They say be careful what you pray for, that God has a sense of humor.
As parents we pray. We pray even before we have kids. We pray to simply conceive. Then, one day, we see that faint blue line in that little window. We pray our pregnancy will be normal, that we can actually do this. We pray the morning sickness will pass.We pray for ten fingers and ten toes. We pray for health. And at 8 months, in the dead of summer, we pray this will hurry the hell up.
When our first child was born, my wife and I prayed like all new parents do: for knowledge, for happiness, for strength, and for sleep.
But it’s the little things most people never pray for: just for a normal kid. Or first son lived the first two years of his life with a big purple bruise in the center of his forehead. He just liked to bang his head on things. The floor, the wall, the table, the concrete driveway. Anything!
He clung to his mother. She was the only one who could feed him, take him for a walk, or put him to bed. He refused to let his grandparents (or pretty much anyone else) hold him.
“It’s a phase,” they said. “He’ll grow out of it.”
He didn’t. It got worse.
If we went grocery shopping, he worried that we would get locked in the store, or that we would not be able to find the car when we left. He worried we would get lost any time we drove anywhere. If there was a white cloud in the sky, it was going to rain, and we were all going to drown.
Through it all, we prayed. We prayed for a normal kid, one who could run and laugh and play with the other kids, a care-free kid who leave the house without looking at the sky. But we could see the fear on his face every time we dropped him at school or at a friend’s house.
God heard our prayers. He gave him a younger brother who took care of him, who calmed his fears, and kept the family sane
A psychologist finally diagnosed him with social anxiety. Banging his head had been the only way a toddler could cope with the overwhelming fear he felt. “He’ll out grow it,” he said.
For nearly 12 years, we prayed for something to free our son from the prison in his mind. Medication helped, but that brought on other side-effects. A fearless younger brother pushed him. Gymnastics gave him confidence in his body, but his mind still held him hostage. And we prayed. We didn’t want anything special for him, just a normal life.
The doctors were eventually right. By high school, he was a normal kid. He could finally hang with his friends without panicking. He could play in the rain. He could talk to anyone. When he walked into a room, he owned it. It didn’t matter who was there, jocks, geeks, emos, preppies, teachers, parents; they all loved the him.
Our prayers had finally been answered. We had our normal kid.
By the time college rolled around, he was the life of the party. And that first year of college was a party. We prayed our normal kid could balance everything. He could not.
When he dropped out, we prayed he could finally buckle down, find a job, and be responsible. It took us kicking him out for that to happen. As a parent, it was the hardest decision we had ever had to make.
Just because your kid leaves, doesn’t mean you stop praying. You pray more.
You pray he can make the rent, that he uses a designated driver when he goes out, that he doesn’t fall in with the wrong friends, that he doesn’t come home with a kid of his own, that he gets his act together, that he’s happy. And when your kid lived with crippling anxiety, you pray he stays strong, that he stays brave.
This week, we send that scared kid with the perpetual bruise on his forehead into the Marine Corps. Proud of the man he has become, and nervous for what lies ahead.
And we pray. We pray for his safety, for our country, our leaders, and all those men and women serving with him. We already know God hears prayers. He’s given us the kid we’ve always prayed for.
And if there was any doubt, He sent him off with a party in the middle of one of worst thunderstorms ever to hit our house. Good one, Big Guy.