“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Luke 12:25
It all began as a wonderful object lesson about prayer: the participants of our women’s Bible study tied their questions to God onto helium balloons and released them up into the heavens. It concluded with a bull-headed man (me) climbing a sapling trying to free a rogue balloon from the clutches of a tree. I’d like to say that it was the wind’s fault, that if it had simply allowed the balloons to clear the trees, the lesson would have been perfect. But the problem was not with the April breeze, it was with me.
Although my assistance was unsolicited, I felt the need to ‘make it right’. My concern was for the lesson this snared yellow orb may have been speaking: perhaps some of our questions to God don’t make it to heaven. That balloon served in my mind as a reminder of unanswered prayer, and I just would not allow it to remain in the tree. It needed to travel up to heaven and the note attached needed to be read by God. Alas, the ladder was too short, the tree too thin and the balloon too high. And so it will remain.
It often takes a while for the truth to wiggle through the three years of theological education supplanted in my mind, but it usually makes it way in. As I thought about that balloon in that tree, reminding me of all the human efforts and energies I’ve exerted to reach up to the heavens, one of those truths made a path to my awareness. “You can’t get to heaven in a motorcar….” Was I really thinking that God wouldn’t answer the question written on the note tied to the string of that yellow balloon now irrevocable snared in the tree because it didn’t make it to heaven? The truth I wrestled with was two-fold: first, the note and the string and the balloon were never making it to heaven in the first place – on account of natural laws and supernatural realities; and second, God heard the question when it was written, when it was tied to the string, when it was released into the wind, and every time my eye catches a glimpse of the yellow balloon.
I was so worried that someone participating in the exercise might be discouraged due to the fact that their prayers did not disappear into the sky that I neglected to recognize the truth God was also teaching. God does not hear us, consider us, bless us, or love us because of what we do (as if our efforts could somehow breach the cosmic divide and we could reach Him all on our own). Our efforts, small and simple, show our hearts and our faith, but God reaches down to us and dwells with us and listens to us of His own initiative. While we were powerless to do anything to reach up to Him, He came down to us, and He still does.
There’s a balloon caught in a tree in the church parking lot that reminded me this morning that God loves me and listens to me whether I approach Him perfectly or not. That is some good news because I still have yet to approach Him perfectly.