As the past few years – particularly the past few months – have brought about challenges for my family that I never could have anticipated or even fathomed, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and talking to God. Not in anger (if you subscribe to the psych 101 cycle of grief, I think that’s supposed to come later). Just sincere confusion expressed by a hurting heart. Sometimes life’s happenings are a little tough to understand.
While I read a wonderful article about Mister Rogers and civility this week (link here), I was reminded again of another story that I’d read about him a few weeks ago about his encounter with a fan with cerebral palsy (not the boy in the photo. I just loved this photo.). This is what was written after Mister Rogers had asked the boy to pray for him:
“The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn’t know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he’d try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.
As for Mister Rogers himself … well, he doesn’t look at the story in the same way that the boy did or that I did. In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being so smart–for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself–and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me at first with puzzlement and then with surprise. “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”
This actually startled me. In light of what my family has been and continues to go through, this had never occurred to me. Could it be that people who face extraordinary adversity are actually closer to God? Could it be that all of the challenges we face means that God is actually closer to us and we’ve not somehow fallen out of his favor? Obviously this isn’t a question that anyone around here is qualified to answer with any degree of certainty. And even if we did know the answer, the challenges still remain and need to be dealt with the best way we know how — with perseverance, courage, prayer, humor and hope. But I must admit, as a mother of two kids who will never be well and cannot be cured, Mister Roger’s philosophy that God is closer to those who go through challenges is much more appealing than the alternative.