Praying in the Squad Car
I’ve been saying that God’s involvement in our daily work is conditioned somewhat by us — by what we pray for. I told about how this played out for me as a student, graduate student, and professor. I shared with you my experiences working in a customer service call center. And I wrote last time about how prayer guided the man in charge of Switzerland’s food rationing program during World War II.
Here’s another example. Many years ago, someone very close to me became a policeman. This was a dream of a lifetime for him. He was deeply religious, and from early in his teen years he had believed that he was called by God to that kind of work. He was inspired by the thought of being a “peace officer.” In his squad car each night, he prayed for opportunities to serve others.
Sometimes we met for coffee and he would share his stories with me. I was fascinated, not just because they were filled with human interest but also (and especially) because they revealed a side of God that I knew I would never experience.
Let me say this first: I can’t understand how anyone can do the kind of work that officers of the law must do all day. Their job brings them face-to-face with humans at their worst, and yet they must never lose their temper, even though they’ve got a weapon at their side. I’ve got nothing but respect for those who wear a badge. I don’t understand how they can pull us over (for speeding, let’s say) and walk toward our car, not knowing if we have a gun and are about to shoot at them. With this uncertainty always hounding them, I don’t understand how they can speak respectfully to us and ask us, very politely, for our identification. I know, I know — there’s a lot of police brutality in our society, and many people report that they were pulled over by an officer who sneered and was disrespectful. I’m especially aware of how frightening it is for African Americans to be stopped by the police. But I have to say, I totally understand why an officer would become jaded and suspicious. Given the nature of their job, that makes sense to me. I don’t understand why so many police officers do not become like that. I think I would, if I had to deal with criminal behavior every day.
So… back to my friend who felt himself called to be a “peace officer.” He prayed every night in his squad car and, consequently, had some remarkable experiences. And like I said, I found them fascinating precisely because they revealed a side of God that I knew I would never see. I must warn you, however, that these stories are a bit unpleasant, precisely because they have to do with a side of life that we mild-mannered philosophy professors try to avoid. Here are two of his stories:
(1) A mother had just discovered that her young son was molested by a man in the neighborhood. When my friend came into their home, the child clammed up. His mother tried and tried to get him to tell the officer what he had told her, but to no avail. My friend was deeply sympathetic. After a moment’s prayer, he got an idea. He put his policeman’s hat on the young boy and temporarily “deputized” him. Then he asked the “deputy” to report what had happened. The child played his role well and gave his report.
I don’t know much about criminal justice, but it seems to me that we would probably do things differently now. A social worker or child counselor would probably be summoned to help in a case like this. But back in the late 1970s, this poor child was expected to tell his story to a stony-faced cop. Fortunately, this was not your average cop.
This story troubles me, too, because despite our rhetoric, we Americans have a tendency to consider alleged criminals guilty long before they’re actually proven to be so. And with this mother pressuring her son to make an accusation, I worry about whether justice was truly served. But there is one thing about this story that I find encouraging: that the officer on the scene happened to be a person who consulted with God. He was given insight into the situation and treated the child with respect. And that, at least, is a very good thing.
(2) An inmate escaped from the local jail, but he couldn’t have picked a worse night to do so. It was pouring down rain, and it was cold. By all accounts, the runaway was not a hardened criminal. Somebody had left his cell door open and he couldn’t resist the temptation to run. But he was probably regretting that decision now. A large part of the police force was out searching for him in a nearby vineyard where he had last been seen, and they were in an ugly mood. It was wet and miserable out there. Under their breath, the officers talked about what they’d do if they got their hands on the escapee.
My friend prayed to be the one to find him. He knew the man was miserably cold and wet, and he worried what would happen to him if the others got there first. So he prayed to be led to the inmate.
(I have to apologize for this next part. The solution to this problem is both touching and funny, but it’s a bawdy kind of humor. As I said, my friend’s stories reveal a side of God that’s different from my own life experience. And I find that fascinating.)
Before long, my friend felt the call of nature. So he ducked down one of the groves in the vineyard, lifted his poncho, and prepared to relieve himself. From out of the clump of grapes (or whatever it was), came a pathetic plea: “Don’t shoot!” (Which, I suppose, you could interpret two ways.) My friend put up his weapon (so to speak), and quietly arrested the inmate.
Which brings me back to the point I’ve been making in the last few posts. What does God do while we’re busily engaged in our secular work? Well, that partly depends on what we ask God to do. If we ask God for help in performing our duties well, then God responds to our prayers. I know of at least one officer of the law who asks God, night after night, to make him a “peace officer.” And judging from his stories, God answers prayers like that.
As you go about your daily work, do you ask God to make you an instrument of God’s peace?