Last week I talked about the way that the Christian community can come off as condescending. It essentially boiled down to whether or not a preconceived notion of what you should be doing to find God was inherent in the exchange.
I want to talk about why that is so problematic.
The problem with preconceived notions is that they cut off other options. When someone says they will pray for you or they ask you to have more grace and they have a specific idea in mind, it is as though they are sending you on an errand to go and find that specific thing.
Instead of sending people on errands, I want to think of prayers and grace as sending people on quests.
Here’s a quote from The Sharing Knife trilogy by Lois McMaster Bujold to explain the beauty in the quest:
“The most important thing about quests, he decided, was not in finding what you went looking for, but in finding what you never could have imagined before you ventured forth.”
To send someone on an errand is to send them to look for a specific thing, in a specific way. This becomes severely problematic if someone is essentially being set up for failure because that specific thing cannot be found.
To send someone on a quest is to send them on a course where the destination is not specified. It is to send them “Into the Woods” or on an adventure. It is an open ended invitation.
Let’s go back to the discussion of the errand. Sometimes an errand may turn into a quest. When this happens, you can almost forgive the condescending person for their condescension. However, while you may find that there is beauty in the errand becoming a quest, that beauty is often lost on the one who sent you on the errand.
Here’s an example of how this exchange may work:
Let’s say that a family member or a friend is in the kitchen baking cookies. Uh oh, they’re in need of sugar. They send you on an errand to go to the store down the street and buy sugar. You run down to the grocery and, darn it, the grocery is out of sugar. Therefore, you run around the block to the closest convenience store and purchase the sugar. On the way, you meet a friend who you haven’t seen in ages. You chat and exchange phone numbers. You’re all excited about seeing your old friend and can’t wait to tell the baker all about your adventure. However, when you get home, the baker is cranky and annoyed because it took you too long to get the sugar.
This same thing happens when a condescending “prayer or grace” which is really an errand turns into a quest. The person who was (unintentionally) condescending is unable to see the beauty of the quest because the errand was not fulfilled as anticipated (or at all).
This specificity and rigidness is why those statements feel condescending. Hidden in these prayers and calls for grace is a foregone conclusion. All of a sudden, these words (IE grace or prayer) that usually carry a meaning full of grandeur, or beauty, or creativity are limited in their scope and are being used to mean something very specific and limiting.
Before we start to judge the baker, imagine yourself as the baker. Can you empathize with the baker? The goal is to complete the baking ASAP. The length of time of the errand is directly impacting this goal. You have nothing against old friends reconnecting, the problem is only in the timing. You were probably baking the cookies for the person who was sent on the errand. The least that person could do is help you complete the project.
The baker isn’t a bad person. Does anyone really want to be the cranky baker? Nah. Which is why I believe so often this condescension is unintentional.
When prayers and grace are offered and they are not condescending, it is as though they are providing another person the opportunity to go on a quest. It’s a way of saying that an answer exists, but the details/path to that answer are not crystal clear. I believe the Biblical expression would be “looking into the mirror dimly”. The answer is in the mirror, but the details are hazy at best.
Next week, I will continue this discussion on prayer and grace. Next week I will discuss how non-condescending prayers and grace are also a promise that the quest will not be taken alone. The best stories with the best quests always include friends, family, and maybe a villain or two.
Until then, I’d love to hear from you. What do you think of the idea of a prayer as a quest? What is the best quest you’ve been sent on to date? Comment below or email me.