“Thank you God for this pasta and this fork and the napkin and the placemat and the lettuce and the cucumbers and thank you God for this day. A-MEN!” The prayer ends with a self-satisfied smile from Andrew.
We all begin reaching for our forks and napkins when Colin insists, “WAAAAIIIIT! I didn’t get to pray.”
We again fold our hands and bow our heads.
Colin’s eyes squint halfway closed. His head swivels to watch us as he begins to pray.
“Thank you God for this pasta and this sauce and HIS EYES AREN’T CLOSED!” Colin accuses, looking at Nathan.
“Just pray!” we groan. Dinner is growing cold.
“Thank you God for this pasta and this sauce and the fork and the placemat and thank you God for the chair and SHE’S EATING!” Camille is now the guilty one.
She puts her fork down, and the prayer begins again. . . from the beginning. After Twin #2 has successfully thanked God for more things than his brother, his prayer ends with an emphatic amen, a kind of exclamation point on a job well done.
And I wonder.
When prayers are answered, is it to congratulate my job well-done?
Do prayers get answered because my measure of fervency and faithfulness has finally been reasoned by God to be sufficient?
Are my prayers getting answered because I’m selecting the right words, phrasing the right sentences, and unlocking heaven’s reluctance by my own cleverness?
And what’s to be done about the prayers I’ve only prayed half-heartedly? Wanting but not really? Believing but not really?
The angel tells Zechariah the great news: his prayers have been answered. Yes! He and Elizabeth will have a son!
But verse 18 tells the real truth about Zechariah’s prayers, and ultimately, his faith.
It’s threadbare. It’s been worn right through by the steady advancing of years and years of praying for a baby. And years and years of silence. God didn’t answer. Nothing changed.
There was nothing other than to believe that the books had been closed, and the answer was no.
And now God was answering a prayer Zechariah had given up praying?
God was now granting a gift to a man who’d lost faith?
And all those prayers I lose heart praying? The desires I don’t have the courage to name? The moments when my faith is threadbare and I can’t believe much that’s good and faithful about God?
He still hears?
Advent is great news for the faithless: make room for the yes.