Of all the prayer requests I receive, there is one in particular that causes me to ponder: “I want to have faith.”
The main reason it causes me to ponder is that, in order to hunger for faith, you must have some notion that faith exists. And you probably must have some notion that the object of faith–the ground of being–exists, too. You either “had” faith in the past or see that others have it, and you want to have what they have.
This is a very different perspective from that of those who are untroubled by a life without religious faith. They do not describe a lack of faith, but rather a different approach to existence. Faith is No Thing to them.
However, those who ask for my prayers are pained by a hunger or hurt, an abiding sense that they are missing something.
The reason I ponder over this prayer is that the prayer request has a sense of faith embedded in it. Faith is a real Thing to them, and they wish to obtain it–or more of it. And further, they display a faith in the power of prayer by asking a believer to pray for them. No matter how much they doubt the existence of God, the claims of Christianity, or the efficacy of prayer, they are willing to break through that dry soil of doubt to ask for prayer.
And yet, I do not perceive the emptiness of their spiritual life, even as I sense their deep pain about their lack of faith. Instead, I experience a spiritual richness in them, the fertile ground of wonder. I am deeply sympathetic to their pain, and at the same time I feel very connected to the spirit in them that calls out for prayer. I don’t believe that faith is a commodity that some have and some don’t, a commodity measured in quantity. Nor do I feel that they are lacking in a Thing.
I believe they are asking someone of faith to recognize and affirm the faith in their questioning. I think they are showing me the underground layers of faith, the doubt and digging around in mucky soil. Perhaps this is arrogant of me, to think that I notice something that they say is not in them. But the fact is, my spirit is stirred with excitement when this happens because I feel the precious, sacred nature of their lives acutely at that moment.
How do I explain that to someone who isn’t feeling faith? How do I explain that what feels like barren land to someone else is early spring soil with earthworms digging around in it, fertilizing something that may not bear fruit for many months?
I don’t try when I am praying with someone. Instead, I affirm their desire as well as my faith in God’s presence in them. And then privately, I thank God for causing me, yet again, to wonder at the ways and means of faith.