I woke up in a curtained off corner of a clinic and had to do a quick scan over my memories to figure out where I was. The last thing I remembered was staring at the ceiling of an operating room where there was a crafty stencil painting of a tree with the words - faith hope and love. Of course the IV sedation had made me unconscious for the last thirty minutes or so, while a Dr. retrieved fifteen eggs from my ovaries. I stared at the curtain with no real thought and a bit of pain. 15 eggs meant this might be over, I may never have to do the IVF saga again. No more shots in my stomach before bed, no more chlomid and its horrible mind control, no more daily doctors visits, no more blood work. It might finally be - almost - over.
And then I prayed for the first time in a very long time. My prayer study had made everything so confusing to me and I think it was mostly due to the fact that I do not in any way relate to the mystics. When prayer is about connecting to God and striving for the feeling of his presence, everything becomes so ethereal and defined by emotions, which for me quickly translates to imagination. So then I had to resist throwing the baby out with the bath water, and by baby I mean God. But in my newest study I’m reading The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and the chaos of my mind has settled a bit. He has brought some structure and Biblical doctrine that makes sense to me. Some people are good at mystical and emotional faith, I am not one of those people, such is life.
Willard affirmed my suspicion that I couldn’t pray because I didn’t actually believe. He actually talks about this quite a bit related to discipleship, the fact that we spend all our energies teaching people how to do the right things when we should be teaching them how to believe differently. It’s a cart and horse issue. But he talks about it related to prayer as well. He says:
"But instead of heaven and God also being always present with us, as Jesus shows them to be, we invariably take them to be located far away and, most likely, at a much later time – not here and not now. And we should then be surprised to feel ourselves alone?"
This view of God, he says, makes prayer psychologically impossible. He says, these people will think it a good thing to build character by praying, and will at best implement some prayer-like ritual, but to have a lack of belief that anything affects such a distant Wizard like God they will be unable to really pray.
Willard states, “so prayer proves to be little more than a ritual hand-waving at the cosmos that may, at most, bring personal comfort or help us improve our attitudes.”
Ok so that’s me…obviously.
I know that we rail against the idea that one needs to believe enough for God to answer prayers, we do not accept that our level of faith impacts our outcome. I myself feel very uncomfortable when people talk about their level of faith in prayer and its correlation to changed circumstances. I think about the chronic sufferer and I can’t make peace with that. But here I am reading the Bible and seeing some of that language. Things like Jesus not doing miracles because of their unbelief, or saying if you have faith you will move mountains and nothing will be impossible to you, or your faith has made you well (Math 13:58; 17:20; Mark 5:34; 9:23). Does our level of faith determine the outcome of our prayers answered? Pastors minds are exploding - of course not - they yell!
I know of a woman who so believed that God had healed her of her cancer that she stopped treatment and later died of the disease. How much more belief do you need? I do not understand these things. Of course we bail God out by saying that sometimes he says no because he has a better plan in mind, which is probably true and also wildly convenient. We say things like - he doesn't cause cancer he just allows it, I don't know how that's better but it's what we say. And of course there are a whole host of other theological reasons as to why God does or doesn't intervene and answer our desperate prayers, add them all up and they answer 10% of the question.
Whatever the case, I assume I should believe God listens when I ask and that in fact he answers with miracles. I don’t know what it says about the chronic sufferer or the shortage of miracles that are supposedly at our fingertips, I don’t know.
I’m meant to believe that God doesn’t give unless we ask, and when we ask he listens and answers. I’m supposed to believe that prayer isn’t just for my own character formation, but it actually makes a difference. I want to believe that God answering prayers isn’t some charade, but that he actually changes his mind. He’s, “the most moved mover” as Willard would say.
I’m supposed to believe, but how?