Trees are dying, fires are burning, and I’ve been praying for rain. On Monday, it rained. A good, soaking rain. I went to bed and imagined the smoke being scrubbed from the air.
On Tuesday, we woke up to find that the smoke was much, much worse. “What happened,” we wondered. Hadn’t the rain done its job? Throughout the day, the smoke seemed to grow denser, heavier, and by the late afternoon our car was coated in a fine dusting of metallic ash.
It turns out that a neighbor of ours is something of an amateur meteorologist. While we traded complaints about sore throats and burning eyes, he explained that the rain had been part of a low-pressure system. Where air pressure is low, new air rushes in. The rain that seemed such a good thing was like an invitation to the fires. The rain stopped, and the smoke poured in.
Lately, I’ve been thinking I may need to be more specific in my prayers. I prayed for rain, but I didn’t intend to pray for smoke. In another example, I’ve lately been praying that we could live nearer our families. My sister, a military wife, then shared that they would be moving to northwestern Florida, only (only!) a six-hour drive away. They had been asked to prioritize three choices for their move, and Florida wasn’t one of those choices. I realized that I’d imagined God moving us out of Florida in order to be near family, but, instead, God moved my sister and her family here. I’m grateful, but it isn’t really what I’d hoped for.
My prayer for rain, and the unforeseen consequences of that rain, remind me how limited my vision is. Prayer is such a mystery. I’m glad that we are able to participate in God’s work in the world through prayer. I could tell beautiful stories of answered prayers in my life and the lives of my family and friends. But, I’m also glad to know that the God who created the universe isn’t some sort of mechanical robot: I push his buttons with prayer and wait for the expected result. He’s so much more alive than that. So much more dangerous. So much more loving. To use C. S. Lewis’s word, he isn’t a “tame” God.
And yet . . . sometimes my hopes, dreams, and desires feel like fragile little birds. They don’t seem able to withstand the force of some fierce, lion-God stomping around on them. Considering these dreams, I feel like both the mother and the baby bird. I am tender and nurturing toward these parts of myself. I am also very, very vulnerable. Can the God who holds the Big Picture be trusted with hopes that are so small and easily crushed?
“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.”