Driving home on winter roads, our family decided a prayer for safe travels would be a good idea.
My son said, “Yeah, because we don’t want to get in an accident.”
I corrected him, “Just because we pray, doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t get in an accident.”
“It doesn’t?” he asked, confused.
“Not even a small percentage less of a chance that we will get in an accident?”
I was trying to teach my son that God is not our magic genie, granting us our every wish.
I knew from experience that seeing God that way was dangerous to our faith – especially during the hard times in life – because God doesn’t always say yes to our prayers.
It wasn’t until later I realized, with much regret, that I had led my son astray in his perception of prayer.
While I don’t want my son to treat God like his own personal genie, I do want him to know that God answers prayers, and that prayer changes things.
I’ve experienced it. I even wrote a book about it: Forty Days: a Memoir of Our Time in the Desert of Childhood Cancer.
It’s a hard concept to understand though, and even harder to explain in simple terms to a child.
But I gave it another shot and tried to explain to my son:
Imagine that when we pray, we are like a little kid who is asking their parent for a cookie.
The parent could easily give the child a cookie if she wanted to, but she has to decide if that’s what is best for the child. The parent knows more than the child about many things, like nutrition and when the next meal will be.
Just like the parent must decide whether or not to let the child have the cookie, God must decide whether it would be better for us to have what we are praying for or not. He knows more than we do.
God always wants what’s best for us, just like good earthly parents only want what’s best for their kids.
I think in telling my son this story, it helped me understand a little better too.
I thought of the times God told me “no” and how I’d thrown a fit just like the child who didn’t get the cookie. Sometimes, when we just don’t understand, it can be hard to accept God’s no.
But Jesus taught us how to handle God’s no when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was facing horrible torture and certain death, and He knew it.
Jesus prayed for it all to be taken away saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”” (Luke 22:42)
But the key is, Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” Because He knew His Father’s will was always best.
Even on the worst day of his life, Jesus had faith that God would work things out for ultimate good.
That’s the remarkable thing about prayer no one ever tells you — true faith is asking for something but then telling God to do what He knows is best.
True faith is when we can stop throwing a fit and stomping our feet and just say, “God, your will be done.”
That is the message I was trying to teach my son that day in the car.
It’s a message I need to learn myself. It’s hard to tell God (and mean it) “not my will but yours be done.”