The Pious Genie In A Bottle

The most confusing, perplexing, and unknowable scripture in all the scripture…It’s not Isaiah, although with his writing skills, he would be a great one to recruit to hide some treasure with a series of elusive clues that will take treasure hunting teams years to figure out. It’s not John’s famous Revelations either. All the numbers and the symbols that have been analyzed and interpreted hundreds of times and debated over throughout the years. Nope. It’s not even Leviticus or Deuteronomy with all the laws and customs that take a Biblical Scholar to unravel their mysteries. It’s a scripture that is brief and seemingly simple and has been repeated over and over again and said in so many different ways, and yet it still perplexes me.

“Ask and ye shall receive.” That’s the one. To this day it still gets me.

When I was a young kid I spent hours outside playing in our half acre backyard climbing the trees and building tree-houses, shooting the basketball over and over again, perfecting my shot and increasing my consistency so I could beat my older brother at a game of Horse. We had a huge garden and when it was my responsibility to water it I often ended up covered in mud. Can you really blame me though? Have you felt how satisfying it is on a hot dry day to soak the dirt until it becomes dark and muddy and then to step it that mud with bare feet sinking up to your ankles letting the mud just squish through your toes? I never had shoes on, I felt it was better to feel the ground beneath my feet than to restrict them making them prisoners to shoes. No, I was much more humane than to put my feet through the torture of wearing shoes. Every summer I got bee stings on the bottom of my feet from the that were bees feasting on nectar from the clover in our grass.

My mom planted a lilac bush at the side of our yard. It was big and provided a perfect place for a secret hideout by crawling under the low hanging branches and climbing inside. That’s where I’d go to say a prayer and ask God if He would guide a bird to land on my finger. I just wanted to get a close look at the birds. I wanted to be like Dickon from the Secret Garden who was friends with the animals. I must have said that prayer nearly everyday for a summer, but nothing happened, not even a close fly by. I would sit perfectly still and hold out my hand with my index finger extended for a perch. Nothing.

As I grew older I thought that was such a cute and silly little thing to pray for and of course that’s why God didn’t answer that prayer. So I began trying to find more respectable things to ask for in my prayers. When those prayers weren’t answered I reasoned that it was because my faith was weak, or that I didn’t try hard enough or that it wasn’t the Lord’s timing, or maybe I just didn’t recognize how He had answered it.

But then an experience happened with my daughter that made this scripture even more unknowable to me. I had just gotten home after picking up my kids from school when all of a sudden my daughter looked down at her wrist and realized that her charm bracelet was missing. We looked all over the house and in the car and realized that she must have lost it during school. This wasn’t just any charm bracelet, it was the charm bracelet. My daughter’s first charm bracelet that she received as a memento for being in the Nutcracker. She was so worried about losing it that she hadn’t worn it to school for months, and today was the first time she was brave enough to put it on her wrist and wear it outside of her room. She had personally picked out each of the five charms on her bracelet taking a couple of days to think about which ones she wanted until she finalized her decision. This was the charm bracelet that was now missing.

We immediately went back to the school, but by the time we got there the school was locked up for the day and no one was there, so the only option was to look outside to see if perhaps she lost it during recess. I asked her where she played during recess that day and without any words she pointed. The place where she had played during recess was currently being run over by cleats during a soccer game. We had no choice but to come back when the game was over, which we diligently did. Later that night we went back to the abandoned soccer field and looked and looked until it was too dark to look and our arms were covered in mosquito bites. But we never found it. We prayed. We said many prayers together and individually asking God to help us find her lost charm bracelet. She was praying. I was praying. Her sister said silent prayers while we looked. Her brother said silent prayers while we looked. But we didn’t find it. And that’s when she asked the heart breaking question that I didn’t know how to answer, “Mom, why does God help some kids find their lost stuff but not me? Why didn’t he help me?” I didn’t have a good answer.

The next day we went back to the field with a metal detector and took turns looking for the bracelet. We went back day after day until we finally resigned to the fate that it was not going to be found. Maybe it wasn’t lost outside. Maybe it was lost inside and someone already found it and took it home. Maybe it was lost in the parking lot and a car ran over it and smashed it beyond recognition. I don’t know.

And so that scripture remains mysterious and perplexing to me. I still firmly believe in a God who hears my prayers. I believe in a God who loves me like a father would. I would never think the prayer of my eight year old daughter asking for a bird to land on her finger was ridiculous or silly, I would think it was sweet and tender, and I believe in a God who loves me that way. But the whole scripture that teaches us to ask and we shall receive, I’m still working on understanding that one.

But I wonder if my understanding of that scripture is limited because I’m treating God like some magic divine genie in a bottle thinking that I should be able to ask him anything that is morally, ethically, and righteous, and expect Him to just give it to me. I know God’s not a divine genie, but I’m still working out the meaning of that scripture.