“Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” I mumbled.
It was bedtime and here I was, another mildly fatigued, upwardly mobile, young professional praying against the side of his bed, fetchingly arrayed in wine-red pajamas and white deerskin slippers. “I pray the Lord my soul to keep. . .” etc., etc. etc.
It was the usual last-thing-before-I-sleep bedtime prayer and I was positioning myself to make a few minor requests.
“. . . I wanted to thank you for all the good stuff in my life,” I offered God, “…especially for last month’s 7.6 percent annualized return on my investments. I still can’t believe it, given how the economy is still struggling.”
Now came the subtle shift . . .
“But, you know . . . there’s one itsy-bitsy area where I could use a little more help: my career. More specifically, I could use a little boost in the acceleration, if you know what I mean . . . ”
Next thing that happened was quite noteworthy, because God Himself interrupted me to reply, “No I don’t know what you mean, Paul Steven! I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Boost in the acceleration! Who prays to God for a boost in the acceleration? Please make your request again, but this time speak more plainly.”
Well, yes, that was strange. God doesn’t, as a rule, talk to me when I talk to Him. As far as I can remember, this was the first time and it made me uncomfortable. Put yourself in my place: I could accidentally say the wrong thing to God and whoof!, before I knew it, I’d be some lower-order slave scrubbing porta-potties in Purgatory.
God’s voice was thin, and whiny—sort of like Pee Wee Herman’s—rising disembodied from the black grilled heating register on my bedroom floor. Most times, warm air came up through the grill; but this night it was the Voice Of God.
I was a little embarrassed about being more explicit with my prayer, but I didn’t have much choice.
“To be blunt,” I said, whispering tightly into prayer-clasped hands, “you know how I’m competing with Cindy Washburn for the Creative Director’s job, and how she’s done such balls-out work on the Kritter Litter ad account . . . ?
“Yes . . . ?” God replied. “And so . . . ?”
Still whispering, I asked, through awkward pauses, “Well, I’d like you . . . you know . . . to do something . . . to Cindy . . . so she doesn’t win the CD gig. Something small, not too damaging. Nothing like a car accident or a Nancy Kerrigan, but maybe she could suddenly develop a horrible rash, or maybe sales of Kritter Litter could fall through the floor . . . something like that. (Listen to me telling you your job!) is that specific enough?”
“Perfectly!” God answered with brisk efficiency. “I’d be happy to cover Cindy in a really repulsive, red rash but unfortunately you have too many reality-altering prayers already in process. I’m not sure I can add another one to the list until we clean up some of the others.”
“What others?” I asked, surprised.
“What others!?!” God exclaimed. “Where do I start? How about with Angela Firehouse? Surely you haven’t forgotten Angela Firehouse with whom you fell in love, and at whom you prayed me direct the charms of cupid’s arrows on your behalf. You remember now?”
“Vaguely,” I softly replied.
“You no doubt recall she is currently the wife of Edgar Firehouse, and that both the Firehouses currently live in the house next door to yours.”
“I know where they live.”
“Good Heavens, Paul Steven,” God added gleefully, “she’s your neighbor’s wife!”
“I’m a happily married man,” I countered. “I wouldn’t have done anything wrong had you given me the chance, which you didn’t, thanks a lot!”
“Hey, I tried,” God snapped back. “The lady wasn’t interested. She must have been praying for the strength to resist your charms. Besides, it’s a Universal Law that everyone gets what they deserve. You, she, even those thousands of terrorists you prayed for me to slaughter, which I’m still working on (just so you know). It’s not easy destroying entire subsets of the population and, besides, I never pretended to be good with details . . .”
That’s interesting! God talking to me like some insurance salesman confronting the enormity of his ignorance.
God continued, almost petulantly, “Now I have to add in the body rash you want inflicted on Cindy Washburn . . .”
“Will you do it for me?” I asked eagerly.
“I told you, everybody gets what they deserve,” God said with a peevish snort. “If Cindy deserves a rash, she’ll get the rash she deserves. Get it?”
“You’re a strange kind of God,” I offer. “Not like the God they taught me about in Sunday School. Don’t take this personally, but you seem rather shallow and petty-minded. Whoever heard of God being so easily bored and so quick to get angry? Instead of helping me resist my weaker nature, You seem happy to pander to its weaknesses.
“Just think about it!” I exclaimed. “I prayed for you to kill off thousands of Islamist extremists and you never once mentioned a thing to me about loving my neighbor or about how wrong it would be to take a human life. And whenever I pray for personal gain at someone’s else expense, You jump right to it, and never point out my selfishness. You’re a strange God, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Hey, Paul Steven,” the Voice replied, coming up through the vent. “I thought you’d figure it out by now . . .”
“Yes . . . ?”
“Everybody gets the God they deserve.”