by Maria L. Evans
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey...
I asked for health, that I might do great things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things...
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise...
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God...
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things...
I got nothing I asked for - but everything I had hoped for;
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among men, most richly blessed!
--Attributed to an unknown Confederate soldier
Although the author of this prayer has been lost to history, legend has it that it was found on the body of a dead Confederate soldier in the Devil's Den at Gettysburg. It remains a poignant reminder that in our relationship with God, "what we get" can be an opportunity for spiritual growth, even when it's grossly apparent it wasn't the thing for which we asked.
Now, I can't explain why, but this long ago prayer/reflection sprang to my mind when I read a recent blogpost about the value of decorum-disrupting children at church, written from the vantage point of one of our Roman Catholic neighbors--it's certainly not a denomination-specific point of coffee hour chatter.
I'm the first to admit I've seen kids in churches do things that raise my hackles, often thinking, "Oh, wow, if I'd done that at church, my granny would have turned me into a little red grease spot on the church steps." At the very least, she would have applied her version of the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on my shoulder, never looking at me, but making it painfully clear I'd better straighten up and fly right. It's amazing how those old memories can bring an almost instantaneous rush to judgment.
But then I take a deep breath and consider the bigger picture. Perhaps I know nothing about this child and he/she is a special needs child, and those poor parents have showed up in search of one shred of solace in their difficult family life. Perhaps the parent is busy serving the worship service through a role in the liturgy or music, or coffee hour, and simply can't always keep an eye on their child and their task every single moment. Perhaps that baby's been fussy for three solid days, and the mom came to church because she simply needs the Sacraments to get her through what may well be Day Four.
Child-based annoyances in church, when we begin to look at the bigger spiritual picture, are often simply God's wake-up call to look at how we are caring for each other in our shared community life. What kind of break could we have given the harried moms, dads, or grandparents on Saturday, that might have made Sunday easier? Are we a trusted person who can step up and work through things with the kids when they are acting out and the caregiver is needing to focus on an immediate task? Do we have a story to share at coffee hour that helps families and caregivers feel less isolated or alone in the rearing of their boisterous child? Is there something we can do in our normal interactions with the child that can help plant the seeds of good manners and good social behavior?
When I am open to exploring those options, and changing my behavior, I find my attitude changes, as well as the level at which they become an annoyance. I can catch myself even smiling in gratitude--because you see, if the truth be known, I've had days in church where I was so overjoyed with the liturgy, I secretly wish I could show it the way little kids do--by leaping off the top step of the chancel, zooming up and down the aisles, or spinning circles to the verge of dizziness before returning to my seat. If only I can be so lucky that God knows those feelings live inside me, even though I'm standing or kneeling reverently.
What stories can you tell of annoyances or irritations that became fuel for spiritual growth, and a reversal to a more Gospel-like view of the world?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid