My father and I had stopped at his office so he could pick up a few things before his flight for his business trip. We were in no rush—his flight didn’t leave until after 1pm. We planned to get some breakfast in town before leaving for the airport. He stood looking at some papers while I spun myself lazily in his office chair. Suddenly, I heard a sharp intake of breath.
“Oh my God!” he gasped. “I misread my flight time. It’s at 11:00am, not 1:10pm!”
I grabbed his boarding pass and saw he was right. For some reason, they didn’t put the colon in the time, so it was easy to misread.
His face turned pale, and he started muttering to himself. I hurriedly grabbed his stuff and urged him saying, “It’s ok Dad! We can make it! Let’s go!”
The airport was about 40 minutes away. We lived in Bermuda which is only 30 square miles, so most things aren’t too far away. The problem is the speed limit is 35 km or around 28 miles an hour.
As we sped towards the airport, images of turquoise water peeked in and out of my sight, hinting at the vast and perfectly clear ocean beyond. I turned to my dad and said, “This is when we pray! God, I ask for mercy right now and that you will delay my father’s flight, so he won’t miss the flight and that he won’t get in trouble with his job!”
My dad looked grateful, if unbelieving, as I prayed out loud. I had come home from college two years previously announcing that I was a Christian. He was not exactly excited about it though he had accepted it was part of who I was now.
At 10:45am, we pulled up to the airport. I helped him carry his stuff inside. As we came up to the ticket center, we saw with astonishment that the time for my father’s flight had been pushed back an hour.
The ticket agent accepted his ticket and passport and noted, “Wow! You are lucky! We would have closed this kiosk about 10 minutes ago if the flight hadn’t been delayed.”
With shock on my father’s face, he turned to me and said, “This prayer stuff really works!”
God Showed Up
I’m amazed when I look back on that event in my life. Because, to be honest, I don’t think I would have the audacity now that I had as a twenty-year-old to just test God like that. Even so, God showed up at that moment to reveal Himself to my father. That moment wasn’t just for him; it was also for me, a reminder that God can show up and change things.
But it’s a reminder that sometimes He doesn’t, and His plan is hidden.
Though we had this remarkable divine intervention, many deep conversations about God, and though I had prayed for years and years, I do not believe my father ever came to believe in God. On January 23rd 2012, my father died of a heart attack on the way to the hospital. I never got to say goodbye. I could take no comfort in hopes of seeing him again. Instead, I grieved deeply and wretchedly without any resolution. I had to sit in the tension of unresolved pain.
Hannah Understood Pain
I’m not the only one who has experienced this. Hannah was a woman who understood pain. We meet her in the book of 1 Samuel as the beloved wife of Elkanah. Though she is loved more than his second wife, she is unable to have children. Every year when they would go to do their religious sacrifices, the second wife would taunt Hannah, reminding her of her brokenness. Years and years went by and the weight of her grief made her not even want to eat.
One day, pouring her heart out before the Lord in the temple, she cries out without words coming out. Eli the priest, thinking she is drunk, tells her to go home and change her ways. She reassures him that she is grieving and not drunk. She explains her desire: that if the Lord would give her a child, she would give the child back to Him in service. Eli encourages her, and she walks out in peace.
Though she receives this good word from Eli, there is no real promise given to her. Instead, she has to wait to see if her prayer is answered. Grieving and waiting are intertwined. Sometimes we can wait with the possibility of an answered prayer, like Hannah. And sometimes, like me and my prayer for my father, there is no answer on this side of heaven.
Later we find out that she does in fact get pregnant. And, true to her word, she plans to relinquish him to the temple for service at the tender age of 3 or 4. She had the answer to her prayer, yet she didn’t get to keep her answer. Of her own choice, she had to prepare to be parted from him again. Her waiting changes from hope for a future answer to the realization that she will have to give him up. Time is now an enemy to her hope, taking the remaining days she has left.
Scripture does not record any mention of her feeling resentment or bitterness about this loss. Instead, she voices a prayer of praise, extolling God’s character. She is just happy to have been a part of God’s plan.
Trusting God’s Character
After my father’s death, I wrestled with God’s character and my own understanding of Him. I felt tremendous guilt for not having been more involved in my father’s life in the years leading up to his death. I was busy with a family and career, and believed, wrongly, that I had more time. Time was an enemy to me as well, but I didn’t even know it. The thought that I might never see my father again kept me up at night, wracking my dreams with nightmares and fear.
After several weeks of tears and prayers, I found my own peace. My peace, like Hannah’s, was in the character of God. He reminded me that His love for my father was greater than my own. He reminded me of all those many encounters like the delayed flight showing that He had been working in my father’s life.
Hannah’s story does continue after she gives up her son. We learn she is later blessed with more children. But, even more importantly, we learn that her child is Samuel, the prophet and priest of Israel who leads the people out of the time of the Judges. Hannah wanted Samuel, but Israel needed Samuel. The answer to her prayer was bigger than her needs and had blessings way beyond her household.
When we grieve, we feel what we have lost, but we don’t have all the information on this side of death. I can’t imagine how my pain has any redemptive value, but I trust Him and know He is working. I may see only the tiny shafts of light breaking through here and there, but I know there is a brilliance hidden by the curtain of death. Just like I know the vast ocean is there even when veiled from sight. I will choose to wait and grieve in hope, knowing one day all that is hidden will be revealed. And, yes, I still hope that this revelation will include a reunion with my father to whom I will happily say, “This prayer stuff really works!”