The Prayer

 

This is a true story. Most of my others have a nugget of truth, or at least, they have their inspiration in truth. This story, however, is entirely true. I have not embellished, I have not exaggerated, I haven’t inserted a single word or action into the narrative that involved creative thought. It is completely true.

That being said, you must also know a little about me…if this story is to make any sense whatsoever. First, I am NOT crazy. Despite what many of you may believe or perceive, I am, in fact, quite sane. I have been accused of being eccentric, maniacal, brutish…even esoteric at times, but never crazy. Furthermore, I was raised in a Mormon church. When I tell people that, the answer to their next question is always: one. (Think about it for a minute.) And, excluding what you may think you know about their faith, they are one thing above all else: reverent. In a Mormon church, there is a piano, and the congregation sings hymns. No guitars, no drums…only a piano, and sometimes an organ. Once the song is over, the congregation sits. There is no shouting, “Amen!” There is no applause. Nobody raises their hands in worship.

It’s neither wrong nor right, it just IS. If you took the term “Yeah Jesus” and made it into a spectrum, Mormons would be at the low end of it. Again, that’s neither right nor wrong, it just…is what it is. Conversely, other churches, such as the Pentecostals, would be at the other end of the “Yeah Jesus” spectrum.

Being raised in a Mormon church, and having lived the reverent way for many years, I’ve grown accustomed to a certain style of church service. If the “Yeah Jesus” factor gets too high, I get uncomfortable. The church I normally attend has a relatively low “Yeah Jesus” factor, but sometimes it’s a bit much for me.

My defense mechanism is to bow my head and close my eyes. Often, I feel like a weakling…simply because I can’t deal with people swaying and praying with both of their arms in the air. But, again, it is what it is.

Now that you have a background on how I operate, I want you to picture a scene. It’s a real scene. I know, because I was there. It’s a church…a small one. The congregation is lively, singing a worship song. There is a full band…guitars, bass, drums, piano. They are playing their hearts out. The mood is electric. Hands are waving, hips are gyrating. The cacophony of “Amen” and “Praise Him” and “Jesus”, seems to blanket the room. The short wooden pews are filled. The preacher is a tall man with large glasses, wearing a light-blue suit. He has a microphone in one hand, and a length of cable held in the other. He keeps bowing and singing snippets of a prayer…of sorts.

Now imagine me…with my, how shall I term it…condition? Yes…my condition. Imagine me, in the second pew from the front…surrounded by dancing, praising, worshipping, and the like. My hands are gripping the back of the pew in front of me. It’s not a white-knuckle grip…not yet. I have my teeth clenched. My lips are pursed tight, and I’m staring at a blank piece of gray carpet that I can see through the ocean of flailing limbs and dancing church goers. I’m continually telling myself to stay calm. It’ll be over soon. I mean…how long can they keep this up?

Five minutes later, I’m still deadlocked on that bit of carpet…begging God to intervene. Through total obeisance of will, I turn to look at the congregation behind me. It’s as I feared. They show no signs of slowing. In fact, they seem to have gotten louder and stronger. A frail old lady in white with a matching hat looks like she’s having a stroke…or a seizure. For a moment, I think of running to her. But, she’s fine…I guess that’s her dance style. Maybe I should run to her anyway and begin CPR. It’d be a sure way to end this song.

The song continues. On and on and on!

Then, a man in a dark suit walks briskly to the front of the assembled crowd. He joins the dozen or so others at the front, who are praying loudly for healing and such. But, instead of holding his palms upwards and praying, he throws himself to the floor and begins wailing. He weeps and sobs…not in pain, but in sorrow.

This, is just too much for me. It’s a bridge too far. It’s a Kobyashi Maru…an unwinnable scenario. My first impulse is to bolt for the nearest exit. But, I’m there with my wife too, so I’d probably make a scene in the process of getting her out of there. What to do?!

I go to my safe place: I bow my head and close my eyes. But, this time, I say a silent prayer.

In my head, I pray this, “God, I’m still not clear on why you’ve decided to torment me like this today. The gentleman here, with his crying and bawling…he, he…well, God, it’s just too much for me. You know me, right?”

I breathe in deep and blow the air out of my cheeks.

“Listen, God, I’m not a super emotional person. I’ve got room to spare, as far as emotional burdens are concerned. If there is any way you could take away some of his sadness and let me bear it, I’d do that for him. As long as it makes him stand up and get back to his seat, I’ll definitely do it. I think…”

I felt something pushing up inside the back of my throat. For a moment, I thought I was about to vomit. Instead, a sob came out. Just one. No more than that. My eyes watered a little…then it was over. It vanished as soon as it appeared.

In that moment, I opened my eyes. The room was still chaos and madness, but the man in front stood up abruptly. He turned around and looked right at me. His eyes and cheeks were wet with tears. He pointed a finger, and said, “Thank you.” Then he walked back to his seat.

The song went on another fifteen minutes, but I scarcely noticed.

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