Carrying an umbrella

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There’s a church not far from my parents’ house that has a huge billboard outside. Every few months they change the message, and over the years I have cringed time and time again at some of the excruciatingly cheesy or embarrassing slogans that they’ve come up with.

But yesterday I went past the church again for the first time in ages, and the current message reads:

“Prayer is asking for rain, faith is carrying an umbrella”

I’ve kept thinking about it ever since.

When faced with a humanly impossible situation, it’s easy to pray for God to intervene. We all know that he can totally transform even the darkest and most hopeless circumstances… but as time passes and nothing seems to change, the sick get sicker, the oppressed get weaker, sometimes we wonder if he will.

I’m not a theologian, and I certainly don’t presume to have even an inkling of how faith and prayer work. But the words on that poster have really challenged me.

Too often, I back up my weak, faithless prayers calling for God to bring change to impossible situations with an attitude of “well, if he does – great! And if he doesn’t, oh well, it was worth a try, nothing lost.”

I may be asking God for rain, but in my heart, I don’t always carry an umbrella.

At the moment I’m heavily involved in a campaign to keep two friends of mine, a Nepalese asylum-seeking couple from my church, from being removed from the UK and facing the very real risk of severe harm and even death.

Three times now they’ve had flights booked and been taken to the airport. Three times we’ve come to the end of our human resources and strength, and all we could do is pray. If I’m totally honest, three times the flight time deadline has rolled up and I’ve felt all hope drain away. I might still be asking for rain, but I’ve certainly left my umbrella at home. And yet, three times now, something totally unexpected and impossible has happened at the last minute and the flight has been cancelled.

Three times now, amongst the relief, rejoicing celebration, thanking God and planning the next stage of the campaign, I also have the niggling voice of guilt – “Why didn’t you trust him? Why did you give up?”

Life is a journey. Sometimes we travel under looming Manchester-style black clouds, where it is easy to walk along whistling and swinging an umbrella by the handle. Sometimes we go through desert patches where the scorching blue skies are never punctuated by rainclouds, and it seems stupid to be carrying something so pointless.

I think the important thing is that we keep moving, we don’t stop still, and we never, ever stop asking for the rain. And let’s do our best to carry an umbrella as much as possible.

By Rachel Carpenter

© Image George Eastman House