“A disciple comes to his abba (spiritual father) in the desert and says he has a bad foot and doesn’t know how to pray about it. Should he pray for a healing or for the grace to suffer?
The abba lifts up his foot, points to it, and says “Just go before the Lord and say, ‘Foot!’”
I can’t tell you how relieved I was to read this. I’ve really been struggling with the concept of intercessory prayer. This is partly due to a slew of GoFundMe requests that have come my way lately — a single mother who desperately needs child support, a sick baby who needs an expensive medical treatment, a friend of a friend in critical condition after a car crash — all asking for money, but especially for prayers.
It’s upsetting, because after all, God knew about all of this, and so much more, long before I did, and he knows how to fix it, too. I certainly don’t. Why does he need me to ask him? There’s just so much to pray for, and I have such limited energy. Can’t God just take care of all of this on his own? It’s his world, after all!
And it is. It’s his world. Deacon Greg Kandra recently wrote about the AA slogan, “Am I doing God’s work, or God’s job?” What an important distinction to remember. It’s God’s job to bind up the wounds, comfort the afflicted, and set free the prisoners. God’s work, though, is a different matter. Doing God’s work means doing what he has asked, and he’s made it quite clear that we must “pray without ceasing.”
Talk about an unrealistic request! But prayer needn’t be daunting, if we can remember that we aren’t responsible for doing God’s job. The disciple in the desert doesn’t tell God what to do, he just invites him to participate in his situation. In effect, he is really just saying, “Hey, God, see this problem I have?”
My one-year-old son actually does this all the time. He knows a handful of words, but doesn’t form sentences yet. He doesn’t need to. All he needs to say is “Stuck!” and I will come over, and either pick him up, or talk him through how to get un-stuck all by himself. Either way, his need gets met. If he doesn’t even know the word for what’s wrong, that’s fine too. He just has to shout, “Mama!” Sometimes he doesn’t have a problem at all; he just wants me to share in his delighted: “Mama, ball!”
My son just wants me to participate in his life, to be with him when he is glad, to see him grow and learn, to help him out of whatever trouble he runs into. And that’s praying without ceasing. You don’t need to be good with words to pray like you are supposed to. Actually, praying in baby-talk cuts through all the extra details, and gets right to the heart of the matter. If my son said to me, “Mama, foot!” that would be more than enough.
God doesn’t need our advice. It’s his job to heal the world in his own way. But he invites us to participate in his action in our world. Even more, he wants to be included in our lives, and that means being included in our desires and hopes, too. He wants to be with us so much that if we say, “God, I want you here in this situation,” he will respond with joy.
He just wants us to say, “God, come be here.” “God, see my foot?” “God, see my child?” So I am trying to learn to speak to God in baby talk. I’m going to stop explaining to him just how bad the problem is, and I’m going to stop trying to tell him how to do his job. He can do his job, and I’ll do mine, which is just to include him in my life, in my heart, and in all of my simple and complex desires.