When I was in grade one I took a city bus to the parochial school I attended. My bus stop was in front of the Bank of Montreal at the corner of Geneva and Niagara. I had to cross a couple of busy streets all by myself to get to the stop, but I remember feeling pretty good about being street smart enough to meet the challenge.
In an era when my father took home barely forty dollars a week, the bus ride cost a nickel each way, 10 cents a day, 50 cents a week. Those nickels were precious. In spite of that, I was known to lose them from time to time. On those days, denied entry to the bus, my early-morning return home was not nearly as pleasant as my walk to the stop.
One morning, nickel lost, I decided that rather than go home and face my mother’s displeasure, I’d go to the Bank of Montreal for a loan. So at 8 o’clock in the morning I knocked on the big glass doors as loud as I could. Sure enough, a woman answered the door. I was a bit surprised to see that she had a mop in her hand, but I explained my need for a loan to her anyway. I asked her for a 10-cent loan and promised prompt repayment. She told me I had come to the right place. I followed her in, and she reached into a purse and gave me two nickels, one for the ride to school and one for the ride home.
I was a bit surprised that the nickels didn’t come out of a drawer behind the wickets. But when you’re in grade one, life is full of mysteries. The next morning, having raided the piggybank I kept on my dresser, I knocked on the bank door again. The bank lady showed up again, forgave my loan with a laugh, and sent me on my way. That afternoon, feeling quite pleased with myself, I spent the dime on a paper bag full of blackballs, three for a penny. A real feast.
In the years since, I’ve sometimes thought about that day. How often do we go to God in prayer like I went to that bank—as if we have to make some sort of a divine transaction? We pray for Aunt Sally, or even some personal crisis, intending that we’ll somehow make it up to God out of the little piggybank of good intentions we keep in a musty corner of our hearts.
But even for the spiritually mature, prayer turns out to be full of mysteries. You see, the one who hears us turns out not to be in the banking business after all. In fact, He may turn out to be a She. And She isn’t anything like what you expected, and She isn’t keeping tabs, and She isn’t even in the business of giving you what you want. However, the good news is, when you knock and the door is mysteriously opened, no matter what you ask for, or even if you’re tongue-tied, the main thing has probably already happened anyway.