My wife and I spent last weekend up the coast in Maine. We had some spare time on the trip home, so I took a detour to a lighthouse that she hadn’t seen yet. It just so happens that it’s one of my favorites.
The lighthouse is unique in that it consists of a building with a short tower topped by the light on its southern side. Because it sits at the end of a rock pier stretched out into the bay, the lighthouse itself isn’t very tall. From the start of the pier it doesn’t look as though there’s anything at the end other than a desolate shed; the building blocks the rest from view.
My wife noticed as much when we began walking towards it.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” I asked.
“I don’t see a lighthouse,” she replied, like the fading wa-wa of a trumpet in a comedy routine.
“It’s right there.”
“No it’s not.”
“I’m pointing right at it.”
“That just looks like a shed,” she informed me.
I shot back with Pharasitical rebuke: “The lighthouse is behind it.”
She accepted this, though not without noting: “Huh, that’s pretty short. I’ve seen lots of lighthouses out in Wisconsin. That’s not what they look like. But its cool. I guess.”
My wife is possibly the sweetest person in the Milky Way. But in that moment I could have tossed her into the ocean like she was Jonah in the storm. The audacity of her comparing my beloved lighthouse to a mere Midwestern replica felt like being told that my favorite dog was really, for all intents and purposes, a cat.
When I pray, my thoughts are scarce and sporadic, like fireflies igniting on an early summer’s eve. They swing on the pendulum between “Lord, please save the kidnapped children in Nigeria” to “Lord, forgive me for being so angry about my phone dropping calls.”
Sometimes my prayers spring forth simply in walking and breathing. They arise when I am heading up the hill to class or perhaps finishing a run in the early morning. I step tentatively, attempting to wrap my head around the object of my prayer, firing off conscientious brain waves in every imaginable direction. Sometimes I think of acquaintances and pray for them. Even then I am not quiet sure what to say. “Lord, I pray for so-and-so today” is the common go-to, which seems to be a statement with similar sentiment to the thesis of a history paper being “the thesis of this paper concerns history.”
I try to pray for myself, for the world, for everything. I really do. But I want to know that I am actually praying when I pray, that my words and thoughts are actually going somewhere, into some ear, rather than just floating around and zapping through the neurons in my own skull. It isn’t the possibility of God’s nonexistence that concerns me, but the arrangement of my proposals. What mortal is there that hasn’t worried about the format of their submissions, wondering (at least secretly) if they’re all being sent back as rejects into the spam box of our hearts that we’re too afraid to open?
Luther is quoted as saying: “I have so much to do that if I don’t spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it done.” It is not so much his dedication that I admire, but the faith behind his focus.
I want to act in faith, but I also want to know that the direction of my mind is to a lighthouse on the coast with the sun setting behind the clouds, not just an empty shed. But sometimes such assurance eludes me and I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m even aiming for.
What if the main object in prayer, George MacDonald asked, is the supplying of our great, our endless need- the need of God himself?
Eventually, as we walked further out, my wife conceded that the entire scene was, in fact, beautiful to behold. Unaware that I was scanning the scene in search of a plank for her to walk, she approached me and took my hand as we continued towards the end. As we got closer, she saw the weather vane on the tower lift itself above the roof like a shy child from under the covers.
“Ah, there’s the lighthouse,” she said. And I kissed her on the forehead, despite myself. So we continued walking, like amateur artists approaching a famous painting in a museum, thus bringing it into focus.
And so I keep praying. I walk, I breathe, I think. I formulate requests and praises, allowing them to float heavenward as mist on a mid-spring morning.
Because I know its there. And someday I’ll see the lighthouse.
Someday. I’m sure.