Reading Rachel Held Evans‘ Evolving in Monkey Town the other night, my wife and I came to a passage about an 8-year-old boy in India, Kanakaraju, whose mother was dying of AIDS and father had already succumbed to the disease.
He had asked Evans, his akka, or “sister,” to pray for her, and she did, that day and every day after.
After my return to the States, when my pastor asked the congregation to pray for the funds to repave the church parking lot, I privately asked God to take care of Kanakaraju’s family first. It wasn’t that I thought god was incapable of doing both. I guess I just figured if prayer made any difference at all, it was more important that Kanakaraju have a mother than that my church have new blacktop.
But just a few weeks after I left India, I got an email from the missionary family saying that Kanakaraju’s mother had succumbed to her illness. They planned to take Kanakaraju in themselves and start training his older sisters for sewing jobs so they could earn a living. The email said Kanakaraju was struggling to accept his mother’s death, that he was crying for her every night.
Not long after I got the message from India, my pastor announced that God had provided the funds for the parking lot.
“Isn’t it amazing how God blesses his children?” he asked.
That last quote makes me feel a little icky, which I’m sure is exactly what Evans intended.
The truth is, my wife and I have been talking a lot lately about prayer: Why we do it, when it’s appropriate, and how it should be done. It comes up in the context of praying for rain, something people in our region do a lot, thanks to a horrible drought and record-breaking heat.
Neither of us is comfortable with the idea of praying for rain, and we’re not sure why. It’s not a particularly shallow request; rain would provide relief for thousands of farmers and ranchers who depend on it for their livelihood. And since I can live with my brown lawn and alarmingly yellow hedges, it’s not particularly selfish either.
But there’s something about it that seems off. Maybe it’s because there’s not much satisfaction that comes from it. It finally did rain here in a big way – three inches in one day – a couple of weeks ago. This was hailed as an answer to prayer. But it wasn’t an answer to everyone’s prayer. A storm cloud the size and shape of Texas did not park itself over the state and let loose for three straight days. We got rain, yes, but thousands of people praying for it have yet to see any.
And as it turns out, the rain wasn’t enough to make any difference in the conditions of the drought, or the state of the crops, or the need for many ranchers to sell off their cattle because they can’t find or afford the food for them. Further, years of reporting on West Texas farmers has taught me that hard rains like that in the late summer and early fall actually hurt the cotton crop because the raindrops splash dirt on the bowls and lower the value of the cotton.
So, after that huge outpouring of rain, the marquees on the small-town churches still say: PRAY FOR RAIN.
What was the point?
Continue reading The Problem of Prayer