“Mom, I have a problem.”
It’s the phone greeting no one wants. For a parent, those five words have the power to rev up the circulatory system and unleash a maximum dose of adrenaline.
It was a gorgeous day, and since everything in our entire schedule had been canceled, my son went fishing. He drove our four-wheeler less than a quarter of a mile to the nearest shoreline to see if anything was biting.
He’d been gone a couple hours when he called.
“Mom, I have a problem.”
Before he had a chance to elaborate, I felt the blood drain from my face and dump into my heart (Hey, I’m no Doctor. I’m just describing the feeling 😉). I froze.
Like the credits at the end of a movie, a litany of horrible possibilities rolled through my mind.
Did he have a fishhook lodged in his lip?
Had he broken his leg?
Did someone drown?
I waited for him to deliver the worst possible news.
“I lost the four-wheeler key.”
All bodily systems began to return to normal, and I was left with an extreme case of emotional whiplash.
Terror morphed into a nanosecond of relief, which immediately gave way to irritation.
- Why did you start the conversation with those five potentially devastating words?!
- Why didn’t you put the key in a zipper pocket or something?!
By some miracle, I didn’t ask those questions out loud.
“How long have you been looking for it?” I asked
“About 45 minutes.”
That’s a pretty good effort for a teenage boy, and I could hear his worry and discouragement.
I drove two minutes to where he was slumped on the parked four-wheeler and began my investigation.
- What path did you take down to the water? (not sure)
- Where did you go from there? (all over the place)
- Did you fish anywhere else? (all along the shore)
- What pocket was it in? (right jacket pocket)
- Did you fall or bend over? (multiple times)
We retraced his steps (or so we thought) through tall, dry grass laid down by snowdrifts that had recently melted. We tromped through mud—the kind that stinks and makes a sucking noise every time you take a step.
We weren’t two minutes into our key-finding mission when I realized our efforts were futile. The area was too vast, and every square inch was the perfect place for a tiny key to hide or be buried.
If we didn’t find the key, though, he alone would bear the responsibility, the shame, and perhaps the expense of installing a new ignition or making a new key (I’m no mechanic either, but I suppose one or both are involved).
So, I did what I do when I have no idea what to do. I told the Lord about it.
“Lord, this is impossible. If we are going to find that key, you will have to show us where it is.”
I imagined a scene from a movie where sunlight flashes off a shiny misplaced item. I would run to the glimmer in the grass, fall on my knees, retrieve that beautiful key from its hiding place, and hold it up to the sunlight. (I’m no doctor or mechanic, but I do have a knack for the dramatic!)
My son half-walked, half-moped, two steps behind me. I wondered if he had been praying for help, but I hesitated to ask him.
I mean, what if I suggested we ask God to help us find the key, and then we didn’t find it? I’d feel some ridiculous need to explain God’s ways, and I might even feel a little embarrassed that God “didn’t come through” for us.
But what if we did find it?
That would be nothing short of a miracle. If we asked God for help from the start, we would KNOW God had heard and answered.
This mental wrestling match went on for several minutes when a third option came to mind.
What if we asked God, and didn’t find the key, but we got to have a conversation about God’s goodness even when things don’t turn out like we hoped.
When the boys were young, I hung a huge framed poster of James 1:5 in their room. It looked like a “WANTED” poster from an old Western movie, and it was a left-over VBS decoration.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, HCSB)
It was my stealthy plan to help them hide God’s word in their hearts. I hung it where they could see it when they fell asleep and woke up, and over time, I knew it would be imprinted in their minds. But God did something stealthy himself. He used that poster to cement those words in my heart.
When James wrote those words to believers scattered throughout the middle east, he wasn’t offering a providential formula for obtaining what they wanted from God.
He qualified his statement by saying that when we ask, we must believe and not doubt.
For many years that sounded to me a lot like “wishing really hard on a star.” If I just believed “really hard”—whatever that means—then I’d get my wish from God.
But James is talking about asking God for wisdom. When we ask God for wisdom we must “believe and not doubt” that the wisdom He generously gives is good and trustworthy. When God grants wisdom through his word, his spirit, or his people, I demonstrate my belief by actively trusting his wisdom and heeding it.
Sometimes when I ask God for wisdom and he shows me what to do, I wait around kicking the gravel because I can’t decide if he’s trustworthy or not. That’s asking with doubt.
I’m not merely doubting that he’ll “grant my wish.”
I’m doubting his goodness. And that says more about me than it does about God.
Is God good when your plans are wrecked?
Is God good when you’re in the ER having a fishhook removed from your face?
Is God good when you have to empty your piggy bank to pay for a new key?
Is he good when your kids don’t “turn out?”
Is he good when you’re standing graveside by a mound of fresh dirt?
Is God really good all the time?
And, I might add, he is good in the most surprising ways.
He doesn’t promise to grant my wish. He promises to grant wisdom that will guide me through the weeds of life.
So, I finally asked my son, “Have you asked the Lord to help?”
“Yes,” he replied.
We hiked up bluffs and back down onto muddy shoreline until the lake lapped against a shale cliff, and we could go no farther.
“Did you go anywhere else?” I asked him.
“I climbed up this cliff, but I fell down.” He pointed. “If I dropped it here, it’s probably buried under all this crumbled rock.”
We clawed our way up the cliff, and with every step, we created an avalanche of shale. If the key had been up there, it was surely at the bottom by now. I began to rake through the loose shale with my fingers taking a swath as wide as my arms could reach. I told my son to do the same.
Ten seconds later, I was holding the key.
Sometimes I wonder if God is listening. And sometimes I want to fall on my face and bawl because I had the audacity to wonder.
God who created us, loves us and listens to us.
Years ago, I heard Francis Chan tell about meeting two members of a cult who visited with him while he worked in his yard. They told him that God doesn’t listen to just anyone, and Chan conceded their point based on scriptures like James 1:6 and 2 Chronicles 7:14.
He said, “You’re right. God doesn’t listen to every prayer, but he listens to mine.”
Believers in Jesus own that same confidence. When we ask for wisdom, he listens. He grants wisdom that is worthy of our obedience.
Our current events make lost four-wheeler keys seem worthy of an eye-roll, not a prayer. And do I really need “wisdom” to know whether or not I should ask my son to pray about it? It seems inconsequential.
People are suffering, and it feels strange to trouble God—as if that were possible–with my “first world problems.” But I do it anyway.
“Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1)
In more serious matters, I have asked the Lord for help and found myself still raking through shale, with nothing more than a handful of dirt to show for my asking.
I can’t explain his timing or his purpose, but I can trust his goodness.
We may not understand his plan in our suffocating struggle.
But God is not confused or blind to it.
If he sees when a hair falls from a head, when a sparrow falls to the ground, and when a four-wheeler key falls into the shale, then we can trust his goodness in all things, all the time.