Wisdom from the Masters for the Care and Maintenance of the Soul
Leo Tolstoy’s short story entitled “The Prayer” tells of a young mother and her child who dies from a fatal disease. The mother vacillated between desperation and hope, while her son Kostya’s life ebbed away. She seldom slept. Mostly she prayed.
Several times a day she went to her bedroom to kneel and pray for God to save her boy. But little Kostya died. His mother, overcome with unmitigated sorrow, once again retreated to her bedroom and fell onto her bed and lost consciousness.
While she slept, an angel came to comfort her but at first to no avail. So profound was the mother’s bitter sorrow that she could only ask why God did not fulfill her request when she asked him, “not to kill my little boy.” The angel attempted to reason with her, but again she angrily asked, “Why was he taken from me? If God could do this, then he is an evil god, and I do not need him or want to know him.”
The seraphic being then reminded the mother that the small, tender, naïve boy she mourned for was once a tiny infant, but he grew and changed into the curly-haired, sweet little boy of three. “If your son grew to become who he was, he would not have stopped changing. From a child he would have become a teenager, then a young man, then an adult, then an aging man, then a very old man.” The angel added, “You do not know what he would have been if he had lived. But I know.”
Then the vision changed. The mother saw a rather fat, wrinkled old man sitting in the back of a dimly lit restaurant, peering with greedy, drunken eyes at a corrupt heavily made-up woman of the night. He shouted and joked profanely, cheered on by the laughter of others.
The horrified young mother saw something in the face of the debauched old man that reminded her of Kostya. At first, she denied that this could be her sweet innocent boy. But she knew in her heart it was he. She woke up in terror, but with a new understanding.
The young mother went into the nursery where Kostya lay in state. She bent over and kissed him on the forehead and wept for the first time. She cried not with hopeless tears, but with tears of joy and relief and release. She felt pain, but she did not resist it or complain. “She knows now what has happened should have happened, and therefore, it was good.”
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:26-28 a remarkable and revealing passage about the Holy Spirit’s role when we pray.
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Because of human limitations, primarily the inability to see the future, we “do not know what to pray for as we ought.” But God, in His love and mercy, provides the answer. He sends the Holy Spirit who revises our prayer, delivering it to the throne of grace “with groanings too deep for words.” Prayer that conforms to the will of God. Prayer that asks according to the need and not the want. Prayer that, in a heavenly language too deep for our words, makes possible an answer in keeping with God’s promise to work all things “together for good” for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.
Kostya’s mother prayed for the boy’s life. God honored her deep love for the child by sparing him and his mother from the bitter anguish of a wasted life. Her prayer, delivered to Heaven by the Holy Spirit with “groanings too deep for words,” fell on the ears of a loving God who acted mercifully.
God does not always respond the way he did in Kostya’s case. Some young boys and girls grow up, fall into bad company, make poor decisions and bring grief to themselves and their parents, just as some children develop into respectable adults. Either case serves an eternal purpose. But always the Holy Spirit carries the groanings of a believer’s prayer to the Lord God who works all things together for our ultimate good.
So it was with Kostya’s mother. So it is with you.