My momma warned me many years ago – don’t ever pray for patience or you’ll get tribulation. It took some growth experiences to learn that she was right. I also learned that if you pray for strength, you’ll receive the sorts of trials that will build strength. In fact, if I pray for just about any virtue, I’ll get the circumstances which require that I find that virtue inside me and practice it over and over again. (Don’t even get me started on chastity!)
Step Eleven of the famous 12 Steps suggests praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. I was meditating on this Monday morning while I was driving and there was a song playing on the radio, While I’m Waiting by John Waller.
A single word came to me, and without thinking twice, I prayer for it.
The word was “obedience.”
By the end of the day Monday I found myself facing a scenario to which the characters in this weekend’s scripture selections could surely relate, a scenario that tested my obedience.
Obedience requires faith and trust in God’s will for me. If last week’s readings for the First Sunday of Lent introduced us to God’s covenant not to destroy us, the call to a great quest for a clear conscience, the drive into the desert for testing. One of the next milestones on any classical hero’s journey is an encounter with the divine. Enter the angel who stopped Abraham from carrying through his faithful obedience to God in sacrificing his beloved Isaac. Enter the transfigured Christ meeting with Moses and Elijah. Enter the very voice of God Himself declaring, “This is my beloved son. Listen to Him.”
The divine encounter is intended to give us that faith and trust, and the heroic response is obedience. But the natural human response to the encounter with the divine is Peter, wanting to pitch tents and camp out on the mountain, and attempt to contain God and stay put. Peter reflects the opposite of obedience – attachment.
Let me just say from my experience over the past seven days since I uttered my fateful prayer, if you pray for obedience, you’ll get circumstances that require you to give up your attachments, especially those attachments that get in the way of my relationship with God or keep me from being useful in His service.
Once again it is St. Paul, this week in his letter to the Romans, who speaks directly to my heart through time and space to this place where I’m called to trust ever more deeply in God’s divine providence while I do my best to obey and let go of the attachments that I hold dear. It wouldn’t be so bad except that I struggle to form attachments in the first place. It takes courage to care, courage to believe in yourself, courage to have a dream and take the steps to achieve it. It also takes courage to let go, and Paul’s letter to the Romans is filled with en-couraging words like these:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son . . . how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?”
My wise spiritual mentor says you’ll never know God is all you need until God is all you have. When she first said that to me about a year ago, I shuddered, because I didn’t want to go “there,” anymore than Jesus wanted to go to Calvary. But apparently that’s exactly where God wants me to go. Do I trust the covenant, the call, the bond I’ve formed with God in the desert, the divine revelation I receive every morning when the sun actually rises again and I have everything I need, if only for that day?
I do believe, and I obey.