I am at a Parent-Teacher sponsored event at my daughter’s elementary school. And, I have to admit, I’m annoyed. It’s the end of the day, and the organizers have clearly done their job, the event is a huge success. There are fun jumps on the lawn, games in every classroom, food sales, and plant sales. Every student has come to school on a Saturday and every space of the school has been put to good use as a money-making venture. I have already spent a good deal of time picking cotton candy out of my hair, so I know it’s been a good day. The climax of it all is here, in the loud cafeteria, on the stage, where the May baskets have been set up. There is going to be a raffle.
When I thought of May baskets, I had in mind, Easter baskets, filled with small trinkets: balls that could be blown up, a hot wheel car, or a Barbie doll. I had no idea what we had in store. To call these prizes “baskets” is odd because they are absolutely overloaded, bursting out and wrapped in cellophane. They look like upside down men, with the basket acting as an incidental hat for the hulking body.
And in the baskets are amazing things. Each one has the contents of an entire Christmas at our house. There are iPods, Wiis, American Girl dolls, season tickets to sporting events, and signed sports jerseys. If you don’t have a child right now, you probably don’t know what some of these things are, but let me just tell you, they are worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
When we filled out our raffle tickets, my six-year-old daughter and I had a little lesson on the law of averages. We talked about the chances that she had of actually winning one of these baskets. She understood that it would take a small miracle for her name to be chosen out of the overflowing ticket box. I was proud that she was very levelheaded about it.
But, I’m not sure I could have been so calm and sensible. Put yourself in this cafeteria, as an elementary school student. We’re all adults here, but think about this. Let’s say we all had about 12 Christmases as children. But imagine that you’re in this echoing cafeteria and here, before you is a chance to have an entire Christmas in the middle of May. You can add a 13th Christmas onto your short life. This is a huge opportunity, and the collective anticipation and energy in these small bodies is overwhelming.
As the raffle officials take the stage, they begin thanking all of the people who had contributed, and they begin drawing names. I see a boy there. He’s old enough to understand just how big these prizes are. He’s also old enough to understand that it would take a small miracle for him to win. So, he is praying. He has his hands clasped, and he has the most earnest look upon his face. Pure piety, I tell you. He paces back and forth around a small bit of the room, whispering barely audible supplications, sincerely asking the God of the universe to work some divine magic on his behalf.
I see him. My heart sinks. As a pastor, I begin to wonder about the consequences of this moment. Will the boy lose the raffle, and lose his faith forever? Is his entire spiritual life wrapped in cellophane and sitting on the stage?
Is this a test for the boy? Is he trying to find out if there really is a God? I know I’ve done that. When I’m at the end of my rope, twisting on the cruel whims of fate, I’ve begun prayers with the challenging words, “Okay, God. If you’re up there….”
I wonder if this was how Christopher Hitchens got his start.
Seeing the boy’s face, I am immediately transported to a time and place when I would cry out to God, with all passion, “God, I want a bicycle. A purple bicycle, with a bell, and a banana seat, and streamers.”
I sit there for a moment, wondering if I should intervene on God’s behalf. I mean, maybe, just maybe, I have been sent to be God’s answer to this boy’s prayers. I’m a minister after all. I just had a math lesson with my daughter. Maybe God placed me there for that moment to have a lesson on prayer with this boy.
What will I tell him? I suppose I will just tell him that God loves him, no matter what the outcome of the raffle might be. It will be weird, but maybe it’ll be just awkward enough that he will remember that moment, instead of recalling his disappointment over not winning the basket.
Just as I am about to do it, just when I am about to subject my daughter to supreme embarrassment of having a little theological lesson with a fifth-grader in a loud crowded cafeteria, his prayerful pacing leads him to another section of the room. I lose him. He’s gone.
And so all I could do is pray for him. That God will be careful with his zealous soul.
photo by thenerdygirl