The following first appeared in the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu. It was written by Kathleen T. Choi.
There’s a story in the Acts of the Apostles that always gets me thinking. It comes in the first chapter, right between the Ascension and Pentecost. The disciples decide they need to pick someone to replace Judas. They had been 12. They need to be 12 again. They figure Judas’ replacement should be someone who was with them from the beginning. Two men fit the bill, so they cast lots, and Matthias wins.
I’m sure Matthias was a fine man, but I think the apostles jumped the gun. They assumed that they knew what qualified a man for this new position of apostle. They told God, “Pick (a) or (b).” But God was working on (c). That man had never met Jesus and certainly never followed him. In fact, in the next few chapters, we’ll see him eagerly persecuting Christians. Yet Paul would undergo one of the most dramatic conversions in church history and powerfully fulfill Christ’s command to be his witness “even to the ends of the earth.”
Every time I read this passage, I wonder if I’m limiting God’s options as well. Am I assuming the only answers are (a) or (b)? Am I open to receiving (c) instead?
I have a friend who was suddenly stricken with a physical disability. We attended several healing services asking that she be made whole again. We saw it as an (a) or (b), yes or no, situation. But God did (c). The disability remained, but . . . my friend had been deeply hurt by a family member. As she prayed over and over for healing, she found her bitterness over that betrayal draining away. She was finally able to forgive. She said that being freed of that burden was a more precious gift than any physical cure.
One of my favorite books is Corrie ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place.” Nazis sent Corrie and her sister to a concentration camp as punishment for helping Jews. First they prayed for freedom. Then they asked God to use them in this place. They prayed and read the Bible. More and more prisoners joined them, and the atmosphere in their barracks changed.
Corrie could give thanks for that but not for the fleas. They were a constant misery. Then her sister pointed out that gatherings as large as their prayer group were forbidden. However, guards were so reluctant to enter their infested barracks that they could worship more openly than other prisoners. God didn’t (a) rescue them or (b) abandon them. He did (c). He showed them how to be “more than conquerors.”
A popular phrase among charismatic Christians is, “Pray expecting.” Too often, we pray about major problems with little hope that God will act. We ask him to find us a job, save our marriage or heal a loved one, but we don’t really expect him to answer. That would take a miracle, and miracles seldom happen.
Perhaps we’d see more miracles if we included (c) in our petitions: “Lord, please act in this situation.” Maybe unemployment will continue, but we’ll find something special to do with this time. Maybe the marriage can’t be saved, but we can learn to treat each other decently. Maybe our loved one will die, but we can savor every remaining minute.
Expecting (c) is an act of faith. Instead of focusing on whether we’ll get what we want, we open our eyes to what God wants to give. Faith is a conversation. We tell God what’s in our hearts. Then we stay alert. His response might not be what we had hoped for, but it will always be a blessing.