Me and God and a word called No.

There is a book I recommend to every father: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. It is a fascinating read with many takeaways – the most important of which is a list of warning signs we can look for when we find ourselves confronted with odd or potentially dangerous behavior from another. One of the warning signs of criminal behavior is a person’s inability to accept “No” for an answer. No is a valid response. In a dating situation or when a stranger offers unwanted help, the normal person will back off when told no. But a deviant mind seeks ways around the word and will not accept it.

No is a valid response to a question. We teach our children that truth and even when difficult, we have learned to accept it ourselves.

No is also a valid response to a prayer.

The Bible teaches three answers to prayer: Yes, No, and Wait.

Yes is easy. When we pray and receive what we desire there comes a satisfying confirmation of the love of our heavenly father.

No and Wait can be very hard but are valid answers nonetheless.

I believe that God always answers every prayer. My finite mind cannot grasp the logistics involved in this system, but the Bible teaches it and I accept it. While he answers prayer, he often does not always offer an explanation. Nor does he need to. He is God.

When a father tells his child no, he usually follows with an explanation for his decision: “No, you can’t eat that cricket because it will spoil your dinner.”

The child may or may not be satisfied, but God is not bound by our need of a reason. In the height of human arrogance, we demand all yes’s or a reasonable explanation for the wounding no’s. But he is God. He didn’t promise that and doesn’t owe it to us. If we expect yes to every prayer, we are immature fools who serves a genie in a bottle, not God. No’s test our faith – especially when it comes in a desperate situation and without a trace as to why.

C.S. Lewis said, “For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted.”

On Friday, February 13, 2015, I woke up early and went down to my basement. I got down on my knees and that didn’t feel like enough so I got down on my face and cried out, “God, heal my baby.” With my daughter’s life ebbing away in the room above me, I had faith. I truly believed with everything in my heart that even then, God would raise her up cancer-free and it would be a miracle. And she would walk out of that room and be a living testimony of His power and his mercy to this dying world.

Twelve hours later, I watched her take her last breath. I carried her lifeless body out of my house. To all of my prayers and the thousands prayed for her by others, God said no. I will never know why. I can speculate, but I cannot know. My inability to know that answer doesn’t make him any less God. Further, it doesn’t mean he didn’t answer my prayer – he just didn’t give me the answer I wanted.

It would require very little courage or faith to follow a formulaic God doling out fortune cookies with complete instructions and positive affirmation. But God is not an if/then proposition. He never said, “If you pray, I will grant.”

When I asked, God said no which leaves me two choices:

I can walk away from my faith or I can learn to live with this God who says no.

Either way, God is still God. He hasn’t changed. Have I? Has my faith?

 

Faith is not built by the proliferation of yes’s we accumulate. Rather, faith is molded in the fiery ashes of the painful no’s we’ve received.

 

I choose to stay. Some might call that foolish, but it is my choice and mine alone. It is a daily slog through the valley of why, but I still believe. I still believe. While I do not understand his will and in this case, I do not like it, I acknowledge that he is God and I am not. He owes me no explanation.

But… God and me – our relationship is different now. I tend to feel him less and see evidence of him more and in complete candor, we sometimes aren’t on speaking terms. That might make sense to no one, but it’s where I am. It’s where we are. Regardless of how I feel… he is God and I am me and that’s enough.

Me and God – we’re working through this together.

Sit Your Ash Down

I have a confession… I like fire.

A budding pyromaniac at the age of ten, I purchased a Zippo lighter at Taylor’s Drug Store unbeknownst to my parents. On a windy day, I used it to light some dead grass in the school yard, never considering the entire field was dry tinder. Of course, the situation got out of control and like any boy faced with potential capture, I ran. A neighbor saw the blaze and firemen put it out easily. Unfortunately for me, she had also seen the culprit and a policeman soon came knocking at my door.

It wasn’t my last brush with fire, but I must have been more careful after because I never had to talk to police again… about fire at least.

What is it with boys and fire? What causes the attraction? Maybe it is some primal urge to control the uncontrollable – a desire to harness heat and light that started when we were slaves to the elements living in caves. Maybe fire is irresistible because of its innate danger – it looks manageable but will burn you if you get too close like the redheads momma warned us about. I don’t know what it is, but fire has a strange allure all its own and men must learn to control our urges or be burned.

Men can sit mesmerized by a campfire for hours just staring into the flames. It’s a total guy thing. The cool air cut by its heat, darkness halved by dancing light. We burn things that aren’t supposed to be burned, tell stories that aren’t true, and in the wee hours we put the fire out as only a man can.

And what’s left when the burning is done?image

Ashes.

At the end of the night all we have are ashes and memories. Ashes represent total destruction of something tangible. What was is no more and in its place is black and gray soot. Ashes are dirty and have a particular way of sticking to everything they come into contact with and making that thing filthy too. Ashes are hard to remove – try as you might, they seem to get everywhere and when you think they are gone, some grit always remains.

Lately, I’ve heard tell of redeeming ashes. Charities and ministries have been built around the premise of exchanging beauty for ashes – that one’s life can be consumed by fire yet something beautiful can come of it.

But sometimes, to the one burned by the fire and sitting in its filthy remains, ashes are just ashes.

Whatever those outside the ring of protective rocks see as beauty can be unseen by those scorched. Perhaps after searing loss, the vision of the one burned is too much tainted by smoke and soot to behold what might become of their life’s ashes.

Sometimes ashes are just ashes.

Ashes remind me of the story of Job. When his poorly named friends came to visit, we are told about the dumb things they said; but don’t fail to recognize their initial reaction to his suffering – because it was perfect. 

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Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

Job 2:11-13

For seven days, they sat silently in the ashes with Job. Seven days without a word – weeping the only sound. Patience. Peace. Endurance. Shared pain. Closeness. Beautiful friendship.

Whether you believe the Bible or not, Job’s friends are a good example for us. Their silence spoke volumes and they only blew it when they opened their mouths to speak.

If you know one who’s life has been burned by loss or heartache and you want to do something, join them quietly in the ashes… Sit your ash down and shut your ash up!

The soot will be hard to remove and the ground will likely be uncomfortable. The loneliness on that charred patch of earth is soul-jarring like no other. But one dealing with great pain needs your presence in the dirt, not your words in clean spaces.

 

*Post is in response to a friend who recently lost his son and has received well-intended “advice” on how to move on.

Feature Image credit Randy Law under CCI