A middle-aged woman, ridden with AIDS, looks at us with frustrated tears in her eyes. She is at her breaking point, weighed down by illness, family concerns, and has relapsed into drug use. The former joy present in her face just a few weeks ago has all but vanished. “Why hasn’t God answered my prayers?” She asks desperately.
She echoes the sentiments of a woman a few weeks earlier. This young mother had shared with us her doubts on God’s existence and the purpose of prayer. She feels that she has tried to be a good person to everyone in the neighborhood, but is still plagued with overdue bills, mouths to feed, and illness.
Some of our friends in recent weeks have gone on this roller-coaster journey with God that goes something like this:
First, their eyes get wide with enthusiasm and a bounce returns to their step. They repeat the often heard phrases:
“It’s in God’s hands. Nothing can go wrong.”
“I got these good things because I gave my heart to the Lord.”
“Everything is positive now because we have God’s blessing.”
Everything seems to be alright for a few weeks. The immediate “high” of something new gives short-term energy that is almost impenetrable.
And then, our friends grow tired. While they may have changed their praying habits, they have not yet changed their lifestyles. They continue to be challenged by circumstance. They do not receive answers to the entire laundry list of things they ask for in prayer, or at least not as quickly as they had hoped. They remain unemployed, they still cannot pay their rents, and their illnesses progress.
Finally, they get frustrated.
“I asked for these things in prayer but I didn’t get them.”
“Why won’t God give me what I ask for? I professed Jesus as Lord!”
This is the result of a very common theology in modern times. The prosperity preachers of super churches have led the masses to believe that God blesses those who love God with whatever they desire in life—riches and material possessions included—and erases all suffering. Suffering is a punishment for those who have not obeyed God’s commands.
The concept of retribution theology, alive since the writers of the Book of Job, inhibits our ability to create authentic relationships with God and others.
Our friends are stuck in the belief that one must beg to obtain things from God, and will be rewarded if they ask. When the primary purpose of interaction is to receive, a relationship cannot develop. There is only a one-way give and take.
However, we are to be in relationship with God, and are invited give out of this loving exchange. What we receive comes as a result from transcending our immediate needs and giving selflessly in love. That love transforms our hearts, and we receive the graces we need to make it through this life.
Is it wrong to ask God for things? Of course not. But whenever we ask a question, we must be willing to work for the answer and wait with patience. There is no magical set of things that will make our life better. God never promised to give us everything we want or shield us from all suffering, but rather to walk with us through that suffering to experience a love that transcends the pain.
When we model the presence of Christ to others, we also need to keep this relationship dynamic in mind. We do not give things and cure people. We must give ourselves. Sure, BSL finds guys that are hungry and we feed them. But we also give them conversation, and perhaps the first chance to laugh that they’ve had all week. Sure, we transport others to doctors’ visits or to court. But more than a taxi service, we offer support and a shoulder to lean on during these times.
These are not secondary purposes; building a relationship is vital to loving one another. If we gave things, eventually it would not be enough. When we give a bus card, we get hustled the next time for two.
If God granted you everything on your wish list, it would also not be enough. The key is transcendence of this mentality into an authentic relationship founded on love. We have an unconditional worthiness because we are created good by God. Therefore, God loves and listens to us no matter what we do. Attempting to please a God based on conditions of receiving something is not how a God of mercy and compassion works.
We cannot love God if all we do is ask for things. We cannot love each other if all we do is give material things or perform tangible tasks. We have to be; Be in relationship and dialogue with God, and be in relationship with others.
Is God our friend or just our supplier? May we give of ourselves in love and enter into authentic relationship with our Creator.
–Megan Sherrier, BSL
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