Often late at night, when I wake up and am all alone with my thoughts, I begin to pray about the random things that come and go in my mind; people, events, images, places, things. Sometimes I try to figure things out but I quickly become exhausted. That’s when I wonder what God thinks.
Here are a few of my recent random thoughts that that I prayed about: Omram Daqneesh, the little brown haired, mop headed boy who stared out at us as he sat in the back of an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble of an apartment building in Aleppo. You remember the picture.The left side of his face was caked with dried blood and dirt; the childlike shocked wondering look in his eyes. In video clips he wiped his brow with the left hand, momentarily stared at it before innocently wiping it on the seat cushion. The stain and the horror, though, could not be wiped away that easily.
I pray for the moms and dads in cities like Chicago who say prayers with their children as they tuck their children in bed at night to the background noise of gunfire. I pray for the parents whose children never come home and are forever taken from them. I pray for teachers who want to teach but also need to be social workers for students who are afraid to learn because peer pressure pulls them down to the lowest common denominator.
I pray for the under-emploied and the unemployed, for those who have given up hope and for those who never had hope planted in their hearts i the first place. I pray for those who dream and those who are afraid to dream. I pray for all of us as we seem to worry about just taking care of our own. I long for the bygone day when selfishness wasn’t seen as a virtue and the government wasn’t the punchline of a joke. It is all so wearying.
I have a confession to make. Not too long ago I wrote a prayer for God–not to God, but for God. I wrote it in my journal. I don’t know if anyone ever thinks about praying for God. For all I know, it may be some kind of heresy. After all, God doesn’t need our prayers, right? Nor has God asked for them, at least as far as I know. But still, something inside of me stirred the urge to pray for God. I don’t think that it did any harm. It even did me some good. And who knows, maybe God found it amusingly refreshing to have someone pray and not ask the Almighty for anything.
Yes, I keep wondering what God is thinking when he looks at the world, when he hears any of his children cry. Someone once asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied that a neighbor is anyone who needs your help. I wonder if Jesus was thinking about the story of Cain and Able when God asked Cain, after he killed his brother Able, where Able was? “How should I know?” Cain retorted. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Well, in a word, yes; yes, you are your brother’s keeper. We are connected to each other whether we like it or not. Jon Donne had it right when he wrote that no one is an island. We are all a part of the main. And, all children are our children.
There are certain decisions that we make in life that haunt from time to time. One such image for me is occurred on a cold December day when my wife and I were in downtown Chicago. We stayed at a hotel on Michigan Avenue and agreed to meet friends at an Italian restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. Walking to the restaurant I passed a homeless man sitting, alone with his head resting on his arms and tucked between his bended knees. He had a tattered blanket draped over his head and shoulders so that no one could see his face. He had no sign asking for money, no cup, and no bag that I could see.
At the restaurant I ordered my “go to” Italian meal—spaghetti and meatballs. A few hours later I walked out of the restaurant with a take-home bag. And then, there was the man. He hadn’t moved from his spot. He was in the exact same position as holiday shoppers crowded the sidewalks. I sat my bag of leftovers beside him without saying a word feeling fairly self-satisfied. But then, we hadn’t gone a half of a block before I began to question what I had done. I left him a bag of leftover spaghetti and no utensils. Why did I do that? Was it to ease my conscience? Did I do it because I wanted to do something but didn’t know what to do? My act costs me nothing but I imagine that the benefit to him was commensurate to what it cost me! And then I got to wondering, “Was he my Lazarus”; the one who sat outside the rich man’s gate? Was I the rich man in Jesus’ parable?
We are trapped by a system that allows us to believe that we are somehow disconnected from “the other,” “those people,” “the different.” We label “them” thus taking away not only their humanity but ours as well.
If we are brave enough, humble enough, we can ask God to help us free ourselves from the broken system in which we are trapped, a system not of our own making, one that we have simply inherited and built upon. And, if we are lucky enough, if we are willing to persevere, we can experience the saving, renewing, and freeing grace of God.
And that, my friends, is a glimpse of grace.