On the same day my 80 year old Marlboro Man of a stepdad survived a risky heart surgery at a well-funded, highly-regarded hospital in Nebraska, seven children drowned in the basement of their elementary school in Oklahoma. After I read an email from my mom that said medical staff were working for an hour to get his blood to clot, worried my stepdad wouldn't pull through, I called my mom in a panic and told her I'd say a prayer for him.
I'm not a daily pray-er. I save my prayers for desperate times, when I literally can think of nothing else to do. When I feel hopeless and scared and unsure. When life is chaotic and unkind.
When I pray, I usually try to find a dark, enclosed space--under the covers in bed or huddled on the closet floor. I'm usually sobbing before I get there, and I let the dark wash over me. My prayers usually go something like this:
Please God, help me.
Please God, help [insert pitiful person's name].
A cry for help. And that's it. I don't know what else to say. I figure God knows.
I used to be a daily pray-er. When I was young, my mom taught me this prayer, and I said it every night before I went to sleep, with mom sitting at the side of my bed:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Thinking of a six year old Becky talking about "if I should die before I wake" creeps me out. No wonder I had to sleep in bed with someone until I was twelve. I mean, yeah, it's great and all to ask God to care for our souls in the afterlife, but must we really focus our thoughts on dead children at bedtime? Couldn't we end the day on an up-note? Something like this:
Thank you, God, for everything.
In the end, does it really matter what we say to God when we pray? "Let go and let God," the bumper stickers say. Isn't that what prayer is? Telling God, uh, um, I don't know what to say, or where to turn, or what to do, so I'm going to be quiet and try to tune into something bigger than me.
This morning after I talked on the phone with my mom, and my stepdad, and we marveled at science and how tough he is, I turned on the radio to listen to the news while I washed dishes. I felt a little guilty when I realized I had forgotten to say a prayer for my stepdad the night before like I told my mom I would. Then I heard the man on the radio report that seven children had drowned while hiding from the tornado that hit their school in Oklahoma. From the safety of my suburban home in Kansas, my own hands submerged in dishwater, I pictured these sweet, precious gifts from God, seven dead children floating in a pool of water under the rubble of their school. Tears flowed from my eyes and plopped like rain drops into the dishwater. I immediately wanted to say a prayer for these seven nameless children, too. But what good would it do? They're already gone. So I wanted to say a prayer for their surviving loved ones. I thought of my own child, my sweet, precious gift from God, sitting in school right now and I wondered how solidly constructed her building is. I worried about what she would do if we had a tornado. I wanted to say a prayer for her, too, to ask God to protect her. I immediately felt selfish for thinking God might answer my prayers while other parents' prayers went unanswered as they sat in a church in Oklahoma and waited for authorities to tell them their children are dead.
I pulled my hands from the water and dried them on my pants and turned off the radio and turned off the light and stood in the corner of my kitchen. I looked at the unwashed dishes. Particles of my husband's and my daughter's and my own DNA covered those dishes and it was my job this morning to wash them and dry them and put them away until we'd come together for another meal. I cried and held my face in my hands. I felt so sorry for those seven dead children and their surviving loved ones. I felt so happy for my mom and my stepdad, that they'll have more time together on this earth. I thought of my husband at work and my child at school and I pictured them getting home and sitting down to dinner with me later this evening in the safety of our home. I wiped my eyes and shoved my hands back into the dishwater. I looked out the window, up at the sky, and I said this through quiet tears:
Thank you, God, for everything.
I don't even know what that means, but I figure God knows.
As I washed my family's dishes, I felt lucky. If I ever catch myself complaining about the drudgery of housework again, I'll think of those seven dead children and how their parents would feel lucky to get one more chance to wash their children's dishes.