I’m a believer in the power of prayer. It’s not only a way to meditate and focus our internal energies, but I have faith that it is also a means of communing with God and of learning His will.
Two moments come to mind when I think of how prayer has worked in my life. Both prayers were uttered in moments of true desperation: during law exams.
The first prayer was made during one of my first law school exams: Civil Procedure, with Prof. Greenberg. Civ Pro basically covers the technical aspects of lawsuits: subpeonas, juries, motions, and all that good Law & Order gobbledegook. It’s a class I enjoyed immensely, with a nice complexity of rules. But with the exam in front of me, I choked. The problems seemed familiar, but none of them clicked. It was as if I was reading a vaguely familiar foreign language. I read and re-read but to no avail, and as the minutes ticked by, I began to panic. I shut my eyes and whispered a quick prayer, that God would help me find the answers to the test and that I would do well.
A response came to me, very clearly, perhaps the clearest answer to a prayer I’ve ever experienced: “You got yourself into this mess, Evans. Why just involve me now? Get yourself out of it.”
Confused, I fuddled my way through the test and went home. That night I ate at Tom’s with some friends, bewildered at the experience and convinced that I’d completely failed the test. I had little hope for my future following the complete clusterbomb I’d accomplished during Civ Pro.
I got an A. I still don’t know how!
The second prayer is more recent. After moving to Seattle in January, I was required to take the Washington State bar exam in order to qualify. Lawyers that practice long enough can just apply for reciprocal treatment, but I was about 6 months shy. So I got to re-experience the joys of bar exam preparation courses, and the sheer monotony of practice exams, flash cards and outline after outline. It turns you into a zombie. The night before my first day’s exam I said my nightly prayers, asking that I have the chance during the next days’ exams to see God’s hand at work, that I could remember Him, even during the crazy pace of the bar exam. I didn’t ask – though perhaps I should have – that I do well on the exam or that God somehow intervene with the bar examiners.
The next day, during the exam, I found myself occasionally taking a moment to think about Jesus: his sacrifice, his death on the cross. I thought about the great things God has done for people in the past. The exam was still tricky, and my hand still cramped after days of solid writing. In a way, the bar exam faded behind me and was replaced with a sense of myself before God. Revisiting the questions in my mind, I know that I made mistakes on the exam, and I doubt my test will be used as model answers for future generations. I get the results in May.
When discussions turn to prayer and how God can influence our lives, I think of these two different prayers. Which one was more sincere? Which one was answered? I don’t have answers to questions of theodicy, and I don’t know enough about God to tell how or why some requests are granted and others refused. All I can do is look at my own brushes with the divine, and witness that God does answer prayers, without knowing why or how.
I don’t like arguing that one of these prayers is superior to the other, or that one was answered more fully than the other. I also don’t like discouraging or speaking out against prayers like the first one, because I don’t think it is ever wrong to turn to God. I see both as desperate reachings out to God; both are selfish attempts to connect with Heavenly Father when I needed him. In my mind, all efforts at prayer are worthy if we are sincere. Is this true? Why do we pray?