Thank You Is Harder

One-Worded Prayers of “Sorry”, “Thanks”, and “Please”.

Duo Dickinson / 8.16.21

Some days there are no complaints.

Today is one of those days. I have not contracted the Plague (any variant). My wife’s scan showed her hip will remain her hip. I will make my firm’s payroll for the next month. I planted the dozen lilies and finished the repurposing of some salvaged wood. I actually lost a few pounds, to the point of having a 118/61 blood pressure reading.

What do I do with those gifts? Nothing would have surprised me if all those results we reversed, but this week, they were not.

Like so many of life’s events, they feel like happy accidents. They are received, but not paid for or fully unearned. Were they were delivered to my doorstep by accident? The older I get, the less I believe in accidents beyond my own misappropriations.

I “did” nothing to create these fortunes, because I did nothing differently than I do every week. This week, my usual one-word conversation with God switched from “sorry” to “thanks”. Other weeks, always for other people, a third word swaps in, “please”, but very rarely. “Sorry” is easier. Anything else goes beyond what I do, and enters the murky world of the rest of the world. I cannot know what or will happen in the future (or why, for that matter). With uneven success, I labor on with what I have been given. Which is everything. So the grunted love of “sorry”, “thanks”, and “please” are my only recourse.

But these one-on-ones that most people call prayers are not the common parlance of almost all the other conversations I engage in every day. I am fully engaged in an entitled, transactional world. My professional life has little to do with the three word Divine Dictionary I use in prayer.  Our everyday vocabulary can tend to treat “thanks”, or “sorry” like expletives, “please” is often a bridge too far. Rather than “thanks” it is usually a triumphant “awesome!” or an angry “why?”. When there are no answers, but hope, “please” is translated to the transactional — some variation on the “I” sentence — (“want”, “need”, “should”).

Most of my life (and probably yours) is a series of deals that are purely secular, with no thought of prayer. In a quid pro quo daily life, “If you do this” is not translated into the Divine Dictionary I use most days.

Those profane transactions are straight forward, human-to-human dealings that are pretty straight forward. I take 4 pills and an hour of exercise a day, no matter what my blood pressure readings are. I have made over 1,000 payrolls over the last 40 years and never missed one (except for myself — often). My wife could have done nothing to avoid getting a new hip, and so not needing one is like the sun coming up (which would happen if she did need one.)

So this week I am left with good outcomes that have nothing to do with my motivations, because I find that my motivations are unchanged, in all outcomes. A blood vessel burst in my head 4 years ago. No damage. Sure, I  , was exercising regularly, but I would not have been angry or even scared if things were different. My children love me, even when I am an ass and tell them what to do when they are in their 30’s. But they have loved me for those three decades in all my asininity. A forty-year marriage abides all the silliness of our humanity, because, like the gift of children and having all the other sacred gifts given to me.

I wish there was a way, a mechanism, even a clearly articulated theology behind my faith. A raw and scary childhood meant God was there, with me, since I knew my parents were not. I never felt like a victim; I never blamed my parents — they were human, like me. There was no mistaking them for God (or the reverse). Jesus was not an invented coping mechanism, he was just there. I could not have constructed him; he was just with me. My atheist friends all assume that a genetically triggered survival response of religious rationalization made an alcoholic family less painful. That could be true except even my young adult coping was fully inadequate for twenty years. An adult rationalization is simply impossible for a five-year-old, it was the reality of God that made faith real.

Our responses to life most often follow the bartered, understood world of control and reason. If we could open ourselves to a perfect leap of faith, there would be no fear of the future, only passing physical pain in the moment. But we all fear the future, regret aspects of our pasts. I wish I could believe “it’s all good.” Life, here, now is not always or even often “all good.” Only God is all good.

Believing in God does not mean that fantasy. God is with me, whether I want Him there or not. In a five-year-old’s world, you simply do not know who you are, so constructing a way to cope is impossible. If God is undeniable, simply because he is there, all that’s left is “thanks.” And “sorry.” Sometimes, “please.”

The miracle of good things happening in my life is not what I have faith in, because the unshakable truth of God is there even when this world fails my expectations. I know this because I fall short of Jesus every day. It’s obvious because I cannot avoid being with Him. I cannot avoid the reality of being human, no matter the reality of faith I have been given. Judgments are made, by me and others. Entitlements are expectations we somehow deserve. Or just anger. Every day.

But today, it’s “thanks.”