It is no secret that prayer is hard for me. This post is some honest wondering and rambling as I continue to wrestle with what it means to ask God things. Thinking the thoughts I think towards God is not hard for me. Sharing my feelings, without having to pass through words, with Him is not hard either. I do talk to Him with words and more often without words. Asking, though, is tough. Whether what I’m asking is for myself, my family or for other people.
1) I don’t understand how it works. And I feel like any theology of prayer that seems to make sense of it, well, it doesn’t. God’s sovereignty, free will, all of that rolls around in my head in a sort of perpetual cognitive dissonance. Most of it, I can live with and accept as part of the mystery of God being God. But when it comes to asking God for something in prayer, I feel the weight of God’s sovereignty, of the commands for me to ask and intercede, of knowing He is able to do so much more than I could ever dream of asking Him to do, etc. I read a comment recently by Peter Kirk on another website that helped me come back to a bit more peace with this: “Intercessory prayer is hard to reconcile with any systematic theology. That is because we come to these matters with what Charles Simeon called ‘proud reason‘, setting up theological systems which end up contradicting the Bible.”
2) I really do trust God to know way better than I do what is good for me. So many times I want one thing and even beg for it, and in the end, when I don’t get it, I can see a bit of why. Other times, the things that happen in spite of much intercession are still terrible, but I experience God’s grace and redemption in them, even though they are horrible and I never would have asked God that they happen that way. I know I can ask and still trust God to be God and be redemptive and all, but sometimes, it seems easier to just admit at the beginning, “God, you see my longings. Here’s what I desperately want. And I know You can make it happen. But, you’re God and I’m not. My hands are open to you. I trust you to accomplish your purposes.” Then, in that context, I cling, I cry out, I ask, “How long, O Lord?” But, I have a hard time asking God over and over, “Please do this specific thing in this specific situation.”
3) It’s hard for me to pray even the Lord’s prayer lately. I get hung up on, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I can’t even imagine how that looks or how it’s possible. God’s perfect will here on earth–with all the sin and suffering and the effects of those, that have no place in heaven–being done as it is in heaven. Earth is not heaven, no matter how much I wish it were. That’s why heaven is something to long for. I certainly can’t argue the point with Jesus who told us to pray like that, but the prayer I always thought was so simple doesn’t make that much sense to me these days. So, I still pray the Lord’s prayer with faith, but also with acknowledgement that it is less comprehensible to me now than ever before.
4) I hate being told no.I’m a bit neurotic about this. “No” is way too direct for my comfort zone–not that I don’t/can’t give or hold firm to a negative response. It’s just that, in general, I avoid wording my questions or answers in a form that facilitates such a short, direct answer. The person being asked and put in a position of directly saying “no” has obvious reasons for saying it. In my nonstop quest for understanding, when I hear a “no” and begin to understand they whys behind that no, I feel stupid for having asked and not considered those things. I feel the same way about asking God for things. Ouch. Saying it that way, I can see the pride involved. Tied into that, I don’t like to look like a fool asking desperately for something if it isn’t going to happen in the end. I mean, if it doesn’t and I’ll cope, why get all desperate now because I think I have to have things work out a certain way? I don’t think this is a calm acceptance as much as not wanting to look all foolish and desperate getting worked up about something (even when I feel desperate inside).
5) I find it very difficult to live in the “in between”–the place of asking and deeply believing, when I ask, that God is able to work miracles, and simultaneously resting in trust, no matter what happens. Perhaps that’s the same as point 2, although it feels a little different.
6) Sometimes I get frustrated with the whole idea of asking a lot of people to pray, because I feel like it’s trying to trump God with the force of numbers. Even though I know it is a good thing to cry out to the Lord together as fellow believers.
All of that background lies behind the irony of my asking you to pray for me (and not just to pray that I figure out the prayer thing 🙂 ) I am in a situation where I am crying out to the Lord to make a way for something I deeply desire–to be able to stay in the house where my children and I have lived for the past year. It’s not the most urgent prayer request, not the most significant on the big scale of needs in the world. (Oh yeah, that’s another thing–it’s hard for me to ask God seriously for things that I long for, when at the same time I feel the weight of people truly being in desperate need about things more basic to life than my being able to stay in the comfortable, 1700 sqft house that I love.)
How this house became available to us a year ago was an amazing story and the answer to many people’s prayers (of which mine were obviously the weakest–well, I didn’t have a hard time crying out my desire to the Lord, but the direct asking God for it, you can imagine other people were doing that more than I was!).
After we moved in, I discovered that the elderly lady next door had been praying for over a year for a “nice Christian family” to move in after the rough neighbors who had lived here for several years. My church prayed, my family prayed, a friend came by when I was not at the house and walked around it praying that the Lord would make a way for us to be able to live here. Many people, including the owners, put arms and legs to their prayers to make it happen.
In many ways, this house has been like a home that was designed just for me (even though it was built many years before I was born). Every person who walks in says, “Wow, this house is so you.” And that is what I have felt from day one. I feel settled here (which is something I had not experienced for a long time). It is like a house of peace to me (also a huge deal after my experiences of the past few years).
My gratitude to God and to those who helped it happen is not just something I say with my mouth. I have experienced it physically and repeatedly throughout the year we have lived here. Gratitude has become almost a tangible sense–as real as something I see or touch. Every ounce of my being is grateful. And I realized that even though I will mourn deeply if I have to leave and even though I will not understand, that nothing can take away the gift that this place has been to me, however temporarily.
Which brings me back to the situation I’m asking prayer for–things have changed with the owners, so that, unless I can find a way to finance the house myself, they will need to sell it. At first I panicked to God (I don’t have any trouble feeling the whole range of emotions with Him). Then I cried for a few days. Then I rested. And I sort of cycle through those stages repeatedly. And in the middle of it, I have and do ask, “Lord, could you please make a way for me to be able to stay here?”
I really would appreciate your prayers. As much as I don’t understand prayer, I know it is a good thing to join together in our struggles with each other. Yes, our theologies of prayer may be different (or hardly non-existent as, for example, I find myself with more questions than answers.) But it is good to share my weight with others, who I know will stand with me in prayer. The standing together is an encouragement if the answers are not what I hope for, and a context of wider, joint rejoicing if the answers are more than I hoped for. The standing together in prayer, for me, is a tangible reminder that I am not alone, even when I feel like it. The faithfulness of the Body of Christ helps me see the faithfulness of God more clearly.
Here is something I read tonight on True Grit that inspired me to go ahead and share my uncertainties and my desire for those of you who read this to be able to pray with me: It is important to God that we ask, but I don’t know why. I can guess why, but I don’t really know. I do know that asking connects us with our need, and with the answer to our need. It connects us to other people, and calls upon their ability to meet with needs, which is one way we find our own meaning and humanity….I think the simpleness of asking, and the gratefulness when receiving is part and parcel of a well-lived life, and understanding of the dependency we have upon one another, upon the earth, and upon God.
Here are some pictures from the wall borders around my living room. Sometime I’ll write down the story behind my choice of these verses and thoughts. But, tonight as I share all the uncertainty that goes into my prayers, I also wanted to show you the certainty and confidence I have and am reminded of, day after day, through these words: