In some of my multi-faceted reading, especially when looking for a column idea, I head to the websites of some well-known advice writers. They receive fascinating arrays of questions like:
- “My mother has stolen my identity and runs up bunches of bills on my credit card–how can I make her more responsible financially?”
- “I just found out my boyfriend has this thing for underage girls–how can I make him stop since he is perfect in every other way and I am madly in love with him and want to marry him?”
- “My forever best friend just asked someone else to be her maid of honor–is it OK to be angry with her and confront her about this and make her change her mind?”
- “I just found out that I have a teen-aged son from an affair a long time ago and for some reason my wife is upset that I want to spend time with him–how I can make her see this situation more sensibly?”
Do you see the commonality in these stories? They all involve wanting to “make” someone else change something significant about themselves so the writer can get what she/he wants or needs from the relationship.
Many of our prayers work the same way.
- “God, please make that boy/girl like me best.”
- “O hey, Lord, could you make my mother not mad at me for forgetting to take out the garbage?”
- “Umm, God, would you stop my daughter from making that bad decision?”
- “By the way, Big Daddy in the sky, would you make my teacher not give the test since I’ve not studied?”
- “O good and gracious God, would you please make my husband/wife/significant other stop doing that annoying habit?”
- “O Lord, would you rain destruction on that person who refused to show me respect so they’ll be nicer to me next time?”
It would be nice if we would, once and for all, recognize that we can’t do this. We really can’t “make” someone else do something they don’t want to do without stripping from them that which makes them (and us) essentially human–our ability to make choices.
We can train our children in certain life patterns. We can set up structures that give time for homework and household chores. We can model good manners responsible living and correct them when we see impoliteness and irresponsibility. We can explain and hold to negative consequences when unacceptable actions take place. But we can’t “make” a child speak or feel a certain way or express a certain thought or perform a certain action.
Employers function the same way. They can give job descriptions, arrange for adequate training and provide tools so the worker has what is necessary. But the employer can’t “make” someone do the work properly. He or she can only fire someone who refuses to do so.
I wonder if our prayers so often ask God to coerce someone into doing something because that is the way we live our interpersonal lives. We think we can come up with the magic way to make that important person behave a certain way or feel the way we want them to .
It won’t work. It never has. It never will. When we pray this way, we reduce the Holy Creator of the Universe to the status of our own personal divine butler God. As a friend noted, it’s as though we see God standing in a white robe holding a platter full of spicy chicken wings.
We then try to do this to others, becoming tiny little dictators, sure that the entire world revolves around our own petty needs.
Time to get a bigger picture, folks. God’s not your butler, and your relationships are about more than just what you want. The more we turn others, and God, into objects whose job is to make us happy, the less human we ourselves become.