Last Saturday I joined 35 other people from Midland to hike the trail to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Even though it was my 15th trip to the top, the hike hasn’t gotten any easier. It’s a hard day every time we go.
I told Paul, after we finally cleared the opening mile of switchbacks, “Surely there is an easier way to do ministry.” Well, there might be, but I doubt easier is the same thing as better. I don’t know any other way to duplicate the time I get to spend with my guys; the extended conversations along the trail are my favorite part of the trip.
This time I talked about our trip to Austin the previous day to meet with the Teacher Retirement System folks. Cyndi is ready to move into the next phase of her life, devoting her energies to her studio, although those who know Cyndi also know she can never put all of her substantial energy into one single effort and that she will always have two handfuls of projects to fill one handful of time. Moving into her next phase requires retiring as an elementary school teacher. She is ready.
What we learned in Austin was helpful and necessary - but it wasn’t what Cyndi expected or wanted to hear. We were planning on May 2011 for retirement, but TRS was planning on January 2012. Eight months is a short interval in the spread of our lives, but it is a huge time period from the perspective of today.
One fellow Iron Man hiker talked about the recent news of his upcoming career change and how the final position that he accepted was the one he’d preferred all along had he been given first choice, but one he thought was impossible because it was already filled. He said he would not feel comfortable praying for the other person to leave, so he pursued other jobs. So the answer to his prayer, while better than his immediate request, was not what he had been praying for (job #2 rather than the coveted job #1). He was happy the way it was working out, but curious that the answer to his praying was for a question he hadn’t asked.
Another Iron Man talked about his position as a university professor and how it felt very precarious in light of current state budget predictions. It is easy for us to say government spends way too much money; especially if we aren’t talking about the salary of a gifted and dedicated hard-working family man. He talked about his options should he lose his current job, and we wondered with him about his future and what could we do to help.
Both conversations, about men praying for specific solutions while knowing God’s answer might be something totally different, reminded me of the Bible story about a rich young man who approached Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why are you calling me good?” (Mark 10:17-18)
Jesus changed the opening question from what the man asked to the question the man should have asked. The man asked about eternal life, but it mattered more who he thought Jesus was. Jesus addressed the heart of the issue, “Who do you think I am.” How could the man follow advice from someone he didn’t know?
On the trail down the mountain I wondered aloud how often God answers the prayers we should have prayed rather than the actual prayers we were praying? Maybe we pray, “God, give me Option A,” but God knows what we should have asked for was Option B, so He gives us Option B instead. I expect that happens over and over; we only recognize it afterward, maybe a long time afterward..
In almost every case when I was aware God had answered a specific prayer in my life, especially prayers about career moves, He answered in ways I never anticipated. In fact, I often didn’t recognize His answer until months, even years, later, after I had enough time and distance from the immediate trauma to look objectively. More than once I sat across from Cyndi in a booth at Rosa’s ticking off the points where God had delivered exactly what I’d asked for yet not in the way I expected.
Some might say I was turning coincidences into answered prayer. Well, maybe, but I doubt it. Coincidences have never given me joy and hope like answered prayer has.
Maybe from now on my opening prayer should be, from now on, “God what should I pray for? What should I ask for? Teach me to trust you.”
To see photos from the hike: http://www.flickr.com/photos/berrysimpson/sets/72157626549736298/
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
To learn about Berry’s books, “Running With God,” go to www.runningwithgodonline.com , or “Retreating With God,” go to www.retreatingwithgod.com ,… Follow Berry on Twitter at @berrysimpson … Contact Berry directly: firstname.lastname@example.org … To post a comment or subscribe to this free journal: www.journalentries.org