Once while I was making my Saturday visit to a juvenile hall in California as a Christian Science chaplain, a girl in my Bible class, whom we will call Alice, gave me a Christmas I will always remember.
I had explained how Jesus’ words, which Mary Baker Eddy quotes at the beginning of her chapter on “Prayer” in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” work in answering prayer. “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24) and “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
I asked the class to close their eyes and believe “real hard” that they were “out of here,” which is what most ask for in their prayers. Opening our eyes and finding us still in the hall, I explained that Jesus’ promise obviously does not mean moving us “out of here” physically, but our prayers could be answered by our expressing the God-like love and freedom we associate with being at home and with our family. “Out of here” is actually a symbol of God’s love for us and should not be a condition for answered prayer; we’d just proved we were still separated from that material symbol.
However, since God’s love, like gravity, is everywhere, all the time for everyone, these teens needed to understand that the qualities they associated with “out of here” could be found right where they were by expressing what they love about their family and homes. We then talked about how each could express the love and friendship they miss in the hall that week and tell me how the prayer of being what they love is answered the next week.
When I asked Alice how her prayer was working, she told me (in colorful words) that prayer wasn’t working for her because the hall had refused to let her go home to Los Angeles for Christmas as she had requested. Somewhat taken aback by her angry but honest response, I decided to look past her words to see how I could help her. We had studied the parable of the sower previously, and I asked Alice if she was going to be the rock from which the word of God in time of temptation falls away or be the good ground, which with a good heart brings forth fruit (of the word) with patience? She agreed to be the good ground for one more week, and I told her to look patiently for the things she loved about her family right there in the hall that week.
The next Saturday, a beaming Alice told me she’d received letters from her mother, her sister, and a friend that week. Christmas being the next day, and chances of her going home remote, I told her she would have to be the things she loved about her mother, her sister, and her friend to all the girls in the unit, because she could never be separated from the qualities of God she is expressing.
The next Saturday, I found a radiant Alice joyfully reporting she’d had a wonderful Christmas right in the hall and furthermore, had she gone home, she would still believe God lives in Los Angeles rather than knowing He lives wherever she is.
Still in awe of this experience on so many levels, I was reminded that God does know what things we need and answers our prayers for our need rather than our want. Alice experienced the true Christmas, the birth of the Christ, Emmanuel, “God with us,” by believing and expressing the love she was praying for.
I’ll never forget that Christmas, and my prayer is that everyone will find a Christmas to remember every day as they express the Christly love of Jesus right where they are. I love the words to Hymn No. 170 in the “Christian Science Hymnal”:
Keep while ye need it, brothers mine,
With honest zeal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born”
(John Greenleaf Whittier).
Have a very merry Christmas to remember!