I’m not much of a television watcher. I get easily bored with serials, find most comedies unfunny, and have no stomach for horror or violence. Most of my television entertainment comes from watching couples, mostly with champagne tastes on ginger-ale budgets, choose from three houses on reality TV.
But a few months ago with nighttime activities over early in our home, I flipped the channel to the popular family sitcom “Black-ish.” The episode that happened to be on explored the tension created by different generations questioning religion and God. Initially the parents, played by Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, were tense regarding their young child’s lack of piety.
Yet they were unwilling to look too deeply into their own religious devotion, and that was the crux of the episode. At one point, the grandma pointed out to the Dad his own flawed fidelity. His prayers skewed towards getting in on the latest sneakers or other trivial things. She pointed out: “You don’t want God—you want a genie. You want wishes.” As it often happens on prime time family shows a crisis ensued, the family stuck together, and all ended up OK. Everyone’s sense of faith was, for the most part, restored.
Lesson learned for the character. However, it made me, the viewer, think deeper about my own devotion. Am I looking for God or a genie? Because yes, I’ve prayed for that missing heel I can’t find when I was running late to an event and desperately needing to find the second shoe of the one comfortable pair that doesn’t look like orthopedic shoes. That is certainly more genie than God. Yes, I’ve also prayed for my kids to have an easy day, knowing full well that the current crisis they’re experiencing will pass, but wanting them to have peace that night. That’s looking for a Genie.
Yes, I’ve prayed for a meeting to go well. Genie too.
And yet, there are also the deep soul rocking prayers that to me are more genuine, coming from a place of deep need. Prayers when someone I love dearly is undergoing a medical test or surgery , prayers to protect a friend in trouble. These prayers have often been deeper, more robust.
Yet many times they are accompanied by bargaining. Is that asking for a genie, or genuine? Sometimes the prayers have felt like they worked, other times they didn’t. Blind faith is hard, and for me, the fact that the divine is intangible is the hardest part.
The existence of this great unknown hasn’t stopped my prayers though, so now I’m trying to change how I pray. I am trying to make my prayers more deliberate and considered. This shouldn’t imply that I won’t ask God for help for something that isn’t deep, but it does mean that I will think about what is behind that prayer. What does the prayer accomplish? Is it thoughtful? What will it do?
I’m hoping that this extra effort will make me need God more and a genie less.