Hooking Up Prayers to the Polygraph
The auger angrily churned the red dirt of Oklahoma as it whirled its way horizontally beneath the city street. Danny eyed its progress. And the auger spun on. He had kissed his young wife, and their two lovely daughters that morning, and drove off to work. And the auger spun on. He was a new man. His days of boozing were over. And the auger spun on. He and his family were in church every Sunday without fail. He had a good job. And the auger spun on. He said a prayer of thanks for the blessings he now enjoyed. His life couldn’t be better. And the auger spun on. And Danny miscalculated, got too close, and the biting end of the auger hooked in his clothes, and spun on and on and on.
When you’re looking down at a man in a hospital bed, as I did, whose skin has been ripped away from parts of his body, including his manhood, tell me, what do you say? What kind of prayer do you offer up? And as the weeks and months and years drag by, as surgery upon unsuccessful surgery is performed, how do you advise such a man to speak to God?
I suspect that some of our greatest lies begin with the words, “Heavenly Father.” For if our true thoughts were voiced, we’d call him a Hellish Torturer. Or a Deadbeat Dad. Or a Sadistic Tyrant. And the lies pile up. We pray what we ought to believe, but don’t. We pray what we wish were true, but isn’t. We fake a gratitude that we don’t have. If honesty ruled our prayers, how often would they sound like this: “The Lord is my Wolf. I am in want. He makes me lie down in green slime. He shoves me into roaring waters. He rejects my soul. He pushes me down paths of suffering for sufferings’ sake. Yea, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear every evil, for I am all alone. Thy rod and Thy staff, they beat me. Thou dost prepare me as a meal on the table of mine enemies. Thou hast anointed my head with gasoline. My cup is empty. Surely pain and loneliness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of suffering forever.”
There are prayers within the Bible that every prim-and-proper Christian would shrink from uttering. Psalm 88, for instance, where the believer describes the friendless, wrathful, death-infested, wasted life he leads while waiting on a seemingly deaf, loveless Lord to answer him. Psalm 44, where, despite the fidelity of Israel, God snores away in heaven as the wolfish enemies of his people devour them like sheep, scoff, deride, laugh, and otherwise make their lives a living hell. Psalm 137, where Israel mourns in exile, praying that God would raze the cities of their enemies and blessing those who would take the infants of their foes and dash their heads against the rock.
These prayers may be horrific, depressing, and seemingly blasphemous, but at least they’re honest. They do not gild lies with a golden Amen. Out of the depths they cry to God, with no pious pretense of everything being hunky-dory because they know God loves them and will make everything better. The language is raw because their lives are raw. Bloody suffering makes for bloody prayers. And that’s the way it should be.
I’m not advocating that we damn God. I’m not saying a sufferer is lying when she prays Psalm 23. But I do believe in being honest with the God who knows our innermost thoughts before we speak them. He cannot be deceived, so we had just as well tell him exactly how we feel, what we’re going through, and call upon him to be true to his own promises, true to himself. Jesus did not say from the cross, “My God, my God, I’m thankful to be bleeding to death,” but, “My God, my God, who hast Thou forsaken me?”
As the auger spins on, and rips your life, or the life of your loved ones, to shreds, how do you pray? Why not try praying honestly?
God will hear and God will answer. It may not be the answer you want. And that answer may come after waiting what seems an eternity. But when it comes, you’ll know that the God to whom you prayed truly is a heavenly Father, who, while you felt used, abused, alone, betrayed, unloved, still held you tight and loved you even as you wept and fought in his arms.