Today my daughter Miriam, who is to wed in July, finally received in the post the necessary extract from the civil birth register. She was born in Ceuta, a Spanish city on the North African side of the Straight of Gibraltar. The Cruz Roja Hospital sits at the base of Monte Hacho, a small mountain peninsula jutting out into the sapphire-blue Mediterranean Sea and considered – along with the rock of Gibraltar – to be one of the ancient Pillars of Hercules marking the ends of the earth. So Miriam always has a conversation starter if she wants one, but she also has a lifelong headache anytime she needs an authenticated copy of her birth records. Persons born in Ceuta are generally Spanish or Moroccan nationals, so getting a document acceptable to the Dutch authorities from the Spanish Registro Civil for an American/Canadian citizen living in Belgium has been a trial. Anyway, now she has it and we can all breathe a sigh of relief – the wedding can proceed!
So that’s one more thing to cross off my prayer list. Yes, I know. I’ve been a Christian for decades and I know we shouldn’t relate to God as if he’s Santa Claus; we shouldn’t come to him with only the things we want. I mean, would we show up at a good friend’s house with a list of things we want to talk about, or things we want them to do for us? If God is our Father and friend, why would we do that to him? Shouldn’t we relate to him as we relate to other individuals whom we know well?
In any case, for good or ill I have always made prayer lists. I can’t help it; I’m just a list kind of guy. I make lists about everything – grocery shopping, “to get done today”, Christmas and birthday wish-lists, lists of writing topics, documents and bank cards lists, and on and on. When we were burgled five years ago the police couldn’t believe their luck: within minutes – from my list – I was able to identify exactly what cards had been stolen, what their numbers were, their expiration dates, and the correct telephone number to call to block them. “We’ve never seen anything like this” they said, much to my satisfaction and vindication.
Renata is not much of a list person. It irritates her to no end when I suggest making a list might help her get organized. She does now, after almost 26 years of marriage, make a grocery shopping list of sorts, on teeny-weeny pieces of paper which I always find scrunched-up in the back pocket of her jeans when I’m getting a load of laundry going. I wonder if it finds its way there before or after the shopping is done. Does she make the list just to give me the pleasure of watching her make it, or does she actually use it? Love is mysterious.
I don’t think God minds my list. In fact, we talk about it. Well, I talk about it. I say, “God, I know you aren’t Santa Claus, and I know prayer is not just about getting things from you. I make this list to help me, not to help you, and I hope you aren’t offended by it. I make lists with Renata too, and she sometimes gets irritated, so I can imagine you might too. I think everything on my list might be pleasing to you, and good in your sight, but if I’m wrong, please forgive me.” But God has never talked to me about my list, at least not that I know of. (Most of the times when God does talk to me he uses Renata’s voice. So I have to be careful; she can say some strange things sometimes, and I know how she feels about lists.)
I have friends, mostly charismatic types, who say they have at times heard an audible voice speak to them from heaven, presumably God. Sadly, I’ve never had that experience. But the other day I was resting on my bed contemplating all the pressures I’m facing in life (including Miriam’s wedding), when suddenly a distinctly audible “Don’t worry!” came out of nowhere, spoken in a deep, resonant voice that made my body tremble. I would have sworn it was God, but I recognized it was just my ample breakfast moving through an empty bowel and setting off some random sounds. Oh well, it brought me some degree of comfort anyway, and no end of light-hearted chuckles for the rest of the day.
Eerily, the very next day Dr. Schuller’s Hour of Power scripture reading opened with those exact same words….