When “No” is a Great Answer to Prayer
Jessica Ahlquist is the teenager from Rhode Island who has created a big-time ruckus over what some call a work of art. Others call it a piece of history, but Jessica calls it offensive. In a kind of David versus Goliath situation, she took on her local school board and won. The offending item must come down despite the protests and even outrageous behavior of many who want it to stay exactly where it is.
There are several story lines here.
There’s the story about religious symbolism which flows into the separation of church and state and produces all the usual yelling of entrenched parties over that. This debate revolves round the statement of predetermined views by all parties who seem set on provoking each other without spoiling the fun with actual communication. Attaching labels, assigning motives, and hurling insults at each other helps to keep the friction heated. It doesn’t take long for those promoting the religious side of the argument to lose their cool and become vicious. Makes you wonder if Jesus cringes a bit when they tell the world they are his followers.
The other story we are beginning to see is how Jessica got to be such a firebrand atheist. There’s a story here for sure: she didn’t just wake up one day with the thought that she must become an atheist today. Jessica said she had stopped believing in God when she was in elementary school (ten years old, she’s now sixteen) and her mother fell ill for a time.
“I had always been told that if you pray, God will always be there when you need him,” she said. “And it didn’t happen for me, and I doubted it had happened for anybody else. So yeah, I think that was just like the last step, and after that I just really didn’t believe any of it.”
Think about it, a ten-year old has expectations and urgent wishes so she does as she’s been taught, she prays about them. She doesn’t see the result she wants and becomes disillusioned with prayer and therefore with God. Whoever taught her to pray failed to teach her about dealing with “No” for an answer. We don’t know how she prayed or exactly what she prayed but in one sense, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she prayed as she understood she should and it didn’t work out like she dreamed.
Her protest took form back in July 2010, when she complained about a banner which hung in the auditorium at Cranston High School West The banner included the words, “Our Heavenly Father” and this is what she objected to.
School authorities brushed off her complaint, saying the banner was artistic as well as historic since it had hung in the auditorium for decades. Jessica’s complaint was that the banner made her feel “ostracized and out-of-place.”
Was she helped to reach this conclusion by certain atheistic adults she knew? Probably! She seems to have reached some very strong views for someone with so little actual life experience.
Jessica isn’t by any means the first nor will she be the last person to struggle over prayer that isn’t answered the way we think it should be. As long as we insist on approaching prayer with our wish list (shopping list) firmly clutched in our hands we are standing on the same slippery slope Jessica stood on. Her problem is that no one taught her how to handle, “No!”
In real life we discover that payer is not about our shopping list/ consumer mentality at all. Prayer is about changing us; about giving us focus and helping us detect what really matters.
Prayer is about a clash of wills – ours and God’s; ours and the god of this world’s; ours and the will of other people. We clash over world-view and perspective, over personal vision for our lives, over expectations and what we wish to achieve in this life, over our calling and what we are willing to do about it. It’s quite a list. It can be quite a clash too.
This explains why some prayer cannot be answered until we actually hear from God. Hearing from God is not necessarily hearing what we want to hear, it’s hearing what he wants to say to us. We learn to become settled in our spirit as we learn how to wait for and on God – learning what he wants, and getting in tune with him. As we grow in life experience and in our relationship with God we become aware of just how toxic our wish lists can be, and we begin to sense that God’s “No” often protected us from ourselves. We are thankful that he protected us from ourselves. We become grateful that he cares about us enough to say, “No!” We can ask his forgiveness for our frustration and anger at his refusal to give us what we demanded and we can recognize how much we have grown. It’s all about relationship and seldom, if ever, about the stuff.
Ever wondered what would happen if we lost our wish-lists and put our focus on hearing from God instead? Would there just be silence?
. . .
Posted on February 24, 2012, in Active faith, Communicating faith, Prayer and tagged atheism, Cranston High School West, God, Jessica, Prayer, relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, religious symbolism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.