An intriguing scene in How To Train A Dragon involves Hiccup and his father, Stoick, having a fight about Stoick’s preconceived expectations of his Viking son. Stoick expects Hiccup to be just like all the other Vikings. He tells Hiccup, “…which means you walk like us, you talk like us, you think like us. No more of…this.” With the word “this”, Stoick gestures at Hiccup with two hands. Hiccup replies in a disgruntle tone, “You just gestured to all of me.”
My insightful thirteen year old daughter brought this scene to my attention when I tried to emphatically explain why I was so bothered by an event that happened at the grocery store that morning. Here is how the event played out and how “all of me” became something of importance.
It was Wednesday morning and I grabbed Zoey’s favorite Preschool Prep board books, reusable grocery bags, and Zoey and packed them into the car. We were going shopping and doing some school at the same time. It was time for a color hunt and a number hunt! Zoey was excited and bounced her legs up and down in her car seat as we approached Sprouts Farmers Market. She was just as enthusiastic as I picked her forty pound body high in the air to get her into the grocery cart seat. At seven years old, I still have to coach her on how to get her feet through the leg holes. It was a bit of a struggle, but we managed to get going. We were both happy, healthy, and in great spirits.
As we walked through the store there was a predictable theme that repeated itself. First, I would ask Zoey to point to a color in her Meet the Colors board book and then we would find it along the shelf and pretend it was jumping into the book. Then we would find a number from her Meet The Numbers board book and pretend the number jumped onto the shelf. After this, Zoey would try to reach into the basket behind her and pull out something to open. I would patiently say, “Hands in front. We don’t open food in the store. You know how messy an eater I am. It will spill everywhere!” Zoey would then scream in dismay, cover her ears, and rock. I would sing a cute preschool song and she would immediately stop screaming and be happy again. We repeated this cycle throughout the entire store. I was pretty much engaged with her the whole time. It was a typical shopping experience with my sweet girl until we encountered a well meaning older woman.
“Do You Believe In God?”
She briskly walked up to me and stood one foot in front of me right next to Zoey. She didn’t acknowledge Zoey, nor introduce herself, but immediately asked, “Do you believe in God?” I replied, “Yes.” She poignantly asked, “Do you believe in the power of healing through pray?” I nervously knew where this was going and wasn’t sure what to do, but I replied, “Yes, I’m a Christian.” She said, “I want to pray for your daughter to be healed.” I replied, “But, she has already been healed.” She looked puzzled and said, “She has?” I said, “Yes. A year ago Zoey was unable to eat foods or drink liquids and was fed through a feeding tube. God healed her swallow and now she can eat and drink again. We also prayed for her brain to grow, and Zoey has surprised all of us with being able to read.” The lady nodded and then realized that I was on edge and defending Zoey. She gave me a hug as I stood there with my arms awkwardly at my side. She exclaimed, “I’m so glad she has already experienced healing.” She walked away. In my head, I was thinking so many thoughts….
….Why does this woman assume that I’m not a Christian? Is it because I’m wearing a superman hoodie? Why does she think that Zoey is sick? Why does she think Zoey needs to be healed of who she is? If Zoey could be restored completely by restoring all of her DNA, would she still be Zoey? I’m must be a horrible Christian if Zoey is still disabled despite all of my praying? ….
….Meanwhile, Zoey had heard this woman’s plan to pray for her to be healed. While thinking these thoughts, Zoey was looking at me and making vomiting sounds and holding her throat like she does when she tries to say someone is sick. She knew the woman thought she was sick! There is nothing outwardly wrong with her that this woman would know that she needs prayers for immediate healing. Zoey knows all about prayer. We pray specifically for her every night and God has healed her in so many ways. Our wonderful church also prays for her daily and weekly. They are powerful prayer warriors. With their help, and God’s power, she has come so far in life.
You Just Prayed for All of Me!
I should be happy that this woman wanted to pray for Zoey, right? The thing that bothered me about this stranger praying for Zoey is that this woman just wanted to pray for all of Zoey. She wanted to pray for who Zoey is. Zoey’s personality is the only thing that she saw, and she saw it as flawed. She thought that because Zoey doesn’t walk like us, talk like us, or think like us, she needed to be changed. She felt that Zoey needed to be healed of who she was. She meant to do no harm. She meant to heal Zoey with the power of prayer, but she had no idea that praying for “all of me” is not what Zoey needs or what I needed at that time.
“You just gestured to all of me!” exclaimed Hiccup. How can someone’s whole being be wrong? Zoey may have two genetic syndromes, Cerebral Palsy, and Autism, but she was created for a purpose. God doesn’t make mistakes. Her personality and outward appearance are her God given attributes. You can’t pray them away. You can’t pray for “all of this”.
We Are Not Alone
We are not the only family that has experienced this well meaning gift of healing prayer. One of my dear homeschooling friends, Lauren, has an adopted daughter Olive, who was born without eyes. One day while at the zoo, my friend and her seven children were waiting to meet us for lunch. Olive struggles with low tone and currently isn’t walking, so my friend had been pulling her daughter in that large covered wagon through the zoo. Despite lacking vision, Olive was enjoying her day. With her keen sense of hearing and smell she enjoyed the twitter of birds, the unique smells of the animals, and took advantage of various touch exhibits at the zoo. Olive kept her happy demeanor, and was enjoying the beautiful day with her family in all the ways that she could. .
So while hanging out by the zebras waiting for us to join them for lunch, this sweet family was approached by a family on a scavenger hunt. They needed a picture of a covered wagon and Olive’s buggy fit the bill. Lauren agreed to the picture. After the picture, the woman started to walk away, but then looked more closely at Olive. This well meaning stranger halted and asked, “May I pray for your daughter?” My friend has experienced “well meaning prayer” before, but was caught off guard and wasn’t able to express her prayer wishes for Olive. The well meaning stranger prayed for Olive to regain her sight, however, Olive lacks the very organ needed to see. I’m not saying this is not possible for God to regrow eyes, but this should be Olive and her mother’s choice to pray for this particular healing, and again, I do believe that God does not create mistakes.
Having no eyes is no different than having blue eyes or green eyes. It’s something that Olive was born with. If you don’t like the color of eyes that God gave you, you can use contacts to change them. However, God gave you those beautiful eyes using your God given genetics. Why was Olive born without eyes? We don’t know, but God does know the whole reason. I see glimpses already. I see that Olive’s genetic makeup has given me a truly wonderful friendship with her mother. She is someone I can confide in and, in return, comfort at times. It has given students at our coop a chance to help a precious girl navigate her world. Her lack of eyes has taught her older siblings compassion and how to be endless helpers to a person in need. Many people who surround O can look passed Olive’s disability and can see her ability. Olive makes us all smile, laugh, and stare in utter amazement at her perseverance. Praying for restoration of her eyes, and sight, is most definitely in God’s power, but knitting Olive in this special way has allowed all of us to become God’s hands and feet to her. This is just a tiny glimpse into what God has planned for this special girl who happens to be sightless. I am so happy I get to watch her grow up and shine her beautiful light upon the world that is visibly dark to her.
When this woman prayed for restoration of her sight, Olive heard this. She is still quite young and doesn’t realize yet that she isn’t like anyone else. Her mother, Laruen, is so wonderful with her and emphasizes to Olive that she sees with her hands and that God made her special. Olive hasn’t yet grasped that others see differently than her, and from a developmental standpoint, this is appropriate. However, having a stranger point out her differences so openly without asking the parent’s permission is insensitive. It could someday bring emotional harm to Olive when she is going through the spiritual process of finding the purpose behind her differences.
There should be a class of prayer etiquette for anyone who plans on praying for someone in public who has an ailment or disability. Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking of how this situation could have been made better. My dad, Dr. Jack Wallace, is a pastor and was helpful in formulating many of these ideas. Here are some tips for how to approach someone you think is in need of prayer just because of their outward appearance.
- Address the person you want to pray for directly. If it is a child and they are with the parent, engage BOTH of them in conversation. Don’t get caught praying for “all of this”.
- Don’t immediately ask to pray for them. First introduce yourself, make eye contact with the person, and then try to make a connection with them in a meaningful way. For kids it is easy. You can say something like, “I love your sparkly shoes!” If you are curious about the person’s disability, you can ask, “Do you feel comfortable telling me about your disability (or your child’s disability)?”
- After making a connection, ask them specifically, “Do you have any prayer needs?” or “I’m a Christian. Is there something specific that I can pray for about for you?” This allows them to choose if you pray for them and exactly how you pray for them. It shows them that you care about them in a personal way. Follow up with this question, “Would you like for me to pray with you now or later during my prayer time at home?”
- Don’t offer to pray for complete healing unless the person requests it. If they are a Christian, they most definitely have already prayed for that type of healing. In fact, abruptly praying for complete healing for them without asking, makes a Christian question their own faithfulness. “Why didn’t my prayers work for complete healing, but you are telling me yours will?” Believe me, I have prayed for Zoey to have her 7.29 MB of DNA restored. God politely reminded me that he is the source of Zoey’s DNA, her inner parts, and put her together in my womb; she is beautifully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
- Consider praying for that person with a disability from afar. God knows their needs. If you just send up a prayer for that child with pink glasses and sparkling mini mouse sneakers who is screaming and covering her ears while her mom sings “Ring around the roses…”, God will surely help them in any way they need. He is truly gracious.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought of all of these tips in that fleeting moment between being offered prayer and declining it. I somewhat regret my words to this well meaning stranger, and am glad that I have the tips above to share the next time I am approached with a “you just prayed for all of me” prayer. Instead, our story went like this…
… As the woman walked away and Zoey was pretending to be sick, I called out after the powerful, praying woman and said, “You need to watch your words. Zoey heard that you wanted to pray for her to be healed. She now thinks she is sick. She is not. She is Zoey.” The woman looked as though she was in pain or disbelief, but I didn’t focus on her for long. I angrily looked away and back to Zoey. I remember telling Zoey that she is fine, that she is a miracle, that God loved her so much that he saved her from dying as a baby and has a purpose for her.
An onlooker came up to me and put her hand on Zoey’s back and said, “She’s beautiful”. Another woman nodded her head in agreement. We headed to the checkout as I felt guilt wash over me for telling someone who wanted to pray for Zoey that she needed to “watch her words”. Maybe this woman was told by the Holy Spirit to pray for her? If she was, I’m jealous! I wish the Holy Spirit had told her to pray for me. I’d love to be healed completely of my autoimmune disease. Ha Ha! As we checked out at my favorite line, the cashier who’s teenage son has Autism, listened to my story and agreed that the woman meant no harm, but only needed a little counseling on how to pray for strangers.
At that point, as usual, Zoey was pretty much done with shopping. She actually doesn’t mind shopping at all, but leaving the store is such a big transition at the end of the fun time we have, that she typically has a meltdown. The cashier from the next line over and the grocery bagger were amazing! They saw my emotional state and Zoey being just Zoey and came over to entertain her. They read her board books and let her help put items in bags with assistance. She felt so loved and special.
Guess what? At that point, it would have been totally appropriate for them to ask, “How can I pray for you, Zoey? Can I pray for you right now or later on in private?” Zoey most likely would have answered with a coughing sound and grabbing her throat. I would interpret, “Pray a prayer of thanks to God for returning her ability to eat and drink to her baseline before her surgery two years ago. Then, please pray for continued healing of her swallow. Zoey would love to drink thin liquids some day!” Or, you never know, I may have asked for those sweet helpers to pray for “all of this“.