Praying Like the Devil
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,”he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:1-11)
I sat in the pew as these familiar words washed over me. Part of me was listening, but a noisier part of my heart was consumed with bitterness at having to deal with all the kids on my own for yet another Sunday. I had spent the first part of Mass continually wrenching my mind away from catty thoughts about the outfit of the college girls in front of me; mentally sneering at the way the lector pronounced a certain word; silently raging at the old man who turned around and glared when the baby let out a squawk (what, did he think I wanted her to cry?); stifling (and sometimes not stifling) the impulse to apply the Death Claw to the tender little trapezius of my three-year-old, who was writhing around on the floor, looking for discarded holy cards to shove up her nose.
If this sounds funny, I'm telling it wrong. Just a few hours before Mass, I had said my morning prayers, begging Mary to intercede for me, and praying for my husband and for each child by name. I said my prayers; I did my part. This day, I was going to show the face of Christ to the world.
Instead, anyone who looked at my face would see someone full to the brim with frustration, disgust, fatigue, resentment, and self-pity -- all saturated with an unspoken complaint against God. "You said you would help me. Why won't you help me?"
Then it hit me. I'm praying like the devil.
How so? I was asking God to prove Himself to me. Even worse, I was demanding that He prove himself by doing what amounted to magic tricks: turn this into that! Make this problem disappear! Save me when I throw myself off a cliff! Put me in control! Make me be good! Just do it. What, aren't you God?
Some scholars have suggested that the Devil actually wasn't sure whether Jesus was God. When he said, "If you are the son of God," he wasn't being snotty or sarcastic. He was genuinely trying to figure out if this strange, powerful man was who He said He was.
Because of his fatal, eternally-sealed choice against God, the devil is perhaps not only unwilling but unable to see God for what He is. Where there is mercy, he sees weakness, not love. Where there is sacrifice, he sees loss, not self-giving. Where there is the crucifix, he sees only death, and not redemption. What God actually is doesn't mean anything to him; and so it made perfect sense, to the devil, to ask Jesus to prove that He was God by doing these magic tricks.
But I have no such excuse. I see as through a glass, darkly, but I do see. I do know that God doesn't do tricks. I know that when I pray to be a better mother, a better wife, a more charitable human being, he's not going to operate my limbs and my mouth so that I do and say the right things like a perfect puppet. He's God. He doesn't do that.
What does He do? With God as my witness, I do not know. I think I used to know, but the graces I've seen in the past seem very foreign right now.
But I will tell you this. I may be a fool, but I'm not a damned fool. And so I'm going to keep praying for help. God help me not to pray like the devil.