In his newest book* Christian Wiman tells about the night his wife was traveling for business which left him alone with their 4-year-old twins. He thought all was going well until one of them woke up in the middle of the night and said she couldn’t sleep. He gently suggested to her blue eyes surrounded by blond hair that she might try praying to God as a way of getting back to sleep.
“Oh, I don’t think so Daddy.” She looked me right in the eyes.
“What do you mean, Eliza, why not?”
“Because in Tennessee I asked God to turn me into a unicorn and”—she spread her arms wide in a disconcertingly adult and ironic shrug—“look how that’s worked out.”
Perhaps many of us have felt like Eliza at one time or another. We prayed for a cure to cancer and then watched cancer invade with brute force. We prayed for an addiction’s grip to loosen and yet it grew like Satan’s grip. We prayed for the boss to cease unfair treatment and then walked away with a pink slip and hopelessness. We prayed for deeper faith, or patience or courage. “Look how that’s worked out.”
Like a good parent who refuses trite answers, I will refuse to say “chin up.” Prayer continues to simultaneously empower and elude me. What is the point of prayer anyway? Surely the people in Gaza pray as fervently as the people of Israel. And the fans of the Chiefs pray as fervently as the 49ers’ fans.
Jesus says that unless we become like children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So what of 4-year-old Eliza’s honesty might be ours? What of her longing to become something she isn’t? Wiman reminds us that the operative word in Jesus’ phrase is “become” which in Greek is “strepho” Perhaps a better English translation is “convert”. I keep going back to prayer, not because it works but because I keep hoping that God might still convert me. Prayer, like the whole mysterious enterprise called faith, is that longing to become who God created us to be in the first place.