Begging and Bribing and Other Favorite Prayers

I think the prayers of begging and bribing might be underrated. And name-calling. That’s another one of my go-to prayers.

It’s 7:33am, and I’m already done with people. Not any of the ones who are the subjects of my Christmas card photographs. Or even the ones to whom I send those pictures. Just everybody else.

Regrettably, my general misanthropy is beginning toward extend to the dogs, or at least one of them. In an effort to salvage our relationship, I deliver him to the groomer. When he vomited up the lizard a few days ago, that was a mess we could address ourselves. This morning, however, requires a professional.

I’ve been praying for the little dog. We are not quite sure what’s wrong. Might have been the gum he stole out of the trashcan, but I did manage to retrieve that from his throat before he swallowed it. I also cut the rest of the sticky mess out of his hair and confirmed that Extra Spearmint contains no xylitol (which is toxic to dogs). More than likely that lizard is having the last laugh after all.

The dog who would normally eat until he explodes has not touched his food — or anybody else’s — in a day and a half, and frankly, we are all becoming alarmed. Our youngest son says, “Mom, if the dog dies tonight because you didn’t take him to the ER, you are going to feel really bad.”

Yes, I will. Thank you for mentioning it.

I can’t really blame him for pressuring me to step up the efforts on the dog’s behalf. This directive is oddly similar to the prayer missives I’ve been throwing in God’s direction. Which, thus far, seem to have been largely ineffective. Intellectually, I realize I might just need to settle down, get my self out of the way, and try a different tack. But no. I rattle off a few threats, bribes and creative names. I beg. It’s like my own personal version of the rosary. I give God the litany of reasons the dog’s death would be unfair: the dog is only 8 years old, our children are young and have already experienced tremendous loss, I just spent hundreds of dollars to board all our pets so they would be safe on our vacation, and we drag our kids to church every week (mostly) and feed them asparagus (occasionally). Is it too much to ask that the family dog live until he sports a gray muzzle? I add a few “Don’t you dares” for good measure. I call God names. And the stupid dog. I call him names too. I promise that next week, I will not sneak off to church with my husband while the children sleep late; we will dress them up and bring them with us. I end my rant with “Not now. Just not yet. Please not now. Please, please, please.”

Only after much rambling does it occur to me that I could recite the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm. Or check out the day’s Gospel reading. Or tune into gospel music. All of which I love. But I don’t seem to be ready to hear any of those messages.

I guess sometimes I need a protracted exhale before I begin to inhale. Or maybe I keep talking because I don’t think I want to hear what Jesus has to say. I don’t want to be kind or patient or longsuffering. I definitely don’t want my little dog to suffer. I don’t want to trust God’s plan. I have my own plan for how and when this dog is going to go to doggy heaven, and for starters it will not be until after our youngest son has gone off to college.

When I was growing up our family dog — the one my sister and I begged for — was a Samoyed/Australian Shepherd mix. She was the runt of the litter and looked like a puppy until the day she died. Which, in appropriate family dog fashion, she did not do until she was 15 (ancient in dog years). By then neither my sister nor I was living at home; she was in college and I was in graduate school. On Valentine’s Day, the dog followed my father out into the yard and took a nap in the shade under a nectarine tree while he gardened. By the time dad was finished with his yard work, the dog was gone. And by “gone” I really mean our beloved Butterscotch was dead.

That’s how the family dog is supposed to go. Quietly, peacefully, painlessly, in the shelter of a familiar garden and in the company of the one who has fed, groomed and walked her for years. Yeah yeah yeah, my sister and I promised that we would take care of the dog, and like all children who beg for a puppy, sometimes we did. Thank goodness our parents picked up the slack (and the puppy prizes), as they knew they would when they capitulated to the idea of a family dog, because the dog would have been really hungry otherwise. We did adore her, and that’s ultimately what the family dog is about — to teach a little bit of responsibility and a lot of unconditional love.

The family pet is not supposed to be hit by a car or attacked by a coyote or accidentally poisoned by a neighbor with a rodent problem. I have lost pets in all those ways, which makes me appreciate the manner of Butterscotch’s death all the more.

But life doesn’t always work my way.

Like a good therapist, Jesus lets me complain and vent and cry, staying with me, holding eye contact through the well of my tears. Sometimes tears streak down his own face as well. I trust that God does not fear the wrath of Charlotte. He remains unmoved by my berating of his competence and patient with my frustrations at the unfairness of life. He sits very still.

This is my Elijah moment.

The prophet Elijah was hiding out from an irate queen who had specific ideas of her own regarding the manner and timing of his death. I imagine that the queen’s presence felt more powerful than God’s during some of those dark nights in the cave. “Then the Lord said to him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord — but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake — but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire — but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.” (I Kings 19:11-13a)

A tiny whispering sound? I rarely hear that still, small voice in the midst of my outbursts. And yet… the value of the begging, bartering and berating prayers is not as an ends, but as a beginning to a conversation. It occurs to me that the significance of these prayers lies in their reach toward connection. After the rage comes the calm, and then the divine presence becomes tangible, peaceful. In this moment, I recognize that the answer to my prayer is Divine Spirit’s willingness to stick with me through my struggles and tantrums, to hold my hand, to catch my tears, to share His broken heart with mine. This, after all, is the promise: “I will be with you.”

I sit very still.

Meanwhile, my little dog survives his gastrointestinal ordeal, and I am grateful. Undoubtedly, the winds and waves and flames will soon be at it again. As will the quiet whisper.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a tiny whispering sound.

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