The twist on the old story goes like this: A man is walking down a beach when he spies an old looking bottle. The moment he picks it up, a djinn appears is a puff of blue smoke, bows and speaks:
“And what is your third wish?”
The man is startled, but has enough about him to question what became of his first two wishes. The djinn says that the man already wished his first wish, his second one was to undo it and make it all as before. Now his third and final wish remains. The man thinks for a moment, then tells the djinn his final wish.
The djinn’s face curls into a smile as he brings his hands together.
“Yes,” he says. “That was also your first wish.”
Little stories like that can provoke deep thought. I can’t help always wondering what I would wish for if I had three, or just one wish. A shoebox full of 100 dollar bills would be a good start I think. I would love to have my truck fixed. And while I am at it, have it never break again. And why not have it so that the tank never runs out of gasoline again? Could I fit that into one wish?
That’s pretty selfish to wish for that when there is so much need in the world. Three wishes could include clean water for the world’s population, and end to human trafficking and no more natural disasters ever. That would improve on a lot. I don’t know how something like that could be pulled off though. If I was a djinn I would just clap my hands and make the world disappear. No more want for anyone.
How about wishing just to make people nicer? I could wish for that. Is it ethical to transform people and just make them nicer? I don’t think it is or God would do it.
And then I bring God into this. I used to think that God was like the djinn in the bottle with unlimited wishes. Maybe it’s easy for a kid to think that God is like Santa Claus with a big bag of cool stuff for everyone who’s good. Prayer seemed like wishing for what you want. And this mindset didn’t end when I grew up.
I don’t have a grudge against the spirit-filled church that I went to when I first got back with God. But it fostered a mindset where God would answer all prayers according to my will. But here is where the djinn in the bottle vanished. Because if my prayers were not answered, then I wasn’t praying hard enough or needed to examine my own life somehow. It was encouraging to feel myself a prayer warrior and actually see prayers answered. The real tricky thing was this: Wishes were not free at all. I still had to be worthy and work for them.
But then Naomi got sick. Of course I didn’t panic when she got cancer. I thought that if enough prayer was lifted up for her, she would be well. For three and a half years I kept believing that she would be healed through the power of prayer to God. Over those years I did something else, every time I saw a falling star, I wished on it.
So then when Naomi died, I got pretty mad at God, the stars and just about everything else, including myself, big time. The magic bottle fell to the ground and burst into slicing fragments of broken hope. It took years to overcome the hurt and anguish that came from thinking that I had somehow failed. It’s still something that can drag me down once in a while. It is taking a lot of un-learning and re-learning to understand some key truths.
First, it is the human condition to believe that there must be something that one can do. That was the flaw in the wishing machine, being good enough to get a stocking full of shiny stuff. I had to work and perhaps even suffer for it. I held tight to that belief. And I have only recently come to realize that thinking that way is idolatrous. Only one person truly had to suffer. All I have to do is accept that. But it’s not for shiny stuff.
On the subject of the wishing machine, God has never been that. God put laws into place like gravity and motion. He did not create cancer. That imperfection grew out of the fall of man. And God doesn’t just clap his hands and make all cancer vanish. Just like changing bad people into good, that would violate His laws. Not to say He doesn’t. A miracle is when God does indeed by-pass the laws He made. That didn’t happen with Naomi. Was it then God’s will that she die? When God was drafting up His master plan for creation for all eternity, did he have her life cut short of her 7th birthday, regardless of any prayer I lifted up?
And while we’re at it, was it God’s will that monstrous tornados would rip through cities and kill children? How many people prayed for their lives before they died? Did God hear them, and shrug and say: “Sorry, that’s not in the plan”?
There is a stand out word there. Shrug. People shrug when they are confused or at a loss. God cannot be portrayed like a person who doesn’t know what He’s doing. I think one of my problems with faith is that I tend to anthropomorphize God. Picture him as a djinn, Santa Claus, a wishing star or a detached force of nature, or anything like an imperfect person and I’ve got an inaccurate look at God. And when I read about who God really is, he never shrugs and says “oh well”.
Part of my unlearning and relearning is admitting I’m powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing. And I personally have to admit that I’m powerless about forces beyond my control. If I admit that, then I need to believe that God is powerful to control what does. As soon as I do that, I start to become disillusioned and wonder how a loving God can allow all of this.
But I want to believe that God is a loving God. And that is what I will pray for. Because another step in this healing process is surrendering to His will. This isn’t an empty wish made in a fairy tale. This is my passionate desire to align myself with God and understand His will for me. Against such thing there is no law.
The last wish for the man on the beach was probably something self-serving. But maybe not. Would anyone take back a wish to have God’s will done in their life? Maybe. The renewing of the mind should come first.
Here is what hints to me that this is indeed a prayer that will be answered. Denial is easy. If I could just deny all my doubts about the goodness of God and live in ignorance then it would be easy. I know how easy it is to deny things. But this is not easy. These doubts I have are hurdles that I have to overcome. But I’m praying for something now that isn’t a wish for more convenience or shiny stuff. I’m asking God to take me away from what I want and help me to do what He wants. In spite of my doubts, God will take me as I am and start that renewing.