Lenten Devotion: Thursday, April 2

Psalm 131Psalm 132Psalm 133Psalm 140Psalm 142Exodus 7:25 – 8:192 Corinthians 3:7-18Mark 10:17-31

I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication.
Psalm 142:1

We recently rewatched the movie Shadowlands, in which a later-in-life C.S. Lewis falls in love with a younger American woman, Joy, who is diagnosed with cancer. When Joy goes into remission, a friend says to Lewis, “I know how hard you’ve been praying, and now God is answering your prayers.” Lewis responds “That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

It’s these two ideas of prayer—Harry’s on the one hand, Lewis’s on the other—that I think of when reading Psalm 142. Like many of the psalms, this is a tortured supplication for divine intervention. C.S. Lewis might wonder how this kind of prayer changes the psalmist, for it is unlikely to change God.

My rudimentary understanding of God is not of a force that can rescue us if we ask hard enough. In moments of suffering—at the death of my mother, my father, my sister—my impulse has not been to ask God to ease the pain or alter an outcome. If I were to experience anguish more intense, would I talk to God in a different way? Perhaps, but my gut says no.

When my siblings and I were young, our mother had a pulmonary embolism. Many years later, she told me that as she lay in the hospital, uncertain and afraid, she struck a deal with God: if she survived, she would never ask for anything else. She did survive and, as far as I could tell, kept her side of the bargain. She made an urgent supplication to God and then vowed never to do so again. That posture toward the divine may have shaped my own—how could it not?

For me, prayer comes not at the worst moments but at the best ones. When I am struck by love for my husband and our sons; when I delight in our family and friends; when I see staggering beauty; when I connect to the human experience through literature and art. Those are the moments when prayer, thanks to the divine for all that is beautiful, arises unbidden. And I do feel changed.