Working at a college has its advantages. Having access to such a big group of smart people comes in handy for me in my daily life, especially when it comes to some of the larger problems I run across. In the five years I’ve been there, I have spoken with English professors about writing, political science professors about the goings-on in the world, and religion and philosophy professors about, well, religion and philosophy.
I would call none of our conversations a sharing of ideas. Their words and the diplomas that hang on their office walls are proof enough they are much more intelligent than little ol’ me. I’m good with that. There are advantages to being the dumb person in the room.
So the other day when my mind asked a question my heart had trouble answering, I went knocking on some office doors.
The first chair I sat in was in front of four bookcases that stretched floor to ceiling and were stuffed with titles I could barely pronounce. The professor—smart fella, with a Ph.D. in philosophy courtesy of an Ivy League school—looked at me with kind eyes and asked what was on my mind.
“What’s the point of praying for anything?” I asked him. “I mean, if God knows everything and has a perfect plan, then won’t His plan work out regardless of what I tell Him?”
The professor took off his glasses, rubbed the lenses with a handkerchief. Then he put the glasses back on and looked at the bookshelves behind me, looking for an answer.
“Let’s see,” he told me. He rose from the chair by the desk and brought down one book—this one old, with a worn leather cover and yellowed pages—and then another, this one so new the spine cracked as he opened it.
He talked for ten minutes about free will and time being an unfinished sentence. Or something. My nods at first were of the understanding kind. The ones toward the end were because I was fighting sleep.
I still don’t know what he said.
The door down the hall belonged to a religion professor (Ph.D. again, Ivy League again). I sat in a different chair in front of different books and asked the same question with the same results. More free will, plus something about alternate histories and God “delighting in Himself.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d walked into a professor’s office with one question and walked out with a dozen.
To make matters worse, my mind was still asking that question and my heart was still having trouble answering it.
What’s the point of praying for anything? Because it seems a little presumptuous to ask for anything from a God who already knows what I need (and what I don’t).
I was at a standstill over all of this until I talked to Ralph at the Dairy Queen last night. Ralph doesn’t have a Ph.D., and the only Ivy he knows is the kind that grows on the side of his house. And though far from an expert on matters of the spirit, he does preach part-time at one of the local churches when the regular preacher is sick or on vacation. And since he waved at me and was eating his cheeseburger all alone, I figured what the heck. I’d ask him:
“What’s the point of praying for anything?”
Ralph paused mid-chew. Cocked his head a little to the side. Said, “What kinda stupid question is that?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Just popped into my head the other day. But seriously, why ask Him for anything. And really, why pray at all? If God already knows what’s in my heart, why do I have to speak it?”
Ralph finished his bite, swallowed, then said, “B’cause it ain’t about you, son.”
He drawled out a slow “No” that sounded more like Nooo. “Boy, prayin’ ain’t about askin’. Ain’t even about praisin’, really. Nope, prayin’s about you gettin’ in line with God. It’s not about Him gettin’ in your head and heart, it’s about you gettin’ in His.”
I left Ralph to his cheeseburger, answers in hand. And honestly, that answer made sense. Because life—better life, anyway—is always about Him more than about us.
And I left with other wisdom, too. The next time I have a question, I think I’ll spend less time in a professor’s office and more time down at the Dairy Queen.