“...The Lord showed me the reason I didn’t think he answered my prayers. It was simply that I was not thankful when He did. Without an attitude of thanksgiving those memories were lost to me.” -Lara Merz
The new book While He Lay Dying is touching some sore spots for some people. I understand. The story hit a lot of mine as well -sore spots that God was putting pressure on, like a kind doctor who looked into my eyes while asking, “Does that hurt?”
The intent of the doctor is not to torment you, but to heal you, but first he needs to identify the source of the pain by having you acknowledge it.
I do believe that prayer is more about learning to listen to God than handing him my Christmas wish list, or a job description of my design with expectations I think he needs to meet. Still he invites us to come to him with all our cares and needs and with prayers and petitions – with thanksgiving – and present our requests. The thanksgiving is actually for our sakes, because being grateful for the things he has done for us already helps us remember and come in faith.
I met a woman a few years ago who, like I had been, was mired in chronic depression. Healing from depression can involve more than one avenue since this wretched condition affects every part of our lives – mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, relational. But one of the glimmers of light in that cave of darkness begins to shine when we are willing to be thankful for one thing. Thanking God for just one thing is like picking up the first crumb that leads to a trail of crumbs -more things to be thankful for. The trail leads to the exit of the dark cave. I asked her to tell God one thing she was thankful for. She refused. She could think of nothing -as she sat in a large warm house, in a free country, with a good meal, and all her expenses cared for by a generous family member, comforted by friends who constantly tried to reach out to her. “My life is too bitter,” she said.
Another person said, “Sure. God healed your son-in-law. How nice for you. But why be thankful? There is no guarantee he’ll be here next Christmas. He could be hit by a bus, or another tragedy could strike your family. It happens all the time. Where was God when this happened and that happened? Look at the news this week and what about the time I prayed and he didn’t give me the answer I wanted?”
Do you see how quickly we can lose the memory of a miraculous response to prayer and forget God’s goodness when we refuse to be grateful and choose to focus on disappointment? It was like turning away from the spot of light in a dark cave and saying, “So you saw something that might point to a light, or maybe even an exit of some sort. How nice for you. But my experience is that it is dark in this cave. Look at all the places where there is no light. Don’t remind me of my pain. There is no hope.”
Of course we all die. Miracles are not about having perfect circumstances and a care-free life. Signs point to something -or Someone. Signs are not the destination. Don’t park there. Keep moving.
A friend reminded me yesterday that those of us born in the 50’s have lived in two centuries and two millennium -and people we knew in our youth had been born in the 1800’s. He made me think. One of the most influential people in my life, my grandmother, was born in 1909. My granddaughter was born in 2009 -100 years later, and yet these two people are central in my memories. I am so thankful for them. I am especially thankful that my grandmother told me the stories of God’s provision, even through the most horrible experiences -from the death of her kitten as a wee girl to the death of her two children as a young mother. Yes, she found herself in dark places sometimes, but she always came out singing, because she remembered her answered prayers, and thankfulness pinned those memories down for her. She knew the God she appealed to, and the longer she knew him, the more she loved him. A few weeks before she died she told me, “Death holds no fear for me. It is a wide-open door to the light. And my dear Jesus is standing there, arms open, waiting to wipe away all my tears.”