“WHAT HAVE I STOPPED PRAYING FOR?” (Lk 1:5-25): 19 December 2007 (Wednesday)
It’s not fair. The old man was just trying to do his job. By the gospel’s own account, he was a righteous man. That fateful day that he was picked to enter the sanctuary, he was just planning to go in there, burn the required incense, say a couple of prayers, and then leave right away. He expected nothing out of the ordinary– certainly not a vision of angels, and certainly not the news of his elderly wife Elizabeth bearing a son. And all he did was ask the angel a question, but when he came out of the sanctuary, he could no longer speak.
The question Zechariah asked was: “How shall I know this?” It’s a completely legitimate question, I think. For years he and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for a child. How many mornings did they rise from bed, eagerly waiting for some sign that Elizabeth had conceived? How many nights did they spend in prayer, nursing the dream of one day cuddling their very own child? They endured the years and the decades, and all the while they heard their neighbors murmur about barrenness. And then it began to dawn on them: It was not meant to be. Maybe they just got tired, but one day Zechariah and Elizabeth gave up on their unfulfilled dream and unanswered prayer.
So when the angel Gabriel appeared to him to say that their prayers were finally answered, Zechariah couldn’t simply grin and say, “Gee, thanks!” He had, after all, long stopped praying for this.
It actually happens quite often–this dying of dreams, this surrendering of prayers. A young man who wanted nothing more than to be a priest decided to forget his dream when he was asked to leave his third seminary. A friend whose father abandoned their family when he was three gave up praying for his father’s return by the time he reached twenty. After years of walking on her knees in Baclaran, a mother finally gave up all hopes of her son recovering from his drug addiction.
And so the question I’m asking today is: “What have I stopped praying for? What dreams have I relinquished? What prayers have I, for whatever reason, given up on?“
You see, the years have a way of lowering our expectations. Sometimes we also end up losing our capacity to be surprised. I think that’s pretty much what happened to Zechariah. He had somehow forgotten how to be surprised. The problem, however, is that as it turns out, God loves to surprise us. Just when we’ve given up on a long-unanswered prayer, he sends the answer in a way that knocks the breath out of us. Just when we’ve decided to bury a long-frustrated dream, he rolls the stone away and resurrects the dream in ways we never imagined before.
So if we know what’s good for us, we’d better re-examine those relinquished dreams and forgotten prayers. Ours is a God of Surprises, and as in the case of Zechariah, sometimes he likes to shock us speechless.