever happens and to know the next right actions to take. I also will often pray to know how I can be helpful and follow that up with action.
In my experience, life happens, and God helps us through it. When I pray and build my relationship with God, I grow in my ability to handle life’s ups and downs with grace and dignity. This has not been easy, but keeping my faith and not blaming others’ misfortunes on their lack of faith are more important to me than a comfortable life. I am a better person with faith than without it. And while I’d love more stuffed animals, I’ve found, on most days, acceptance and right action is enough.
About the writer: Alex Iwashyna went from an undergraduate degree in political philosophy to a medical doctor to a stay-at-home mom, writer and Christian by 30. Four years later, she spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog, except when it’s serious, about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity.