"Make a joyful noise, my little helpmate," I say to my wife. "Our troubles are over."
"Oh, goody," she says from somewhere deep inside her crossword puzzle. "What troubles?"
"Our money troubles," I say. "We're going to be rich."
"That's nice," she says. "What's a six-letter word ending in r-e-e-d-y meaning 'avaricious, covetous, grasping'?"
"You're not listening," I say. "We're going to be so rich that we can hire Roget himself to answer proletarian questions like that."
"Let me guess," she says. "You struck oil when you stubbed your toe in the front yard. You won the lottery with a ticket you found in the gutter. You sold your brain to The Center for Research into Really Goofy Grandiose Schemes."
"No, no, and no," I say. "I'm going to get rich by buying a book."
"But," she says, "you already bought 'The Money Tree,' 'How to Win Friends and Influence the Stock Market,' and 'The Gospel According to Donald Trump.' What more do you need?"
"This," I say, thrusting a NY Times clipping between her face and her crossword puzzle. It's all about a book by an Atlanta evangelist named Bruce H. Wilkinson. It's called "The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life."
"Number one on USA Today's best-seller list," I say. "Number one on the Times' list of advice best sellers, and number one on Publishers Weekly's hardcover nonfiction best sellers. It's going to make us very wealthy indeed."
"Who's Jabez?" she says.
"Old Testament guy," I say. "Prayed this prayer to God: 'Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory.' So God did, and Jabez got rich. First Chronicles 4:9-10."
"That's nice," she says, "but what's Jabez got to do with me and thee?"
"That's what Dr. Wilkinson's book's all about," I say. "He says you repeat Jabez' prayer often enough and you're in Fat City."
"Do we really need our territory enlarged?" she says. "I thought one reason we moved to the town house was that our other lawn was getting too big for you to mow without your back going out."
"It's a metaphor," I say, and I read aloud a quotation from Dr. Wilkinson that says when Jabez asked for enlarged territory, he was really just asking for help with his farming business, and if you're a good Christian, there's nothing wrong with asking God to bless your business.
"So if you keep praying the same prayer that Jabez prayed," she says, Ďyouíre going to get rich because God will bless your business? Seems like a selfish little prayer to me."
"Ah ha!" I say. "That's exactly what this Jones guy in the clipping said he thought. Said when he first heard about Jabez' prayer, he refused to pray it because it seemed selfish. But the book showed him it was OK to ask God to let him buy a house because he would be blessing his wife by owning instead of renting. And you know what happened after he started praying the prayer?"
The Truth, Mainly
"I bet you're going to tell me," she says.
I quote from the clipping:
"Two months later, four people at his company were laid off, and Mr. Jones successfully asked for a raise, allowing him to afford a mortgage."
"And you know what Jones said then?" I say. "He said 'I think this prayer is the real deal.'"
"Cash-register Christianity," she says. "Piety for profit."
I hate it when she alliterates. Makes her sound like she's winning.
"Make all the fun you want," I say, "but listen to this: Dr. Wilkinson recited the Jabez prayer every day for 30 years and now he's sold 4.1 million copies of his book in about three months. And itís only 96 pages long. A woman in Atlanta bought 500 copies to pass out to guests at her daughter's wedding. A preacher in Texas bought 4,000 copies to give to the congregation of his Bent Tree Bible Fellowship. Whaddya say to that? Huh? Huh?"
"Sounds like the Jabez prayer is working for at least one person," she says. "Has Dr. Wilkinson broken through to the Blessed Life yet?"
"Scoff on," I say, "but if you'd spend more time reading your Bible instead of doing your crossword puzzle, maybe we could afford a new car."
"OK," she says, pulling a Bible out of her knitting basket and opening it up to the New Testament. "Says here in Matthew 19:24 that Jesus says 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.' Whaddya say to that? Huh? Huh?"
"Everybody knows," I say, "that back in Bible times, camels were a lot smaller and needle eyes were a lot bigger. You're a wicked, wicked woman who quotes the Bible for your own nefarious ends."
She laughs so hard she falls out of her chair. I don't get it.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail