How a puppy taught Sue Hay about the presence and presents of God—even when he is silent.
As anyone who has cared for a little person knows, when a pre-schooler suddenly goes quiet it’s best to investigate. A lack of noise can be a sign they are up to something they shouldn’t be! So, when my only child—a usually very loud four-year-old—suddenly turned quiet, I needed to find out why.
I found him sitting cross-legged on his bed, eyes tight shut and hands clasped firmly together in prayer. Then, a similar thing happened while we were out in the car a few days later.
Suddenly the noise from the back seat ceased. Puzzled, I asked why he was so quiet. He informed me he was praying that God would send him a puppy.
The problem with this request was that I was terrified of dogs. My fear was so intense I knew there was no way he would ever be getting a puppy. It seemed my son was going to learn very early in life that God doesn’t always answer our prayers. I hoped I would be able to help him manage his disappointment. But then three things happened to me …
Firstly, I had to fly to a conference. And because I feared flying as much as I feared dogs, I required a good book to distract me. The book I read on the flight included a chapter on fear! The author suggested some fears are a reality we conjure up in our own heads. I felt challenged to consider whether or not I had the capacity to change the thinking that had created my fear-based reality.
Secondly, the latest edition of a monthly parenting magazine arrived in my letterbox. Unbelievably, it contained an article about ‘only children’ needing pets. The article claimed pets assist ‘only children’ develop essential social and caring skills.
And finally, a friend phoned: she insisted my son needed a puppy and she had found him one! So for his fifth birthday, my son received a puppy, and a mother who began to change her responses to both dogs and flying!
These unexpected answers to the prayer of my four-year-old became an invitation to refl ect on how God cares for us, just like a loving parent does. I recognised my repeated life experience of abuse and grief had created an unconscious expectation that God would rarely give me good things. Yet, the arrival of a puppy pointed me to the parent heart of God. In answer to a four-year-old’s prayer, I saw a Divine Parent bestow a very special gift on my son. Yet he was granted more than just a puppy. Through this puppy, he found an answer to the deeper need of his heart—a precious companion to reduce his aloneness as an only child. This was indeed a good gift.
Jesus stated that if you, as imperfect parents, ‘know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him’ (Matthew :).
But when God is the one who goes silent, this claim can feel like a broken promise. If God fails to provide what we ask for, many of us are left feeling disillusioned. We start to believe in a God who does not care about us at all. Silence is not golden when silence from God fuels our fears of abandonment.
However, in an almost identical statement, quoted in Luke :, the wordgoodis exchanged for the words Holy Spirit. Jesus claims God will do better than give us any old good thing. is interchanging of words suggests the best gift of all is God’s Spirit.
My son prayed for a puppy when what he really longed for was a friend and companion. As I listen to both my own and others’ hearts, I sense that when we pray for specific things there is usually a deeper layer to our requests. Beyond the specifics we are really asking: ‘Does Anyone care?’ Beneath our words, we search for reassurance that Someone is there for us. We want to know we are not alone.
Yet praying for specific requests leaves us in control. Praying for specifics means we are telling God what to do. We may pray for the thing we want—like a puppy—whilst remaining unaware of what it is we really need. On the other hand, praying for the Spirit requires us to trust that God knows exactly what we need. I imagine God is genuinely delighted when we
finally understand the gift of the Spirit is what’s truly best for us. Whatever our circumstances, the gift of the Spirit as our guide, comforter and companion will always be the answer to the deepest needs of our hearts.
Thus, the words of Jesus become an invitation to pray less for specifics, and more for the Spirit—to pray less for particulars, and more for a presence.
God always grants this good gift. The gift of the Spirit, first released at Pentecost, came with power which was so transformational that the scared disciples were able to leave a locked room and take God’s message to the ends of the earth.
And I’ve discovered one more truth: there’s something very precious about a Divine Parent who delights in granting us the best. I hadn’t expected God to enjoy answering our prayers! Just as I had to unravel my thought processes in relation to my fears, I also had to update my thinking about God: it’s amazing to realise just how much delight God takes
in selecting the best possible gifts for each of us.
The arrival of a puppy was a most unexpected answer to a four-year-old’s prayer. The arrival of a puppy pointed me to our Divine Parent’s pleasure when we seek the greatest gift of the all. The arrival of a puppy helped me discover the gift of God’s powerful presence is exactly what we need.
by Sue Hay (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 11 August 2018, p20-21- You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.