When I was five years old, my dad bought me a Dalmatian puppy and named her “Candy.” For her sweet disposition. But Candy was not a nice dog. She barked. And she bit ankles.
I asked my dad to get rid of Candy. He laughed. So I prayed. I knew that God answered prayer. I asked God to kill Candy and take her to heaven to live with him.
It was a selfish prayer. But two weeks later, Candy got sick. And she died.
I remember that last day of Candy’s life. I was sitting with her in the back yard. It was a beautiful day. Quiet. Candy lay in the grass. I slowly stroked her ears. And I wondered about this thing called prayer. I knew I had asked God for a cruelty. And God answered. The all-powerful creator of the universe had opened up access to power for me, a child.
This last week, reading Richard Foster on “simple prayer,” I recognized in Foster’s description the request for help, the question, the complaint, the cry. Foster describes the experience of a boy, afraid of a dog, who foolishly thinks he knows how to fix a broken world. What Foster doesn’t discuss is power or the idea that we can manipulate God by praying the right words in the right place at the right time in the right way. He doesn’t mention any of the things I tend to attribute to prayer, such as its effects or how to make it more effective.
I might not have killed Candy. God might not have killed Candy. All these years later, I may be unnecessarily carrying guilt for a dog’s death — guilt that’s not mine to carry. I had an idea that prayer’s purpose was to get things done. But as far as Foster is concerned, prayer is a commitment, a discipline, a practice. And the purposes of prayer are faith, hope, perseverance, relationship, personal and communal transformation that naturally flows from our increasing sensitivity to God’s presence and God’s character.
Simple prayer — being honest about who I am before God, being present with God — is a beginning. And 31 years ago, a five-year-old boy who hated a dog made that beginning in the only way he knew how: simply.
I had asked God for a cruelty. And God answered.