With another interesting comment coming in early this morning on the topic of God (not) answering prayer, I am thinking again about the post about my catechism classes and the teenagers' frustration when God does not give them exactly what they want -- and, in reaction, they declare that God is dead or does not exist. (Of course, much of that is for the dramatic effect on us teachers, and the rest of it is to keep up the "cool" image of the cheerleaders and ball players in the class.) What I tell them is to look beyond their own agenda and see what God might know that is better than what they want.
A highly troubling personal example bubbles to mind when I think about prayer and God knowing best. When I first returned from Jordan three years ago, I learned that my mentally challenged son Doah had gotten into some serious trouble at the local mall. At the time, he was living in a group home for disabled adults and working at a sheltered workshop, as he does now. He was in his mid-twenties, but because he never surpassed 4'7", he never seemed to be older than 8-10 years old, which is the outside limits on his mental development as well. A very affectionate person, he had seen a young girl he knew at the mall. She was with her parents. He went over to her and hugged her. At that point, all manner of chaos broke loose. Although Doah's size was the same as the girl's, the girl was only 13. The parents freaked; Doah does look "different." Mall security seized Doah, and off he went to jail. The group home director got him out of jail, but the district attorney wanted to prosecute even after the parents, who had finally figured out what was happening, dropped the charges. The DA had a goal: Get retarded people off the streets of Salts, the city where Doah lived.
Lizzie, my oldest daughter, was visiting at the time that Doah's first appearance in court took place. We had only about a day's notice. I had just returned from a long time out of the country, and the group home was not used to my being around to inform about such things and had somehow also missed informing Shane, who looks out for Doah when Donnie and I are not around. Donnie was still in Jordan. So, Lizzie and I went to court with Doah. However, because Doah is not conserved and is of age, neither of us was allowed to appear with him. We had to sit in the back of the courtroom.
When the judge called Doah, he read him the charges: sexual molestation. (For a hug!??!) The judge then asked Doah if he understood the charges. Of course, he did not. He appeared quite confused, and the judge repeated, "Please answer me. Do you understand the charges?"
Doah responded, "You give me credit card? I buy something?" Now the judge was confused! He looked around the courtroom, somewhat desperately, and saw Doah's social work leaning over the barrier.
"Are you with this young man?" he asked.
The social worker identified his name and position and was allowed to approach the bench. He told them that there was family in the area and that the family wanted a private attorney. (The judge had been about to assign a court-appointed attorney, and, I fear, that would have been a railroad job. The DA would have had his highly visible case that could have turned into sanctioned discrimination against an entire class of people.)
We have a friend who is considered one of the best defense attorneys in Salts. I had actually been instrumental at one point in putting him on the fast track to practicing law in California so he helps us out from time to time. He took Doah's case gratis. He thought it would be open-and-shut, but it turned out that the DA would not budge. He had a chance to make a name for himself and get his agenda implemented, and he planned to do it. Our lawyer was temporarily stymied, and Doah was definitely going to be put on trial. There were only two possible outcomes of such a trial: (1) jail for a year, or (2) probation and identification for life as a sex offender.
So, if Doah were your son, which outcome would you pray for? Being in jail would have taught my little imitator how to do many bad things that would have followed him the rest of his life to his detriment. Probation was fine, but being labeled as a sex offender would also have followed him all his life to his detriment. So, I asked God for the only thing I thought could possibly work: for God to make the decision on what would happen to Doah.
The morning after that prayer, our lawyer called me excitedly. He said he had turned the case over and over in his mind and saw no way to win; he had spent a couple of days trying to convince the DA that what he was doing was wrong-headed and not appropriate in this case and still saw no way to win, given the DA's stubbornness. Then, when he got out of bed that morning, a thought from nowhere had tumbled into his head: the DA has a supervisor. So, he went to the DA's supervisor, explained the whole case, told him that he had known Doah since Doah was 9 years old, and that what had happened was only a result of Doah's generally friendly nature. The supervisor agreed that there was more than met the eye, requested a psychological examination, and said that a third option would be added: If the psychological examination confirmed the lawyer's analysis, then Doah would be put on probation for a year and if there were no further incidents all court records would be expunged as if nothing had ever occurred.
And, so, that is exactly what happened. The psychologist said that Doah had the mental acuity only to determine whether a behavior was good or bad but not the ability to understand that a good behavior becomes a bad behavior depending upon circumstance. That would be too fine a distinction for him to make. In other words, hugging is good at home, school, church, parties where you know everyone, but it is bad at the mall. Doah could not possibly draw that kind of conclusion, given his mental capacity. So, option three was taken by the court, and a year later the DA himself requested that the case be withdrawn and the records removed.
How blessed we were that God had a third answer. How happy I am that I did not ask for one of the only two options that I knew about. (I suspect, though, that if I had asked for one of those options, God would still have introduced the third, better, one.)
So, yes, I say to my catechism students, God does say "no," and we should be grateful that God knows best!