A $560 lesson in Prayer

One cold, drizzly autumn night in Chicago, two young 20-somethings made their way to their bi-weekly small group. The day had started over twelve hours earlier. They were tired and running late – never a good combination. They pulled their black Honda Civic up to parallel park on a busy residential city street. The reversing motion began, and suddenly an irreversible, undeniable sound and feeling – side-swiping another car.

Grace was not my first response. I was annoyed at my husband Charles who was driving. I for sure went to driver-righteousness in my mind – this certainly wouldn’t have happened if I had been driving! Had he even looked? There was a much bigger spot down the road, why hadn’t he parked there? Some of these questions even made their way out of my mouth.

After a few minutes of frustration, we went into team mode and devised a plan. Of course, we had no way of knowing whose car we had just hit. There were at least a hundred different dwellings within that square block, if the car even belonged to a resident. But there was undeniably damage, we couldn’t just leave it. Should we leave a note on it? What if they get the note and take us for a ride by claiming more damage than is there? This was before smartphones with a camera. We went into our friend’s condo, borrowed a camera, and took pictures of the damage. We left a note apologizing and asking them to call us to discuss how we could make things right.

I remember sitting through small group, as well as going to sleep later that night, hoping/wishing/praying that the person wouldn’t call. My conscience was clear because we had left a note, and (sadly) that was more important to me than actually restoring the situation/car.

My hope/wish/prayer wasn’t answered. The owner called the next day. She seemed nice enough on the phone. She was flabbergasted that we would be kind enough to leave a note, but not in awe enough to let us off the hook. We asked her if she would mind getting an estimate at two places and suggested we could potentially just write her a check instead of running the claim through our insurance. She seemed a little skittish about this suggestion but agreed.

A few days later she called with two estimates, averaging $560. We verified the amounts with the garages and agreed to meet at a Burger King near her neighborhood the next night with a cashier’s check.

So there we are, waiting in a Burger King for a girl we had never met, in order to give her $560. We awkwardly introduced ourselves, and she asked if we might want to actually sit and eat. What is the protocol when you’re meeting someone whom you sideswiped? Lacking any firm experience in this area, we said yes.

As we sat with this stranger, we actually learned that she was going on a mission trip. When she realized that we were in her neighborhood (when we hit her car) for a Bible study she felt safe enough to say, “I’m not sure I should tell you this, but I’m not going to get my car fixed.” Instead she was planning to use the check to pay for the rest of her mission trip. She still needed $550, that is until we hit her car. Now she had an extra $10 to pay for her Burger King dinner.

Lying in bed that night, I thanked God that he hadn’t answered my earlier prayers the way I had wanted. I imagined her lying in her bed the night we had hit her car, asking for God to provide the financial resources for her mission trip. How did she think God would answer that prayer? Probably not the way he did – by having someone side-swipe her car, leave her a note confessing they had done it, and then the estimates for the damage coming in so close to what she still needed.

The Lord declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (Isaiah 55:8).” I was happy to be reminded of that, even if it cost $560. When prayers aren’t answered how we want, we shouldn’t assume that God is out of control, but instead be reminded that his knowledge and greatness are far beyond what we can comprehend. May we be encouraged that we have a God who cares about us and those around us – both in providing what we need and teaching us things that we definitely need, we just may not know yet that we do.

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