In these weeks before Christmas, there is the near-audible buzz of children making Christmas lists of stuff they want. I recall our own children making lists, but we first made a list of things they could do for others. That was the real Christmas list! Did doing so dampen a child's desire for a new toy or invalidate the wanting of it? No, and that was not the purpose. But as a parent we help frame so many experiences as our children are learning to view life in this world - experiences we may not remember years from now, but the child might.
We are always watchful for moments to teach small ways of habitually seeing others' needs and, lovingly, of recognizing selfishness when it presents itself at the front of the line. I recall an experience from my childhood lodged firmly in memory...
Do you remember the feeling of wanting something so badly, but it was just out of reach?
February, 1963 was Heart Fund Month in Monticello, and the race was on to see who could
raise the most money for the heart association. Each of the girls in town- 1st grade through high
school - had a jar in which she collected donations. Picture the mayonnaise and mason jars
with valentines and photos of the girls taped on them, many of them placed alongside the cash
registers at check out stands in the grocery store – prime real estate! I was only in the third
grade, but I was eager to win. My parents would not let me put out my jar ‘in town’, much to
my disappointment; I was left to earn money from chores and to collect spare change at the
end of the day. It became clear that I hardly had a chance.
February 14 drew near, and my anxiety grew. The prize, you see, was to be queen – Queen of
the Class! - and the Overall Heart Fund Queen for the town got the grand prize: a trip to the
Governor’s Mansion in Jackson where all the statewide queens would gather for lunch. The rumor spread quickly that they had a solid gold bathroom there!
Let me set the stage to show how important this was to be queen for a town of little girls. This was 1963. Mary Ann Mobley and Linda Lee Mead had recently won back- to- back Miss America as Miss Mississippi. As a third grader, I was impressed. I had been on the front page of The Daily Mississippian sitting in the lap of my aunt who had been crowned Miss University. I was starstruck. These elegant, glamorous big girls had it all! Surely there was a crown in my future…
On February 13 I had assessed the class totals and knew that - barring a miracle - I would not win.
So the night before the big day I prayed my little 7 year old heart out, asking God to please let
my daddy put a twenty dollar bill in that jar before morning. Nobody would come close to that!
I knew he could do it. I believed.
I awoke the next morning with eager anticipation, and there sat my jar: no twenty. Didn’t my parents want me to win?
It was within their power to make it happen. It would have been so easy.
No, I didn’t win….not even the top of my little third grade class. At the end of the day, however, I do remember how pleased my dad was to learn that Lucy, a high school senior had won. I did not know her, but Lucy was one of his favorite patients, a young woman stricken with polio who moved through the halls of the school with her crutches.
When I voiced a little disappointment – okay, I was 7 - my father put his arm around me and hugged me close. He had a different perspective on this quest for queendom and helped me frame the disappointing experience:
“Marita, you’ll have many chances to go to Jackson in your life, and you'll see the governor’s mansion; but Lucy never dreamed she’d have a day like this!”
The whole town celebrated her being Queen and proclaimed a day named for Lucy with her picture on the front page of the paper!
Here is my point with that ancient history lesson etched in memory.
Sometimes our prayers are like my childhood prayer: “God, you can do this! It is not too hard for you.” In some ways we still ask for the thing we think would put us over the top. It may not be ‘please put a twenty in the heart fund jar’, but fill in the blank for your own personal crisis. We tell God precisely how to fix a person or situation. And just like my lesson 46 years ago, we still don’t get what we ask for.
Does that mean we didn’t ask in the right way, with the correct
incantation to make our prayer acceptable to God? Maybe we didn’t toss in ‘in Jesus’ name’
enough, or begin by praising God long enough to make it work? I do not believe that proper verbal tweaking was or is the missing link. Sometimes what we desire just does not come to pass. Prayer is one of life’s mysteries.
Sometimes the things we earnestly seek are not in our best interest, though we cannot imagine why not. Such was the case in my example. From my limited point of view, the answer looked easy, but my parents had a different perspective, a bigger picture in mind, and the quick fix I wanted was not the best for me.
It’s easy for us to sit here now and smile at the little girl who
would be queen, but I remember it with all seriousness as a child.
When we are in the midst of true disappointment now as adults, facing times of real anxiety that many of us are living in today, we implore God through prayer. We give thanks for what we call answered prayer when what we seek comes to pass. But the place of anguish is when we do not get what we want about the really big things in life. We may not see a way out barring a miracle, so we ask God in the only way we know how: pouring our hearts out honestly and sometimes begging for the solution we seek. God is big enough to take it all.
Our God remains steadfast to meet our deepest needs, though help may come in times and ways
we cannot anticipate. God is trustworthy.
I am thankful for the lessons I learned from my parents in countless ways,
and the case of the heart fund jar is among them even all these decades! And though I have never been queen of anything - that desire having died a natural death - I have indeed had many chances to see both Jackson and the Governor’s Mansion.
My father was right. As always.
We have taught our children what might be dubbed the gospel according to the Rolling Stones:
You can’t always get what you want….but you get what you need. Put another way,
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8
And, who knows....there may still be a crown in our future.
“We run the race with certainty and compete for an imperishable crown…” 1 Cor. 9: 25, 26