About a year ago, I was spending a lot of time making peace with a sad ending. I was asking what a sad ending means and wondering how anyone comes through the devastation of one.
The Lord was faithful to answer that question. In a word, he answered it with: resurrection. When a sad ending feels like the final chapter, our hope of resurrection tells us otherwise. It constantly reminds us that there is hope on the other side of the grave. We look back at our resurrected Jesus, at our once dead, risen King and we look forward to His life in us and His life in our loved ones after death has had its way.
Now, a year later, a different question has been nagging me. What does a happy ending mean? What if death is postponed, what if that fear that we carried around in our chest like someone was tightening a noose on our heart, intent on taking us to the brink, has subsided.
What does it mean when we’ve begged God to make something untrue, and by some measures, that has happened? Is this the moment when we claim victory and sermonize on the power of prayer to do just exactly what we wanted it to? Do we march triumphant, laughing at the death that we’ve defied? What does it mean that Titus survived that awful seizure and time on life support? What does it mean that he’s doing better than we expected and is progressing forward rather than regressing?
There is a devilish temptation to give glory to God for seeing the wisdom of our perfect plan. How godly we can look when we give glory to God for answering our prayers, even if the prayers say, “My will be done,” rather than, “Thy will be done.” The truth is, many of my prayers have been selfish and nothing more than a desperate mom’s clinging to a life that doesn’t belong to her. I know I have to be careful how I say this. It isn’t wrong to pray for God to heal your child, or ask for our loved one to live and not die. It’s right and good. But do we end with, “Not my will, but yours, God.” Are our hands lifted and open?
And is it right to claim Titus’s progression as an answer to our prayers? Isn’t it self-aggrandizing to assume that I understand the reason God has granted Titus to be where he’s at right now? What I can know for sure is that Titus is where He is because of the kind providence of God. It’s not that my prayers don’t matter, but praying simply to get what I want, is not the point of prayer. If prayer doesn’t align my will with his, what is it, but wishing upon a star?
One thing I’ve learned is that God’s will isn’t simple. He is not indebted to give His children yeses to their prayers. He told his own perfect Son, no.
Sometimes we have really special things planned for our kids. We plan vacations or get togethers with friends and they often don’t know about it until the plans are underway. Then, on occasion, they will ask for the very thing we’ve already planned. They’ll ask to get together with someone and it just so happens that we are planning on heading to their house later that day. It was part of the plan before they asked. They might think that we’re going because they asked, but we’re not, it was in the plan.
That’s how I feel about Titus. God has a plan. Our job is to submit to his will and allow him to bend us in ways we’ve never been bent before. Does God answer prayer? Yes. But claiming to understand how or why certain prayers get answered is risky when those prayers are not part of God’s revealed Biblical will. There are some prayers that I know God will answer with YES! When I confess my sins, repent and ask him for forgiveness, he ALWAYS says yes. When I ask for patience or self-control He always provides opportunities and the Spirit’s help to follow through with it. But it’s harder to correlate his answers to prayers outside of His revealed will for us. And when we do presume that He has answered our prayers for circumstantial good things on the basis of our asking (not necessarily in accordance with His will), it can also lead to a puffed up, inflated self-importance–the kind of view that believes our will has the power to bend his will, when it is exactly the opposite. Prayer is about bending our will to His.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Wouldn’t it be good to give glory to God for healing Titus, whether we know for sure if he did or not? I’m not so sure. It doesn’t glorify him or honor him to misinterpret or presume upon the storyline. Titus’s brain is still the same. He’s developing, yet disabled. He’s doing better than we expected and all of the praise for that goes to God.
Without glorifying our prayers, we can glorify Him by trusting His sovereign, wise plan when He takes and when He gives. We glorify Him with faith that He will give us the exact number of hardships that are good for us. We glorify Him by continuing to pour out our hearts and ask without hesitation in accordance with His will. We glorify Him with faith that He loves our son more than we do. And with faith that He loves us, too.
Have you talked to someone who believes that God has answered their prayers favorably regarding an earthly circumstance and is triumphant about it? Have you been pressured to just believe that God would give healing? Have you been made to feel like God’s answers to your prayers hinged on the amount of faith you could muster (not faith in God, mind you, but faith in a favorable outcome)? Is He glorified by pride about our faith?
A happy ending doesn’t mean I get credit for earning a yes from God.
Another thing it doesn’t mean is that all the sad chapters are over. It would be silly to call Titus’s story a happy ending when he’s nineteen months old. But it’s tempting to do so. How badly we want to be done with the pain! I can’t claim a happy ending for any of my children.. or myself.. or anyone! We can be thankful for the kind providence of what he’s granting us right now, without clutching at tomorrow. This life doesn’t end happily for anyone, because it ends in death for everyone. Death is our enemy.
It is on the other side of our enemy, death, that we get our happy ending. Knowing this means we can say, “Where is your victory Death?” We can mock death, “Where is your sting?” We can live in peace and contentment, because our ultimate destination is happy forever.
So what does a happy ending mean? For a Christian, it means the same thing that a sad ending means. The story isn’t over. This life isn’t our ending. We bank it all on the resurrection hope that we have because of Jesus Christ’s bloody death on a cross. He swallowed death on that cross and we will be raised with him. The perishable putting on the imperishable; the mortal, immortality.