In 2005, Beth Holloway’s daughter, Natalee, disappeared while on a school graduation trip in Aruba. Holloway traveled to Aruba to search for Natalee and
“[o]n her fourth morning …found a taxi and asked the driver to take her somewhere to pray. ‘He pulled over and there was a large white cross, and he told me to get out of the car, and as I did, I walked to the cross and just fell to the cross on my knees and just started crying and begging and praying to God to give Natalee back,’ she says. ‘I got up, and I went to next cross, repeated my same prayers and dropped to my knees and kept praying and crying and begging for God to give her back.’
“After days of searching for her missing daughter, Holloway says she was in unbearable pain. Though she was unfamiliar with the Catholic tradition of the stations of the cross, she instinctively went from cross to cross, each time seeking an answer. Finally, on the fifth or sixth station, she found one. ‘Complete peace blanketed me, and in that instant somehow I then knew that Natalee was with God, and I knew that he had cared for her through whatever ordeal she had encountered that night, and that’s when I became at peace,’ she says. ‘When my grandmother was always saying, ‘Lay your burdens at the cross,’ I got, at that point, what she was saying. I laid the burden of caring for Natalee at the cross. The work to find out what happened to her had to be done, but the burden was taken from me.'”
Nearly two years ago, a reader asked me “how could God be loving and let Helen die?” Helen is Phronsie’s friend in Margaret Sidney’s The Five Little Peppers Grown Up. When Helen contracts diphtheria, Phronsie prays that God will heal her and is convinced He will. After Helen’s death, Phronsie determines “it wasn’t nice of [God]” to take Helen away. She tells her sister, Polly: “‘Helen was happy here …And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.‘” Phronsie is right. Helen was happy with her mother and never would want to leave to go to a nicer place.
Natalee Holloway loved her family and never would want to be murdered even to be with God. And certainly, God did not want Joran van der Sloot to murder her. Van der Sloot chose to commit that evil. Yet God did not stop Him. God allows an enormous amount of suffering and pain both natural and man made. And when we pray for relief, He often allows evil to continue though Jesus promised, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” If He wants us to believe in Him, ought not God keep that promise? Isn’t John 14:13-14 is a simple equation?
Request + In Jesus’ Name = Jesus gives us what we ask so that the Father will be glorified.
Except “in Jesus’ Name” is not like π. It’s not a constant Christ gave us so that we’d be able to avoid the evils in this world. Nor is it a talisman that wards off the van der Sloots or tsunamis or disease. Instead, “in Jesus’ Name” is a promise that we will pray as Jesus Himself prays, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Less than a day later, Jesus was crucified because His crucifixion and all that followed glorified the Father.
We have been given the grace to pray as Jesus, our King, prayed. But we’re like infants, making much noise and still unable to speak for ourselves. We nearly always pray from fear and anxiety, in blindness and desperation. But when we pray in Jesus’ Name, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
When I prayed to go home, pleaded for the return of my family, begged God to undo the horrors that had overwhelmed my life, I didn’t know I was asking Him to remake all of reality just for me. It never occurred to me that I could never be whole or free unless I was willing to be whole and free in a world that can be horribly painful. If He must rework the world to make me happy, then I don’t love Him, I only love what makes me feel happy. God becomes my fantasy, my story that I can manipulate and rework to my own liking. If God is God, then He must be faithful and worthy of my love even when He doesn’t do as I want, as I know I deserve. Margaret Sidney knew that and so Helen dies. Natalee Holloway remains murdered because God is God.
But Beth Holloway has peace because Natalee is with God who “had cared for her through whatever ordeal she had encountered that night.” And I have happiness and am learning to accept an experience of home that is not what I knew when my family lived; God cares for me through my ordeals and will continue to do so even when the final one culminates with death.
He is the God of answered prayers, prayers that the Holy Spirit refines and utters in a language very few ever learn this side of heaven. Even when God does not give us what we want, He answers our prayers. The losses are real; we don’t go skipping away wreathed in smiles after being lashed by the evils of this world. We do walk on able to live in a world that too often feels like hell. We walk on knowing that the answers Jesus gives us heal us and glorify the Father. Those answered prayers help us carry our crosses as we walk on to heaven.