One of the longest patterns of recurring intercessory prayer in my life has been directed at a single goal: that my teenage son might be able to speak. If I could heal just one aspect of his condition, if I could give just one gift to address his many ailments, it would be the gift of speech. Most of his frustration, and much of our collective family frustration, comes from Jake’s inability to communicate effectively on a regular basis.
Sometimes we don’t know Jake is sick until he is very sick. We don’t know how badly he is injured until bones show up broken on an X-ray. We don’t know he is sad until he begins to cry uncontrollably. We don’t know he is angry until the remote control, or his eyeglasses, or a soft drink flies across the room and crashes against the wall.
At home, these forms of miscommunication are burdensome and exhausting. Out in public they can be downright dreadful and even dangerous. So, for years, I have prayed that God would give my son a voice.
I long for my son to have peace in his frustrated heart. I also wish for tranquility in my sometimes discouraged household. But one of my greatest yearnings on earth is to have a deep conversation with Jake. This is just one of the things that, for me, will make heaven especially sweet. I have so many things I want to tell him and, more importantly, so many things I want to hear from his heart.
I have waited and waited for God to answer this prayer. At times it seems like heaven is brass to my plea. But the longer I live the more I realize that in God’s merciful ways and grace-filled applications he has sent me many answers, even as I wait for the ultimate answer.
I asked God specifically to give Jake words. God graciously granted five.
Jake’s entire spoken vocabulary consists of “Dah-dah” for Daddy, “Momma” for Mommy, “Maw-maw” for his grandmother, “Dad-dad” for his grandfather, and “Ho-ho-ho” for, you guessed it, Santa Claus. And yes, we hear about Santa Claus all year round, and we encourage and cherish this because it is an answer to my prayer.
Beyond those five vocal expressions there are no other words in Jake’s audible vocabulary. But there are some necessary signs. Jake can sign words like Jesus, Bible, shoes, play, please, sorry, candy, drink, and eat.
There is also some very beautiful singing. Jake loves to stand in church with an open hymnal—or anywhere, for that matter—and sing. His singing consists of one long baritone note that he can hold for a surprisingly long time. Over and over and over. It sounds a lot like Gregorian chant.
He also loves to carry a Bible and pretend he is reading, using the same long baritone sound that he sings with. Because he is standing and holding a Bible instead of a hymnal, perhaps he is preaching. God knows what’s going on there, even if I do not.
Then there are the precious ways Jake communicates affection physically. When he is happy and wants to show his love, he hugs. As our 4-year-old daughter would say, “He squeezes the choke out of me.”
For our daughter, being embraced by her much larger brother is more like a headlock than a hug. This can be confusing for a little girl who loves her disabled brother very much, but doesn’t completely understand why discomfort has to come along with his expression of affection. Actually, Jake intends for his hugs to be a sort of headlock, because his goal in wrapping his arms around your neck is to lower your head and finish the hug by placing his mouth directly on your hair in the form of a big, wet kiss. Jake has always had oral-sensitivity-stimulation issues with hair.
So while Jake’s hugs can be a little messy, somewhat confusing, often very loud, and even a little painful, when you leave our house with a sore neck and a big wet spot on the top of your head, you know you are loved.
Finally, there is God’s gift of electronic communication devices. Jake uses a handheld computer with a picture touch-screen that can communicate all kinds of phrases. When talking on the phone with him you might hear a mechanical voice saying: “I love you,” “I miss you,” “I want to go to Maw-maw’s house,” or “Is it almost time for Santa Claus to come?”
For me, all of this illustrates the difference between an answer to prayer and the answer to prayer.
Our sovereign Lord has the ability to grant anything we ask at any time. He is generous and kind and loving and cares for us beyond our wildest imaginations. We can be assured that when we are genuinely hungry and ask for food, he will give us bread and fish, not stones and snakes. But sometimes, if we ask for steak and shrimp, bread and fish may not seem like the answer we were looking for.
I think the appetizer is meant to increase our desire for the main course. Such has been the case in my own prayer life. My heavenly Father, in his infinite wisdom, has answered all my prayers for Jake—with glimpses of the greatness to come. He has granted a foretaste of his glory by revealing the shadow of his coming blessings.
We still live in a fallen, sin-stained world. Even the best things here are mere silhouettes of what God has in store for us on that day when sin is no more. But we can be assured of this—he has more in store for us than we could ever think to ask for.
The full answers to our prayers and the full glory of God’s blessings will only come in eternity—and then they will last for eternity. But for now, informed by Scripture, and full of godward faith and biblical hope, our anticipation of what’s to come protects us from trusting in the temporal things by keeping us longing for the eternal things. In this life it is vital and necessary that, to one degree or another, we remain dissatisfied. The tension is that, here, all our prayers are answered, but all our prayers also await ultimate answers.
Today I communicate with my son through a few important words, some necessary signs, a sophisticated electronic device, and some rather charismatic body language. God has given me an answer to my prayer.
But I dream of a day when Jake and I sit quietly and stare into each other’s eyes for a long, precious moment. Broad smiles flash across our faces in silent communication of overwhelming joy. It’s a smile shared only by the close bond and affection of fathers and sons.
Then the silence is broken by Jake’s voice, “Dad, there are so many things I have wanted to tell you.”
“I know, son. I know.”
This is the answer to my prayer. And it will be worth the wait.
Greg Lucas is a husband, the father of four, a police officer in West Virginia, and a graduate of Boyce College. This post is adapted from chapter six of his book, Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability, and the Lessons of Grace. He continues to blog about Jake and other subjects.