prayer is a desire to see good come out of pain

i love marshall shelley.  shelley is probably best known for being the editor at leadership journal, but he is an elegant writer in his own right.

several years ago, i read an article he’d written for christianity today entitled, “two minutes to eternity.”  in it, shelley described the heart-wrenching experience of watching his newborn son die.  i was shocked by his candor and overpowered by the example of his faith.

marshall shelley has again written about his pain.  this time the piece is entitled, “my 4 clearer views of god.” again, i am devastated.

shelley recounts four lessons he’s learned in the twenty years since his tragedy, and the one i most related to was “prayer is less specific, more intense.”  as a pastor, i often find myself trying to defend god because this one got healed and that one didn’t, or why a particular prayer wasn’t answered when scripture promises that it would be.

i’ll let marshall shelley speak to that…

After desperate pleas for our children’s healing, for the ability to swallow, for lungs to breathe, for an end to seizures–and then to see Toby and Mandy’s days on earth end–my prayer life has changed.

It’s harder to confidently make specific requests. It’s now clear that God’s redemptive agenda may, or may not, include granting my current passionate desire–even a passionate desire for my son or daughter to breathe.

The day after Toby’s birth/death, one of the labor-and-delivery nurses handed us a recording by Wayne Watson; the title song, “Home Free,” described us with uncanny accuracy.

“Out in the corridors we pray for life, a mother for her baby, a husband for his wife. Sometimes the good die young, it’s sad but true. While we pray for one more heartbeat, the real comfort is in You….

“Pain has little mercy, suffering’s no respecter of age, of race, or position. I know every prayer gets answered, but the hardest one to pray is slow to come: O Lord, not mine but your will be done.” (copyright 1990 Material Music and Word Music)

God’s clear answer to our prayers was not to provide additional heartbeats. It was “Toby and Mandy will live–but with resurrected bodies in heaven with me.” If his answer was so much deeper than what we requested, then it’s hard not to imagine him also reconfiguring our more mundane requests about jobs, relationships, schedules, and surgeries.

Now, I’m not sure I even want him to grant my daily wish list. What I really want is to see God’s eternal work and to be a part of it. Prayer is now an intense desire to know God, to understand his ways, and to see good come out of pain.

Do you remember the classical distinction between virtue and innocence? Virtue, unlike innocence, has successfully passed a point of temptation.

Perhaps a similar distinction can be found in faith–innocent faith can trust God because it hasn’t seen the abyss; virtuous faith has known the terror and chooses to trust God.

As Abraham Heschel observed, “Job’s faith was unshakable because it was the result of being shaken.”

Even as a child, I loved to read, and I quickly learned that I would most likely be confused during the opening chapters of a novel. New characters were introduced. Disparate, seemingly random events took place. Subplots were complicated and didn’t seem to make any sense in relation to the main plot.

But I learned to keep reading. Why? Because you know that the author, if he or she is good, will weave them all together by the end of the book. Eventually, each element will be meaningful.

At times, such faith has to be a conscious choice.

Even when I can’t explain why a chromosomal abnormality develops in my son, which prevents him from living on earth more than two minutes …

Even when I can’t fathom why our daughter has to endure two years of severe and profound retardation and continual seizures …

I choose to trust that before the book closes, the Author will make things clear. And to remember his words through the prophet: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11, NKJV).

Clinging to that promise, even when the weight of sorrow makes our knees buckle, makes faith intentional and, I trust, unshakable.

wow…so profound!  i am confused by/grateful for a father who loves us enough to “reconfigure our more mundane requests about jobs, relationships, schedules, and surgeries.”  he knows best, doesn’t he?  the hard part for us is that when our prayers are not answered as we see fit, we have to trust.  and “such faith has to be a conscious choice.”  not fate or divine providence, a choice.  a tough choice, but a choice nonetheless.

i want to go there.





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