September 6, 2013

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

In the long run, God knows what’s best for us

Patti Lamb“Your prayer didn’t work,” he snapped, as I peeled him out of bed in the morning.

“I had the worst nightmare ever!” bellowed my 8-year-old son, Henry.

The night before, I said a prayer to ward off scary thoughts and dreams so that he could sleep well and awake refreshed. He had seen a movie about wizards that troubled him.

“You told me that God hears our prayers!” he said, glaring at me in disbelief.

I assured my son that God does hear our prayers, and he absorbs them in his heart.

Henry looked at me, puzzled and sleep-deprived.

I tried to explain that the answers we receive aren’t always the ones we want. Actually, the solutions we ask for might ultimately be a disservice to us. God knows what’s best for us in the long run, I told him. This is where faith comes in.

Then I launched into an explanation of how bad times make us grateful for good ones. I reminded Henry that after he had a nasty stomach bug last winter and was finally able to eat chicken soup, he said, “This is the best food I’ve ever tasted.”

Bad times put things in perspective and make us appreciate the good times—and even the ordinary times we once took for granted. I told him that he’d deeply appreciate the next good night’s sleep he gets.

Henry furrowed his brows. He wasn’t convinced.

Next I suggested that, down the road, someone else might talk about nightmares, and Henry would be able to relate and empathize. He would be able to understand their dismay and say, “I’ve been there.”

He gave a blank stare. We were getting nowhere.

“Maybe bad dreams—and bad stuff, in general—are just part of being human,” I suggested.

In my parental wisdom, I tried to quell his disbelief and ease his mind. But the truth is that I have the same questions about whether or not my prayers are effectively reaching God’s ears. I’m human, and I struggle to combat doubt. I see bad things happening to good people and I, like my son, don’t understand.

I know a lot of holy people who pray earnestly. And even though they are close to God, they are not spared from disappointment.

But I take comfort in St. Paul’s words. “We know that in everything, God works for the good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

I reflect on Mary saying “yes” and becoming the mother of Jesus even though her journey would be difficult. She submitted to God’s will instead of clinging to her own.

I recently read a book by an author who recognized that people in dire straits ask God, “Why me?” Instead, he suggested that they should be saying, “Use me.” We are called to be witnesses for Christ, especially when things don’t seem to be going according to plan.

Whatever burden we carry, we must keep talking to God and be confident in his guidance. In discomfort and distress, we can offer up our crosses to glorify God.

What I had hoped to convey to my son is that when nightmares surface—whether we’re asleep or wide awake and life suddenly takes a wrong turn—God is still there. The challenge lies in believing this even when bad things happen.

The hard part is refusing to be fair-weather Christians and trusting that God can bring joy out of sorrow and light out of darkness.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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