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Faith and Values: When the answer to a prayer is ‘wait’

Tracy Simmons (Courtesy photo)

I’m many things, but patient isn’t one of them.

Right now, please, I want a promotion at work, for my bills to be paid off, to be in better shape, for my house projects to be finished.

I just want to get there already, even if I don’t really even know where “there” is.

Sometimes the restlessness sneaks up without my even noticing. It’s not until I’m lying sleepless in bed or continually fidgeting while visiting friends that I realize I’ve once again become impatient.

That’s when I have to pause and remind myself of what I learned growing up: Sometimes the answer to a prayer is “wait.”

I’ve written before about my dad. He and my mom divorced when I wasn’t quite 2 years old, and then he fled. He didn’t say goodbye, or call, or send a note – he just vanished.

I thought it was my fault, or my mom’s. I created a specious world where I idolized my dad. I imagined he was a tough and cool cowboy who missed me like I missed him. And in this world, my dad was coming back.

Life would be better when he got here, I thought. He wouldn’t be so strict with me, we’d live somewhere nicer, we’d go fishing, play catch.

I daydreamed about our reunion. Would it happen at school? Or would he show up to soccer practice? I imagine we’d hug and cry and be a family again.

I prayed for this every night, sometimes sobbing because I wanted it so badly. I was taught that God listened to us through prayers, that he knew the desires of our heart and, if we were obedient, he would give us those desires.

So I followed the rules, did what I was told and said my mealtime and bedtime prayers. Why then, was God saying no?

Eventually my dream faded and I stopped venerating my dad. I wanted to meet him and wondered about him often, but gave up hoping for a reunion.

Then, when I was 19 years old and a freshman in college, it happened. I got a call, not from my dad, but from his oldest daughter – my half sister – who had tracked me down. Soon I was on a plane to Texas to meet them. I was scared and angry. I knew this reunion wouldn’t be like the one I had dreamed about.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said when I met my dad at the airport. I offered him my hand, not a hug. I refused to let him help me with my suitcase and listened to him with reservation.

He was sorry, he said. He promised to do better this time.

And for a few months he did do better. We talked on the phone and wrote letters, but it became less and less and eventually I lost him again.

That’s when I realized that I met my dad when I was 19, and not a minute sooner, because I hadn’t been mature enough to handle the letdown. As a child I had everything hanging on him being a hero, so him rejecting me – again – would have devastated me.

I don’t mean for this to be a sad story. I think the timing of meeting my dad helped me find compassion and forgiveness for him, which I wouldn’t have been capable of finding in middle or high school.

My dad, Ronnie, died a few years ago from COPD. I’m grateful for the few conversations we did share. When I feel myself becoming restless, I think of him and the invaluable lesson he taught me: Wait.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a journalism teacher and editor of Spokane FaVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.