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Elul 16: Pray, but for what?

When I was a kid (which, spiritually, lasted until about 20 years ago), I believed that I could tell if prayer "worked:"

It worked if I prayed for something and I got it:

  • Passing spelling tests
  • A new (or even used) bicycle
  • Friends and relatives to be healed and not die
  • Losing weight
It didn't work if I prayed for something and I didn't get it:
  • Failing my spelling test
  • No new bicycle
  • People I loved who died
  • Not only no weight loss but actually weight gain
Mind you, I usually hadn't studied thoroughly enough for the spelling tests, the bicycle had been meant as a reward for making honors grades, loved ones were just too sick to pull through, and I just ate too much and didn't move enough. 

Prayer was a quid-pro-quo thing: I pray, God gives. And if I didn't get, God did me wrong.

I'm older and - I hope - a little wiser now. Prayer can't get me good grades (or a grades-dependent bicycle) if I don't study. It can't make the people I love get better if their bodies or minds just can't or won't handle healing. And it sure can't make me lose weight because there isn't a magic pill other than the one called "eat less, move more, and, for God's sake woman, put down the 18th chocolate chip cookie."

But here's what I can pray for:
  • The willingness to prepare for exams and presentations even when I'm tired and just don't feel like it;
  • The willingness to save up and buy myself a new bicycle;
  • The ability to comfort people I love and the willingness to make phone calls or send letters or give hugs;
  • The willingness to put down the 18th chocolate chip cookie and go for a walk instead. 
Today I don't pray for things so much as attitudes. I pray for guidance to do the next right thing. I pray for the willingness to be willing. It's not nearly as much fun as praying for a bicycle, but it's a whole lot more productive. 

(graphic: discoverchurchmb.com) 

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