“Lord… make me straight. I want to live a normal life like my parents have. I want children and a wife and two-story house with a white picket fence. I don’t want be alone the rest of my life. I want to be good and go to heaven when I die. Make me straight…”
When I hear people talk about how God answers prayer, I remember all those days and nights I spent praying to God, “Let me be straight.” Having been raised in a fundamentalist family, I knew being gay wasn’t an option. I had been taught that God answers prayer, so I took my problem to Him. I was afraid and had no one I could talk the situation over with. A couple of years ago, I wrote in my spiritual autobiography, “If fervent prayer or if just wanting it to be so could change someone’s sexual orientation, it would have happened for me.” I spent uncounted hours, alone and in the dark, praying to God, “Let me be straight.” Today, almost 30 years later, I’m not straight. Did God answer my prayer?
What you think about prayer will be a direct result of what you believe about God. In her book The Case for God, Karen Armstrong describes how most people’s concept of God develops at about the same time they are learning about Santa Claus. (“He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good…”) As children mature and become adults, so their concept of Santa Claus matures also. Too often, however, concepts of God remain stunted and never mature past that early point even as people grow up and become mature adults in all other areas of their life. God remains for them the white-bearded man in the sky, sitting on a throne surrounded by clouds and sunshine, peering down at us humans on the Earth far below.
What was I expecting to happen, as I poured my heart out in prayer? I wanted a sign. I wanted to be transformed in some way that would make my life—and my future—look and feel like a life I considered normal. I wanted to be spared the pain and judgment I expected to receive from my family and church if (when) I came out. I wanted to be spared the loss of relationships that I knew would end if I embraced what I knew to be my true identity. The closet is a cold and lonely place, and I didn’t think I could live in the closet my entire life. I wanted to be spared the difficulty of making a choice between what I had been told was right and what I experienced as right.
When I consider the subject of prayer, a couple of Biblical figures come to mind. Jesus, just prior to his arrest, prays in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…” And Paul, writing to the Corinthians, states that God had given him a “thorn in the flesh” for which he prayed three times that it be removed. Did God answer Jesus’ prayer? Did God answer Paul’s prayer? If I expect God to grant what I ask, then God can only be said to have answered Jesus’ prayer if Jesus had been spared crucifixion. Paul continued to write as if God had spoken to him verbally, “…he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” Maybe this response was meant to be taken literally, but I don’t hear the voice of God that way, so I have no reason to believe Paul did, either. In these instances, the prayer and the pray-or were sincere and heartfelt, yet the answer to these prayers didn’t arrive in the form of wish fulfillment. There was a greater plan which these requests would have thwarted. So clearly the concept of whether and how God answers prayer is more nuanced than yes or no, or even not yet.
Did God answer my prayer?
As time went by, as hours became days became years, what I prayed slowly changed. As I poured out my soul, expressing my desires and my fear to Him, I believed then—and I continue to believe today—two things. First, that God hears my prayer. And second, that He understands my suffering. God is the one “in [whom] we live and move and have our being” not out there in space somewhere, far removed from us. God is one who “loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” God is the one who become flesh, lived among us, and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are…”
God did answer my prayer, not by granting my wish to become straight but by helping me understand that I didn’t need to be made straight at all. I believe that God’s Holy Spirit was walking with me in my journey to understand his will for me. As time passed, what I prayed changed as something inside me changed. I moved from asking of God “let this cup pass from me” to instead saying, “in all things, thy will be done.” Like Paul or Jesus, I accepted the situation I had been given. I surrendered my will to let God’s will unfold.
If your concept of God is punitive, then he acts as Cosmic Cop, waiting to punish otherwise good people who might once slip up and commit a sin. If your concept of God is that he materially rewards the faithful, then you may expect him to act as a kind of Cosmic Butler, waiting to grant the wishes of those who he deems good enough. Neither of these concepts is healthy. Neither of these concepts are true to the God I find in scripture. As my concept of God has matured, I no longer see God as cosmic cop or cosmic butler. Because God is ineffable (defying expression or description, too sacred to be uttered), I have a hard time visualizing what God is like. The images of Cop and Butler—so similar to the image of Santa Claus—are simple and simplistic, easy to imagine and ultimately facile. My God remains mysterious, greater than I can conceive in any easy way, but he does speak to me quietly, in a small, still voice that takes patience to discern.