Be careful what you pray for


USS Simon Bolivar, SSBN 641.

Back in December of 1992, I faced a crisis in my life.

During those days, I was nearing the end of my 13th year in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service, serving on board the USS Simon Bolivar, SSBN 641. If you ever wondered what the alphabet soup stands for, the designation immediately tells you almost everything about the vessel. It’s a submarine (SS), it carries ballistic missiles (B), and it is powered by a nuclear reactor (N). My designation was Electronics Technician, but in truth it was my job to ensure safe operation of the nuclear reactor used to propel the ship and provide electricity.

Ballistic-misslie submarines essentially had one job: To troll around in the ocean and wait for the message none of us hoped would ever come, which was to actually launch our missiles. We didn’t spy on enemy shorelines or hunt down enemy ships. In fact, our job was to hide and never be detected. Because it was in the strategic interests of the United States to have as many of these submarines operational at any given time, SSBNs needed to be deployed as much as possible. To do this, the Navy assigned two crews to each ship. While one crew took the boat to sea, the other crew spent time training and being with their families.

When it was time to take the boat, it meant long weeks away from home. Families had little to no way of communicating, and it was very hard on them. Psychiatrists say that when a sailor goes to sea on an SSBN, the family left behind goes through all the stages of grief, just as if he’d died. And they do this every time the sailor goes to sea.

Now for the crisis.

In December of 1992, I was facing my eleventh patrol – and I’d had my fill of it. As I sat at the kitchen table, waiting for my carpool in the early-morning darkness, the pain of leaving my wife and two little boys washed over me like a flood. Two weeks from being ripped from my family again, I just didn’t think I could bear it.

So for the first time, I decided to ask God for one very specific thing. The tears burned my cheeks as I cried out:

“God, I’ve never asked You for anything like this before, but I just can’t take it anymore. Don’t make me leave Elaine and the boys again. Please, if it’s Your will, find a way for me to stay home this time.”

People have told me that asking for something like that wasn’t appropriate. They say our prayers should be reserved for others. I don’t know about you, but I believe God wants me to ask Him for the things that are on my heart, too.

Check out what Isaiah 30 (Amplified Version) has to say about prayer:

“Therefore the Lord earnestly waits … longing to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. Blessed are all those who earnestly wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him.”

We serve a God who longs to be gracious to us. Let those words soak in. Think about this in terms of your own children or grandchildren. Don’t you long to be gracious to them? So does God with you and me!

And let’s put the shoe on the other foot. What if your child were in trouble or gravely in need and DIDN’T come to you. How would you feel? It would break my heart. Don’t you think that God, our Father, our Abba, grieves when we fail to come to Him with our needs?

Of course, God doesn’t always answer our prayers. And sometimes – my case in particular – He answers them in ways that are so unexpected that we can only shake our heads in amazement. That night, I played in a men’s basketball league game. It wasn’t a particularly eventful game. I don’t remember if we won or lost, and I don’t remember whether I played well. There were no unexpected falls, collisions, or other events that might have injured me.

Yet the next morning, I woke up with a knee swollen to the size of a football. And just as I had asked, missed that patrol. In fact, I never had to leave my family again. Six months later, I was given a medical discharge from the Navy. I suppose the moral of the story, if there is one, is to be careful what you pray for – because you might just get it.

But for my money, the more important point is to go to God with your needs, your desires, your hopes, and your dreams. He longs to hear from you. And He DOES hear you. Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before you call I will answer, while you are still speaking, I will hear.” 

Call to Him. It’s OK. Really.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for serving and sacrificing for our country, Bob. Your desire to be with your family was, and is, every bit as noble. I absolutely believe that there is nothing wrong in praying for our own needs. Jesus teaches on that in Mt. 7:9-11 . The Bible also states that we are to look not ONLY to our needs, but ALSO to the needs of others. It’s right to care for/ pray about our needs ( and we are even told to do so!), but we need to be careful to not neglect the needs of others. I appreciate the practical lessons you share in your blog.

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