You’ve heard the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  I was surprised to discover that this quote is attributed to Woody Allen.  I imagine Mr. Allen telling God his plans, and God not having not so much a good chuckle as a massive coronary.  Even if our personal lives aren’t the screaming debacle that Woody Allen’s turned out to be, we can probably relate:  if a loving marriage requires flexibility, then a loving relationship with God demands it on a Cirque du Soleil level.  Seriously, you are going to want to do some stretches first, before turning some aspect of your life over to God.

I know, for instance, of a man who worked tremendously hard to support his family, but he just couldn’t make enough money.  He prayed and prayed for a raise or a better job, until finally God gave him . . . the strength to take a second job.

Or the mother (it wasn’t me, I swear!) who prayed to be able to stop yelling at her kids, and she promptly lost her voice for six weeks.

My husband still grouses about the time I prayed that our family would learn to be less materialistic, and almost immediately the entire New England branch of his company closed down, putting him out of work for nearly a year.  But more spectacular is the account of the incomparable Dwija Borobia, who says, “I prayed that we could find a way for me to stay home with the kids—so I got put on bed rest and the bank foreclosed on our home.”

Most everyone has a story of these sort of darkly comic answers to prayer—when God makes a joke that we can only laugh at years later, once the bleeding stops.  Did you ever incautiously pray that God will help you to become more humble, or more patient?  Look out, joe!  Or it may sound nice to ask God for a more tender heart—but have you ever seen one of those meat tenderizers?  With the metal spikes?  Check out this harrowing account called “Six Minutes to a New Heart.” 

Of course, the point of these stories is not that God is always looking for clever ways to lower the boom and then stand back giggling from above as we scurry around trying to figure out what the heck happened.  C. S. Lewis said in one of his letters:  “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

But these divine surprises must cut both ways, right? I, for one, am trying to be more attentive to those times when the best actually turns out to be less painful than I expect.  With the best of intentions, we can fall into the habit of assuming that anything that we fear, anything unpleasant or difficult or challenging, must be God’s will.  How devastatingly surprised I was when—well, it’s too personal to share the details, but I will always remember the time when I thought I knew what God was like (ha).  I forced myself to pray for something I thought I needed, and braced myself for the inevitably onslaught of His horrible, horrible aid—and it was fine.  Just fine.  He told me, more or less, that it wasn’t even my problem, and I should just relax.

Maybe it doesn’t make such a good punchline, but I’ll take it! 

Okay, now you tell one.