I was at my best friends’ house the other day and she’s got some particularly stressful things going on in her life at the moment. She’s a Christian and I love her dearly. She’s taken in some kids whose parents are….well…let’s just say they aren’t parent material. The mother has six children and she’s not sure who the father of five of them are. The only reason she’s certain of the one is because my friend had the child tested. She’s a beautiful one year old, cute as a button. We’ll call her “B”. She’s the daughter of my friend’s nephew. My friend has now taken in B’s fourteen year old half-brother who we’ll call “D” and she’s about to take in their twelve year old brother “A”. My friend and her husband have already raised three children to adulthood. Two of them are married, one of which has two children and the other has a baby on the way.
Taking in D was supposed to be temporary. He has been with them for two months and has now decided he’d like to stay. D has had some problems in school, he’s adept at lying, he’s done some drugs, and can be a bit of a thief. She’s facing a dilemma about this because at some point she may have to give all three of these children back to the mother who couldn’t care less. In conversation with me she revealed to me that she’d been praying about what to do and she hadn’t received an answer yet. She said she wondered if these children being in her care was a “God thing” or if she was getting in “God’s way” and maybe stealing someone else’s blessing.
The old me would have offered up some kind of spiritual platitude at this point about how this was definitely a “God thing”. These children have been removed from a horrible environment and placed in her care where they would hear and experience the love of Jesus. And that she should feel comforted in that. The new me sat quietly and just listened to her friend talk. Then she asked me what I thought. This is a careful dance now. If I say too much of what I really think I risk revealing my secret. So this was my reply: I think what you’re doing here is admirable. You’ve raised your three children, should be enjoying your grandchildren and your freedom, and yet you have so much love for these children and compassion for their situation and you want them to succeed. Since D has been here his grades have improved and for the first time in the boy’s life he’s with a family that really cares about what he’s doing and who he’s doing it with. So “God thing” or not, what you’re doing matters and it seems to be making a difference. I think the real questions are: “Do you feel you can keep this up? And how do you feel about taking on a fourteen year old with these problems? What will happen to D and A if you don’t take them in? Is that what’s best for them?” She’s forty-eight years old and needs hip replacement, so I ask her if she can physically do this. She doesn’t know. My opinion doesn’t really matter. What’s important is the reality of the situation.
Then the subject turns to some mutual Christian friends. This couple is the sweetest couple I know. He’s fifty years old and is undergoing some tests because the doctors suspect he has pre-dementia. They are very concerned and now my friend looks at me and says: “How do people get through things like this without God?” Again because I don’t want to out myself I say “I don’t know”. She says “please keep them in your prayers”. I say nothing. The subject changes.
There’s a lot I don’t know. There was a time I felt exactly that same way, that awful things happen in this world and I don’t know how people deal with them if they don’t believe in God. Now my outlook is completely different. I can accept that awful things happen to people and that’s just a fact of life. I’m not nearly as angry or anxious when awful things happen to me or to anyone else. The source of that anger and anxiety before was because I truly believed that there were miracles and that God intervened. But I also knew that it seemed more times than not He didn’t. I was taught to ask in Jesus’ name expectantly. Now when these awful things happen I can grieve and sympathize and understand that the reason that a miracle didn’t happen is because maybe miracles don’t really happen. The anger came from not understanding why one person should be more deserving of a miracle than another. When someone asks me to pray for them because they or their loved one has cancer, I can honestly say to them “you’ll be in my thoughts”.
I know what my friend was thinking, I’ve thought it myself. Without God and the chance of a miracle, where’s the hope? I’ve seen that hope turned to disappointment and sadness more times than not. In my current state of agnosticism I’ve come to just accept. There is a lot of peace in acceptance. The hope I have is in humanity. I was taught to believe people only had empathy or sympathy or lent a helping hand to their neighbor because they were Christian. I’ve found out that’s not true. Yes there are a lot of awful things in this world, but there are a lot of good things too. I now realize there is goodness and love in most of us. And I also realize that those I thought were of a depraved mind because they “belonged to their father the devil” are really sick, they are ill. I can have empathy for them even though I realize something must be done to protect society from them.
I don’t pray for miracles any more. When I did pray for family and loved ones I often prayed for the miracle that they needed with the added caveat, but your will be done Lord. God can’t loose that way because whatever happens then must simply be His will. I don’t pray for a miracle for myself or anyone else anymore because there are children starving in Africa. I highly doubt God is busy about stamping images of the Virgin Mary in Joe Blow’s cheese when there are children starving in Africa. If those children in Africa don’t starve it will be because we collectively do something about it, not because I prayed about it. And if those orphans my friend has taken in have half a chance in life it will be because she did something about it, even if it’s finding them another good home, not because she prayed for a miracle. If our friend with pre-dementia has any hope it will be in finding good doctors and specialists in the medical field that can help him.