I pray for the big issues, like world peace. I will pray for the poor and sick, for friends and family. Yet when it comes to my own specific needs, I tend to retreat. Except when my tax returns went missing ...
I have a friend who prays about everything. Nothing is too embarrassing or trivial or pedestrian. The other day I saw him for lunch and he said he thought he would be late because there was no way he’d find a parking space in midtown Manhattan at noon. “But I sent up a prayer and the Lord found a place for me.”
I cringed, at least inwardly. My friend is a decent soul, but as for my own prayers, I have trouble getting too specific or demanding. Oh, sure, I will pray for the big issues, like world peace and greater understanding amongst mankind. I will pray for the poor and sick, for friends and family. For Julee and Millie and my colleagues at Guideposts and for all of you. Yet when it comes to me and my own specific needs, I tend to retreat. I’ll ask for my defects of character to be removed, or at least put on a leash. I will pray for restraint of pen and tongue. I’ll ask to be relieved of worry and anxiety and insecurity. Rarely, however, do I get down to the personal nitty-gritty. It makes me uncomfortable, as if I am a weak and complaining child mewling at God. I just don’t like to risk annoying God and I wouldn’t be caught dead praying for something as trifling as a parking space.
Then, just the other day, Sid, our accountant, sent me an email: “Please sign and send back your tax returns to me ASAP.”
What tax returns? I thought he was still working on them.
No, Sid wrote back, he had completed them a while ago and sent them to us to be signed and returned to him so he could file. Sid checked his records. Yep, he’d sent them to us about two weeks ago.
Sid’s office is a few blocks from our apartment. I could walk back and forth a thousand times in two weeks.
“They were in a big Priority Mail envelope,” Sid said when I called him in an escalating state of panic. “Along with your W2s and receipts.”
I checked with our super. I called the post office to see if they were holding anything for us. I practically dismantled our mailbox. I insisted Julee go through all her business papers. I went down to the basement of our building and pawed through the recycling bin with all the junk mail in it because that was my greatest fear: that I had hastily discarded Sid’s package with the junk mail. I came across some interesting stuff but no tax returns.
“He’s got it all on his computer,” Julee reminded me.
“Yeah,” I moaned, “but what about all that personal documentation, our receipts and medical bills and charitable deductions, all of it being shredded and ground to a pulp, probably turned into recycled paper towels? We’ll be wiping the kitchen counters with our W2s in a couple of months.”
I flung myself down on the couch with such force that Millie moved warily to another part of the room, tail drooping. I closed my eyes and rubbed the bridge of my nose. All right, Lord. I’m usually pretty good about not bothering you with this stuff. And, as you know, I have this hang-up about not getting too personal or petty. But please, if there is anything you can do about those tax returns ... I’m sorry I’m so stupid.
I didn’t sleep very well, of course. The next morning I was leaving the apartment with Millie for her walk, bleary-eyed and out-of-sorts, when I practically tripped over a red, white and blue package leaning up against our door. There was a note from our neighbor Ari: “This got delivered to me by mistake while I was on vacation. Just got back. Hope it’s nothing too urgent.”
I practically collapsed with relief. Our 2011 tax returns.
Did that mean my prayer had been answered? That God was not in fact annoyed with me for being so annoying? I thought about my friend and the prayed-for parking space. Who was I to judge what was important, especially to God? He answers our prayers because he loves us.
As Millie trotted ahead of me down our block, tail swishing aloft, I said the one perfect prayer I never have trouble saying: Thank you, Lord.