Prayer – mystery & encouragement

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The longer I pray, the less I know about how it really works.

I know it’s not a cosmic gumball machine; put your prayer in, get a treat out. I know there is no formula for praying the “right” prayers. I know that God is sovereign, in control and has numbered our days, yet the Bible also shows us that our prayers can influence him.

There is much mystery in prayer. As there should be. Because prayer is a conversation, the developing of a relationship, and there can’t be a formula for that.

I come from a reformed background, which means that I have heard much teaching about the sovereignty of God. The idea that God has known every moment from before He created the earth. There is much comfort in that teaching and much of my heart believes it to be true. However, the downside of that belief is that I have the tendency to not pray for specific requests with much urgency. There is the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that my prayers will really influence the outcome in any way. So I have learned, in good reformed tradition, to give my request but qualify it with a healthy dose of “only if this is Your will” in order to cover my bases.

Last week I prayed a very specific prayer. I hesitantly scribbled it out in my journal and then texted the request to a few trusted friends. Family members were on their way to visit us and I wanted to enjoy their visit without sickness. However, in the past few months I have noticed a pattern to my sickness and that pattern scheduled me to be sick during their visit. I prayed long and hard. I asked God to please keep me healthy during the visit, and then I began to hedge my prayers with phrases like, “only if it is Your will” and “give me joy no matter what the outcome.” As those phrases formed in my mind I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to stop. As I scribbled the prayer in my journal my hand stopped cold before those phrases could be written. Instead I wrote, “Do I even dare to pray this?” I don’t think I dared to pray so specifically and without qualifying, but I did any way.

I stayed well the whole visit.

Not only did I feel well, but I had more energy than I have had in a long time.

I could explain my good week by saying that I had started some new supplements and was taking better care of myself. I could explain my good week by saying the weather finally warmed and spending so much time outside in the fresh air and sunshine influenced my health and mood. And maybe all of those things are true.

But maybe, just maybe, God chose to answer my prayer because He loves me. (And now the reformed side of my brain wants to say, “But would He still love you if the answer was different and you had gotten sick?” The answer to that question is of course a resounding, “Yes!”) Maybe, just maybe, God saw that I needed some encouragement. Maybe He saw that I needed to have my faith built up just a bit. Maybe one of my friends that was praying for me needed encouragement. Maybe He wanted to display His glory by granting this simple request.

I don’t know.

This morning my daily scheduled Bible reading was from Mark 5. Jesus is pushing his was through a crowd because he has been summoned by a ruler of the synagogue to come and heal his daughter. A woman who had a discharge of blood for many years, “who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” had faith enough to touch Jesus garment in order to be made well. I wonder if maybe she had some doubt because she wanted to stay anonymous in the crowd. Maybe she thought that if she touched his garment and nothing happened no one would be the wiser. I don’t know. But she obviously wanted to remain quiet and unseen. Yet Jesus insists on knowing who touched him. She finally comes forward and falls in front of him “in fear and trembling.” I imagine that Jesus took the time to look at her. I imagine he took time to really see all of her, her pain and doubts and fears and finally faith. “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'” He validates her faith, however little or much it was. He grants her peace, emotional healing, a need she may not have even known she had. He heals her disease.

I don’t always have a lot of faith. I imagine Jesus looking at me and knowing that. The fears and doubts in my heart are no secret to him. This past week He chose to answer my prayer however weak with faith and full of trembling it was. I felt seen, known, and granted a measure of peace.

 

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Night time snow walk

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Dear Sons,

Last night your mama did something a bit out of character. Even though I prefer comfort, warmth, and routine I couldn’t resist the magical call of the snow. All evening long the flakes were falling and by your bedtime the world outside was a winter wonderland. Suddenly I couldn’t resist it anymore, I just had to get outside. I just had to be part of the beauty and not simply an observer. But, it was your bedtime and we don’t usually mess with bedtime in this house. So I bundled up and headed out by myself. I admit I was at first a bit giddy at the silence and solitude. After a few days of all of us being snowed in together it was a wonder to be alone in such an empty, soundless, beautiful world. The flakes were falling wet and fast. Tree branches stretched gnarled and skeletal, dark forms made more visible by their ethereal white cover. The only sounds were the crunch of my feet and the occasional drifting muffled voices. Trees loomed ghostly and gorgeous on both sides of the road.

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It was beauty that needed to be shared. I was so filled with wonder and amazement that I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I wanted to share it with you. I practically ran up the driveway to come and get you, even though it was past your bedtime.

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We threw caution to the wind and didn’t even bundle up that much. We pulled on jackets and boots over pj’s and a quick hat on the head. Jeremiah, your legs were skinny in your too-small pj’s and your cowboy boots clunked loud. We took a magical walk through a Narnia-like world. If we squinted just right we swore we could see Mr. Tumnus dancing through the trees. Jeremiah you traipsed loud, sloshed through slushy puddles, and even kicked your boot off as you kicked at fallen branches. Nathaniel, you held my hand and kept up a continuous hushed commentary about what you saw and what you imagined (2 Fauns and 3 Fauns caves were we might possibly stop for some tea).

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We turned toward home and used our very own lamppost to guide our way. I was so filled with joy. Thankful that I had followed my urge to go outside. Loving sharing this snowglobe perfect moment with you both. Tucking this memory away in my heart. And as we walked, taking it all in with awe, Nathaniel, you took my hand and whispered, “Mama, I think Aslan is on the move.”

You know what boys, He is. He always is.

the battle

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The past few months have stretched me thin. I battle round and round with sickness. The exhaustion of body also brings exhaustion of mind and spirit. Mornings are rough. It is a complicated dance to nurture my body into functioning some mornings. It is an even more complicated dance to change the negative thoughts in my mind and the discouragement in my heart. I will myself out of bed. I make a hot cup of water with lemon. I sit in silence and pray for the day to come. I usually beg for grace and patience and energy. I can only ask for one day at a time since I never know what each day will bring. I crack open my Bible and search for God’s promises to me. I am reading through the New Testament and I find so much comfort right now in following the life of Jesus. His words touch my heart. Then I crack open my journal. I write. Sometimes tears fall.

I continue to battle as the day continues. This book lies open on the kitchen counter and I make my eyes look for gifts. To notice the ways God is loving me. I keep music on in the background. A Pandora station runs almost constantly and sometimes I will stop, hear the words, revel in the music, worship for a moment. Many times the music will soothe my soul, stop the grumbling, help me hold back the harsh words. I send text messages to friends. Sometimes the messages beg for prayer. Sometimes the messages are encouragement for friends. It lifts my heart to pray for a friend.

As evening comes and the boys head for bed, I usually take a bath. I have started the habit of taking these few moments to relax my body and try to relax my mind. Sometimes I watch a mindless sitcom on Netflix. Sometimes I read a book. I am learning not to feel guilty about taking this time for myself. Taking this time to be alone gives me energy to connect with my husband at the end of the day, to be present with him. And I have learned to ask him to pray over me on the days that the battle has been especially hard. His prayers over me always bring renewed courage and hope.

A few years ago someone sang the song You Are Good by Nicole Nordeman. Some of the lyrics have been playing over and over again in my head the past few months:

When it’s dark and it’s cold and I can’t feel my soul
You are so good
When the world has gone gray and the rain’s here to stay
You are still good

So with every breath I take in
I’ll tell you I’m grateful again
And the storm may swell even then it is well
You are good

Sometimes I just can’t feel my soul. But I know the One who loves me. And like our friend the cardinal, who flits bright through the gray winterscape, I feel the moments of encouragement and joy that break through. And I battle on, knowing that those moments will get longer and spring and light and warmth will come again.